What should I do immediately after a sexual assault or rape?

If you have been raped or sexually assaulted, you may be both physically and emotionally affected. Only you can decide what you feel up to doing in the following hours, days or weeks.

This page provides information and advice to help you make the right decisions and get the support you need.

Safety first

If you have been raped or sexually assaulted, the first thing you need to do is go somewhere you feel safe, such as the home of a close friend or family member.

If you feel you're able to, you should consider telling someone you trust what has happened. You shouldn't feel ashamed or to blame for what has happened to you.

People you can talk to or organisations you can contact if you have been raped or sexually assaulted are listed below:

  • a friend or family member
  • a specialist support organisation such as National Rape Crisis (tel: 0808 802 9999) or Victim Support (tel: 0808 16 89 111)
  • Southall Black Sisters (London), supporting people from black and minority ethnic communities (tel: 020 8571 0800, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm)
  • The Havens are specialist centres in London for people who have been raped or sexually assaulted available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – to make an appointment, call:
    • Camberwell (south London) 020 3299 1599
    • Paddington (west London) 020 3312 1101
    • Whitechapel (east London) 020 7247 4787
  • specialist organisations that can help lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people who have been raped, such as Galop (tel: 020 7704 2040)
  • National Ugly Mugs will give advice to sex workers on how to make a report or receive warnings about dangerous individuals (tel: 0161 629 9861)
  • NHS 111
  • all of the above organisations will support a man who has been raped, but help is also available from Survivors UK (tel: 0845 122 1201, Monday and Tuesday, 7pm to 9.30pm, Wednesday 12 to 2.30pm and 6 to 9pm, or Thursday 12pm to 2.30pm)

If you speak to someone from an organisation, they will be able to give you support and advice over the telephone. You don't have to give them your name if you don't want to.

A sexual assault referral centre (SARC) will give you support and advice, and can carry out a forensic medical examination, as well as tests for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy.

A Victim Support volunteer can also visit you at home if you would prefer to talk to someone face-to-face.

Try to resist the urge to wash yourself or your clothes until you have decided whether to seek medical help from a SARC or report what happened to the police.

If you decide to report the crime to the police, they have a better chance of identifying your attacker and successfully prosecuting them if they have DNA evidence.

If you don't want to report the assault to the police, you can still seek care from a SARC. If you want, they can store forensic samples to help detect future crimes. These will never be used without your permission.

To obtain this evidence, a specially trained doctor will need to take samples of your saliva, urine, blood and pubic hair, and swabs from your mouth, rectum and genitals.

If you go to the police station, a police officer will arrange to take you to a SARC for these swabs and samples to be taken by a doctor in a special examination suite. In a few areas where a SARC is too far away, the police may be able to arrange for the doctor to see you in a special sympathy suite at the police station.

Swabs can be taken from any area that the attacker came into contact with, and the samples can be stored in case you decide to report it to the police at a later date, or to help detect patterns in future crimes affecting others. However, the swabs and other samples will not be used for these purposes without your permission.

If you're not sure whether you want to go to the police, you can go with a friend or family member to your local SARC, where you can have forensic and medical examinations if you choose, as well as medical care and treatment.

You can still receive treatment for any injuries, get emergency contraception, or check for STIs and not have any forensic tests if you don't want them.


Even if you are unsure whether to report the crime to the police, it is advisable to get some medical support after a rape or sexual assault. You may have injuries that need to be treated. It is also advisable to get guidance about emergency contraception and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

You can also go to any of the points of care listed below, but we would advise you to go to a SARC if you can reach one because they will provide you with immediate treatment and care, and begin to give you the specialist support and follow-up that is so often necessary.

All doctors and nurses will deal with your medical needs confidentially, and they will not inform the police without your permission. However, your GP will have to record any tests and the results in your medical record.

If you think you might report the crime to the police, you should tell a doctor or nurse so they can arrange for some forensic swabs to be taken that could be used as evidence. You can have the swabs taken and still decide not to go to the police.

If you are at a SARC and you want to report the assault to the police, the doctors and nurses will be able to arrange for the police to come to the SARC to discuss things with you.

Emergency contraception

If you are a woman and have been forced to have sex without any contraception, such as a condom, there is a chance you could become pregnant. Emergency contraception, if used in time, can prevent a pregnancy occurring.

