Advocacy Counselling Helpline

What to do if you or a friend have been raped or sexually assaulted

Advice and guidance on your next steps and choices

There is no time limit on which to report a rape or sexual assault to the police.  If you would like to discuss this, please contact our Independent Sexual Violence Advocacy team on 0113 2002930 or email advocacy@sarsvl.org.uk and one of our Independent Sexual Violence Advocates (ISVA) can talk through your options and the police reporting through to court process.

Almost half the women we support are adult survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA), and that’s why our service can be so valuable for women who have been living with that for many years. We’re also here for you if it happened recently, and here is some guidance on what you can do if you or a friend have been raped or sexually assaulted recently.

We support women and girls who have experienced child sexual abuse, rape and all forms of sexual violence.

If you’ve been raped or sexually assaulted, it is entirely up to you whether or not you choose to report it to the police. No-one else can or should make that decision for you.

Rape is legally defined as:

Vaginal, oral or anal penetration without your consent.

This can happen with or without physical force and/or physical violence.

Sexual assault is defined as any sexual act that you did not consent to.

Reporting to the police:

If you are in immediate danger, please call 999.

If you are not in immediate danger, you can call 101. 

If you do choose to report to the police, a forensic medical examination will be offered so that forensic evidence can be collected, if the rape/sexual assault happened within the past 7 days.

In order to preserve forensic evidence, it is recommended that you or your friend/family member:

  • Do not wash
  • Do not brush your teeth
  • Do not have a cigarette
  • Do not eat or drink
  • Do not change your clothes
  • If you do change your clothes, do not wash them but put them in a clean plastic bag
  • Try not to go to the toilet
  • Do not clear up anything from the area of the incident

Don’t worry if you have already done some of these things. It’s possible that there is still forensic evidence to collect.


Early Evidence Kits
If the rape/sexual assault occurred within the last 48 hours and you call the police, a specially trained officer (STO) can use what is called an early evidence kit which consists of taking a urine sample and a mouth rinse. This means that crucial evidence will not be lost if you need to go to the toilet and have a drink before you undergo a full forensic examination.

Forensic examination
A full forensic examination will be carried out at a Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC).  This is a specialist medical facility which carries out the necessary forensic medical examinations and tests which may be used in evidence if your case proceeds to court.  If you are an adult, tests can only be carried out with your consent.

The West Yorkshire SARC is called the Hazlehurst Centre.  If you are an adult, you will be examined by a Forensic Nurse Examiner (FNE) and will receive support from a specially trained Crisis Worker.

If you are a child, under 16 years of age, you will be examined by a Paediatric Doctor and receive support from a paediatric crisis worker and should always attend the SARC regardless of when the abuse happened.

If you are seriously injured and your injuries need immediate attention, please go to Leeds General Infirmary Accident and Emergency (A & E) or your nearest A & E.  A Forensic nurse examiner from West Yorkshire Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) may come to the hospital if you are not fit to leave hospital for your examination.

If you’re not sure yet whether you want to report to the police but think you might want to at some point, you can have a forensic medical examination carried out at your nearest Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC), where forensic evidence can be stored in case you decide to report to the police at a later date.

Either way, if you want forensic evidence to be collected, time is an important factor; you should try and go to the SARC or report to the police straight away if you can, or at least within 7 days of the rape or assault.

What happens when you report to the police

If you report to the police, an initial account of what has happened to you will be taken by the STO and any early evidence will be captured (depending on when the incident occurred,) such as early evidence kits and seizing any clothing that you were wearing at the time.  Following this, you will be asked to provide a video recorded interview with a specialist officer.  This should be arranged at a time which is convenient for you.

It’s important not to leave any information or details out of your statement, even if you find them upsetting or embarrassing. If there are things you can’t remember, tell the police that, rather than trying to imagine or speculate about what might have happened and be honest with the police even about things that you might be worried will reflect badly on you, like how much alcohol you’d had to drink or if you’d taken illegal drugs; remember that none of these factors make what happened to you your fault and you are not to blame.

Once you have finished your video interview, you will be provided with the details of the Officer in your case and offered referrals for specialist support.  The Officer in the case will keep you updated throughout the investigation.

SARSVL Independent Sexual Violence Advocacy Service

If you are female and 18 and over, you can be supported by one of our Independent Sexual Violence Advocates (ISVA).  The role of the ISVA is to provide emotional and practical supporting during the reporting process to the police, throughout the investigation and right up to court, if the case proceeds to trial.

These four videos #BreakTheSilence created by Rape Crisis South London highlight the role of the ISVA:

FILM ONE – #BreakTheSilence – click here

FILM TWO – #BreakTheSilence – click here

FILM THREE- #BreakTheSilence – click here

FILM FOUR – #BreakTheSilence – click here

Other resources

Nina Burrowes video ‘Should I go to the police?’ – click here

Frequently asked questions.

What if they do this to someone else?

Whatever you decide to do, it is not your responsibility if they do this to someone else.  The only person responsible for rape and sexual offences is the perpetrator.

If I do go to the police, do I need a lawyer?

No, you do need legal representation to report a criminal offence and there will be no cost to you financially in reporting.  If you do report and the case gets to court, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will cover your travel and any overnight accommodation expenses.

How long will it take?

It is impossible to quantify how long a police investigation takes and a lot will depend on when the offence happened and other factors.  Some cases can take two years and over from report to court.

How do I access the ISVA service?

You can email advocacy@sarsvl.org.uk and one of our ISVAs will get back to you.  Or you can call the office on 0113 243 9102 and we can take a referral by phone.

How long will I have to wait before I hear from you?

Once your referral has been received, we will aim to call you back within 4 days to complete our initial screening and monitoring questions. If appropriate, you will then be placed on the waiting list, and we will be in touch when we can offer an assessment.

Call our helpline free on
0808 802 3344

Your call should be answered immediately during our helpline opening times, unless we’re on another call. If we’re closed or on another call you can leave us a message and we’ll call you back.