Rape and Sexual Assault

What is rape and sexual assault?

Rape & Sexual Assault. What health workers need to know.

Rape and sexual assault are sexual acts which take place without someone’sconsent.

Rape is defined under the law as forced vaginal, anal or oral penetration by the penis without consent.

Sexual assault covers other forms of frightening and distressing sexual violence  including:

  • Penetration by other body parts or objects
  • Being forcibly touched in a sexual manner
  • Sexual harassment

Rape or sexual assault:

  • can be a one-off or repeated experience
  • can be carried out over a number of years by an abusive partner
  • can happen to a woman by different people at different times in her life
  • can be part of a pattern of humiliation and degradation
  • can be experienced by asylum seekers and refugees as victims of war or torture
  • in most cases is carried out by someone known to the victim

Who is at risk?

The key risk factor for experiencing sexual violence is being female.

Rape and sexual assault can happen to both women and men (though there is a much higher prevalence in women) and often occurs in intimate relationships.

  • 7% of women and 0.4% of men experience rape
  • 23% of women and 3% of men experience sexual assaults as adults
  • in 54% of cases, the perpetrator is the current (45%) or ex (9%) partner of the victim
  • one in seven women experiences rape in marriage.

Health impact

Rape and sexual assault can have a serious effect on short and long-term physical and mental health.

Some of the signs to look out for include:

  • Shock, injury, trauma
  • Lower abdominal pain and lower back pain
  • Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, flashbacks, post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Sleep and eating disturbances
  • Gynaecological problems
  • Bowel disorders
  • Drug and alcohol misuse
  • Unwanted pregnancy, STIs and urinary tract infections
  • Sexual dysfunction

Your role as a health worker

As a health worker you are in a unique position to respond to patients who have been raped or sexually assaulted by treating them with respect and dignity and by:

  • Being aware that rape and sexual assault, recent or in the past, are a possibility
  • Recognising signs and symptons
  • Initiating discussion
  • Providing clinical care if required
  • Assessing safety
  • Documenting your findings (not in handheld notes)
  • Giving correct information

Further information on what to look for and what you can do to help can be found in the guidance.

Sexual violence in the context of domestic abuse may also mean that dependent children are at risk of serious harm.  If you suspect this, you should follow local child protection procedures and seek a multi-agency response to increasing safety for those affected.

Help and information

Rape Crisis Scotland Helpline:
08088 01 03 02 (daily 6pm – midnight)

Domestic Abuse Helpline:
0800 027 1234 (24 hours)

Scottish Women’s Aid:
0131 226 6606

Women’s Support Project:
0141 552 2221

Survivors UK National Helpline:
for male survivors of rape and childhood sexual abuse
0845 122 1201

Survivor Scotland:
for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse

Scottish Government
Information and help after rape and sexual assault

Support for Survivors

If you are looking for support for your own experiences of GBV you can call:

Scottish Domestic Abuse Helpline
0800 027 1234

Rape Crisis Scotland
08088 010302

or click on:

Scottish Womens Aid

Survivor Scotland

Galop National LGBT Domestic Abuse Helpline


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