There are two methods of emergency contraception. These are the:

Emergency pills are given as a single tablet to be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex. The use of the emergency pill is not recommended after 72 hours (three days) because the chances of it working after this time are greatly reduced.

The copper IUD can be fitted into the womb by a doctor or nurse within five days of having unprotected sex or the earliest time you could have released an egg (ovulation). The IUD has a success rate of almost 100% in preventing conception if fitted within this timescale.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

Even if you don't have any symptoms, it's best to have a check-up for STIs. After supporting you in the immediate period following a sexual assault or rape, the SARC will also provide STI testing and HIV prophylaxis.

If you don’t want to go to a SARC, you can go directly to an open sexual health (GUM) clinic for further testing. You may choose to have an HIV test. If you decide to have an HIV test, you will be offered counselling first. Find your nearest sexual health clinic.

Alternatively, you can call NHS 111 to speak to someone in confidence about any concerns you may have.

Reporting a sexual assault or rape to the police

Only you can decide whether to report a sexual assault or rape to the police. A sexual assault or rape is a sexual offence that the police take very seriously. Some police forces will have specially trained officers to work with you. You can report a sexual offence to the police at any time – for example, immediately after the incident or days later.

However, it's important to know that if you report the crime immediately after it has happened, the chances of the police collecting evidence and effectively investigating the crime are increased.

If you report an attack at a later stage, it's likely that any physical evidence will be lost. Ideally, medical evidence should be collected within 72 hours (three days) of the attack. Your clothes may also be needed as evidence so, if possible, remember to take spare clothing with you to change into. If not, don't worry – the police will be able to provide a spare set of clothes for you to change into.

The police are trained to deal with cases of rape and sexual assault, and they are there to help you. They have set procedures that ensure you get the support you need and, where possible, they get the evidence they need to identify and prosecute the attacker.

To do this, many police forces will work with the SARC in their area. However, at all times the choice is yours as to whether you report to the police directly or seek help from a SARC with or without police involvement.

If you are unsure what to do, you can get advice and information by calling these organisations:

  • National Rape Crisis helpline on 0808 802 9999 (open 12pm to 2.30pm and 7pm to 9.30pm every day of the year)
  • Victim Supportline on 0808 16 89 111

What happens next?

If you choose to report the sexual offence, a police officer will start by taking your details (you can ask for a female officer if you wish).

If the attack occurred recently, the police will arrange for you to have a medical examination, treatment and care, usually at a local SARC. This is to ensure that you receive the necessary medical attention, but also to collect any physical evidence.

Once you feel ready, the police will continue to take a statement from you. This will be used as the main piece of evidence if the case goes to trial (court). This means that your statement is not confidential. However, all your personal information, such as your name and address, will not be included in the statement.

You may feel embarrassed or find it difficult, but try to provide as much information as you can. If you can't remember certain details, tell them that you can't remember. Tell them if you have washed since the assault. Also, let them know whether you drank any alcohol or took any recreational drugs before the assault.

If you're worried you might forget some of the details, write everything down beforehand, even just in note form, to remind yourself later. For example, make a note of:

  • approximately what time the assault happened
  • where it happened
  • the sequence of events that happened before the assault
  • any conversations that could be relevant
  • how you tried to resist the assault
  • any details about the appearance of the attacker
  • any threats that were used against you
  • any weapons that were mentioned or seen during the assault
  • any injuries that you received
  • any injuries that the attacker received

Support and advice

Being raped or sexually assaulted can be an extremely distressing experience. Everyone reacts differently, and your feelings tend to change over time or even day to day.

You are likely to go through a range of emotions, such as fear, anxiety, shock, guilt and anger. However, what's important to remember is that if you've been the victim of a sexual assault or rape, it was not your fault. You may feel that you need some help getting over what has happened, even if it's just someone to talk to.

A close friend or family member may be a starting point. You may prefer to talk to someone you don't know, such as a counsellor or someone from a support group. Local support groups can help you to develop the confidence to get your life back. You can find these from the helplines listed above.

See your GP if you are experiencing anxiety or symptoms of depression. They will be able to offer support and advice. They can refer you to a counsellor and may also prescribe medication, such as antidepressants.

A Rape Crisis Centre can give you relevant information, support you with your health options, and develop methods for maintaining your health.

Remember, you can seek help either directly after the assault or in the following days, months or years, but the earlier, the better.

Further information and support:

Page last reviewed: 07/03/2015

Next review due: 28/02/2018