What to do immediately after a rape or sexual assault

Phone 999 or go to A&E immediately if:

  • you’re bleeding heavily
  • you believe you were drugged
  • you were choked or strangled during the assault
  • you have any bruising or pain around your throat or neck
  • you lost consciousness (fainted or passed out) at any point during or after the assault
  • you have any type of head injury
  • you have any pain in your chest
  • you think you might have a broken bone
  • you have difficulty breathing

Phoning the sexual assault self-referral phone service

You can phone the NHS Scotland sexual assault self-referral phone service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 0800 148 88 88. Calls are free from landlines and mobiles.

You are not alone. If you’ve recently been through a traumatic experience such as rape or sexual assault, there is help and support available for you.

At every step in your care you will be listened to and you will be believed.

What is rape and sexual assault?

Rape is when someone puts their penis into (penetrates) the vagina, anus, or mouth of another person without their consent.

Assault by penetration is when someone puts another part of their body – or an object – into another person’s vagina or anus without that person’s consent.

Sexual assault is when someone touches another person in a sexual way, without that person’s consent.

How do I know if I was raped or sexually assaulted?

There’s no test that can tell whether you’ve had consensual sex or not. If you choose to go to the police, the material collected during a forensic medical examination (FME) could provide evidence for the investigation.

Often people are unsure what has happened to them. Someone who has been raped or sexually assaulted can show no physical signs of injury, and may not remember everything right away.

There may also be instances, because of the type of assault, where you are unable to remember what happened to you.

No matter how much – if anything – you remember, you should contact the sexual assault self-referral phone service to talk about the healthcare and support available to you.

What do I do if I was spiked?

Spiking is when someone is given alcohol or drugs without their knowledge or consent. Spiking can take different forms, it could be someone adding drugs or extra alcohol to your drink or spiking by injection.

If someone requires urgent medical assistance after being spiked, phone 999.

If your drink has been spiked or you’ve been injected with an unknown substance, and you think you’ve been raped or sexually assaulted, phone the NHS Scotland sexual assault self-referral phone service on 0800 148 88 88.

If you’re unable to remember what happened to you and are unsure whether you have been raped or sexually assaulted, you can contact the NHS Scotland sexual assault self-referral phone service to talk about the healthcare and support available to you.

In all cases where you think you have been spiked, or have witnessed someone being spiked, you may want to contact the police on 101 to report the incident.

Read more information on support available after spiking at Safer Scotland

What reporting options do I have?

If you self-refer for a forensic medical examination (FME), it doesn’t mean you have to report your assault to the police. Police Scotland aren’t involved in FME self-referrals, and it’s your choice whether or not you report your assault to them.

You have the option of talking to a healthcare professional about arranging an appointment at a sexual assault response co-ordination service (SARCS) to arrange an FME. This means you’ll have your immediate healthcare needs met and have certain forensic evidence retained.

Read about how it works if you do decide to report the assault to Police Scotland now or at a later date

How much evidence will be collected during an FME, or whether an FME would be appropriate, can depend on your individual situation. When you phone the sexual assault self-referral phone service, you’ll be referred to a healthcare professional at the SARCS who will contact you to make sure you get the care that’s most helpful for you.

If an FME takes place soon after an assault, it increases the chances that evidence can be collected for any future police report you choose to make.

Some types of assault only leave evidence for up to 48 hours. With other types of assault, it’s possible to collect evidence with an FME for up to 7 days.

If you’re unsure of whether or not an FME will produce any evidence, phone the sexual assault self-referral phone service to be referred to a healthcare professional at a SARCS. They will contact you make sure you get the care that’s most helpful for you.

Preserving evidence before a forensic medical examination (FME)

There are things you can do immediately after an assault that will help the healthcare professional carrying out your FME get as much evidence as possible.

While arranging your appointment you’ll get information on bringing items that might provide evidence. You’ll be supported and advised every step of the way.

Cleaning yourself

As part of arranging your FME appointment, a healthcare professional at a SARCS will contact you. They will tell you what to do to allow for the most evidence to be collected during your FME. This may include asking you not to wash.

If you feel you have to wash, don’t have a bath. Try to have a quick shower without scrubbing or wiping yourself too much. Don’t try to rinse out your genitals (penis, vagina, or anus) as this will make it harder to collect evidence.

If you used toilet paper after an assault and wiped up any fluids (such as semen), put the toilet paper into a sandwich bag, plastic bag, or clean container to preserve any evidence and bring it to your SARCS appointment.

If you have experienced an oral assault – an assault that involved your mouth – try not to brush your teeth before your FME. If you do brush your teeth, bring your toothbrush to your appointment, as the team may be able to collect evidence from it. You should avoid smoking or vaping if you can.

When you’re at the SARCS you will have the opportunity to shower and brush your teeth if you want to. You’ll be provided with clothes, a toothbrush, toiletries, and a towel if you need them.

What you may be asked to bring with you

There are a few things you might be asked to bring to your appointment, because these items could be used to collect evidence:

  • the underwear you were wearing during the assault and/or just after
  • if they have semen or any other fluid on them, any items of clothing you were wearing during and/or just after the assault
  • any clothing or other items that were torn or damaged during the assault, or that were used during the assault
  • any condoms or sanitary products that were used or worn during or after the assault

There’s no need to bring bedding, as that can’t be used to collect evidence that an assault took place.

When you are contacted by a healthcare professional at the SARCS you’ll be given a list of what to bring, so you don’t have to worry about bringing more than that to your appointment.

Contraception and sanitary products

If a condom was used during the assault and you have access to it, try to bring the condom and wrapper to your appointment.

If you were wearing a sanitary towel, tampon, or menstrual cup during the assault, or you wore one just after, try to bring it with you to the appointment.

You can store any of these items in a sandwich bag, plastic bag, or clean container.

The healthcare professional from the SARCS you speak to before your appointment will offer guidance and information so you can make an informed choice.

It can be distressing to try to find and preserve evidence, and difficult to know what you should bring to your appointment with you. Remember that you’re in control of your care, and you will be supported. Your health and wellbeing are the main priority.

The NHS Scotland sexual assault self-referral phone service

Who is the service for?

When you phone this service you may be referred to a healthcare professional who can assess your health, wellbeing, and whether it is appropriate for you to get a forensic medical examination (FME). Try to keep your phone free so that you don’t miss their call.

People in Scotland aged 16 and over can self-refer to this without any involvement from the police, allowing evidence to be gathered quickly and give you time to consider if you want to make a report to the police at a later date.

What happens when you phone

When you phone you will be asked:

  • your name
  • your date of birth
  • the phone number you want to be contacted on
  • if you’re safe
  • if you have any injuries that require medical attention
  • the date the assault happened
  • the area you are in (i.e. local council, health board, town or city)
  • if that is the area you live in
  • if that is the area you want an appointment in (to allow you to choose where you receive your care)

The sexual assault self-referral phone service is not a counselling service or support line.

The person you speak to at the self-referral phone service will not ask about the details of what happened to you, and they are unable to transfer you to anyone else on the call. They can only take your details and pass them to a healthcare professional at a SARCS who will phone you back. If you miss the call they will attempt to phone you a second time.

Read more about the sexual assault self-referral phone service

Read about support options available to you

Who runs the service?

The sexual assault self-referral phone service is operated by NHS 24 on behalf of the territorial Scottish health boards.

To put you in touch with a sexual assault response co-ordination service (SARCS) your details will be passed to the national hub.

The national hub is a service, provided by NHS Ayrshire & Arran on behalf of the other territorial health boards, which allows your details to be privately and securely passed between the self-referral service and the SARCS you want to be contacted by.

SARCS are run by their local territorial health board.

Download a leaflet about SARCS and the sexual assault self-referral phone service

Download an Easy Read leaflet about SARCS and the sexual assault self-referral phone service

Download a large print leaflet about SARCS and the sexual assault self-referral phone service

Request a Braille version of the leaflet about SARCS and the sexual assault self-referral phone service by emailing RNIBScotland.Mailbox@rnib.org.uk

Last updated:
19 June 2024