Publication - Advice and guidance

Information and help after rape and sexual assault

Published: 22 Feb 2016
Part of:
Equality and rights, Law and order
ISBN:
9781785449895

Information pack for women and men over 16 who have been raped or sexually assaulted.

Information and help after rape and sexual assault
About rape and sexual assault

About rape and sexual assault

Rape and sexual assault are violent crimes which can have a devastating effect.

There are legal definitions for these crimes and they are very precise (see Section 5: Meanings and court procedures). You can use any words you like to describe what happened to you. What you have experienced may not fit the legal definitions but can be just as upsetting and frightening.

Whatever words are used, rape and sexual assault are wrong. They are an assault on your body, your mind and your dignity.

Who can be affected

Rape and sexual assault can happen anywhere and to anyone. People often ask 'why me?' Specialist services such as Rape Crisis Scotland will be able to provide you with the support you need to talk about what has happened. It is not your fault and nothing you did can be held to be contributory to what happened to you. Rape can happen to anyone: from older to very young people. Both men and women can be victims of rape. Many victims know the person who raped them. Most victims of rape and sexual assault are women.

Rape and sexual assault of men

Although fewer men than women are raped and sexually assaulted, the effects are just as devastating. It may be very difficult for men to talk about what has happened because of the common view that men should be 'strong' and able to protect themselves. Some straight men may also feel that the assault has undermined their heterosexuality and they may feel ashamed to tell people what has happened to them. Because rape and sexual assault of men is less commonly reported, they may not come forward because think they will not be believed. But men are affected and it is vital that they get the help they need. Rape against any victim, regardless of gender, is a very serious offence. Rape Crisis Scotland also supports male victims.

Number of people who are raped/sexually assaulted

It is difficult to know how many people are affected because rape and sexual assault often happen in private. Scottish police records for the year 2014/15 show a total of 9,577 reported sexual crimes with 1,901 reported rapes and attempted rapes and 3,727 sexual assaults. There are likely to be many more that go unreported. Often, people who have been raped or sexually assaulted do not tell anyone what happened. They may feel ashamed or embarrassed, they may blame themselves and they may think that if they say anything they will not be believed. They may not really know what happened if they were unconscious or asleep at the time. Male victims may find it more difficult than women to come forward.

People from ethnic minority communities, disabled people or those who are worried about their immigration status, people involved in prostitution or who are homeless or who are in some way disadvantaged may find it even harder to report.

When it happens

For some people, rape or sexual assault may be a single incident. Others may be assaulted, regularly or periodically, over a long period of time, for example by an abusive partner. Yet others may be assaulted by different people at different times in their lives.

Newspapers and television tend to show rape and sexual assault being carried out by strangers, at night, up a dark alley and involving force. In fact, most assaults are carried out by someone known to the victim. This includes sexual partners, casual acquaintances, family members and others. Most rapes are committed indoors, usually in the home. Rape and sexual assault are often part of domestic abuse, alongside physical and emotional abuse, and one in seven women is raped in marriage. However, many people who experience domestic abuse find the sexual violence the most difficult aspect to speak about.

Forced sex within a relationship is a crime. Being violated by someone you know does not make the crime less distressing or more acceptable. In fact, it is a terrible breach of trust.

Adults who have suffered sexual assault in childhood

Many people have experienced sexual abuse as children. If this happened to you, being sexually assaulted as an adult can re-awaken memories and feelings about what happened to you as a child. The effects of a recent sexual assault may be extremely distressing and may result in frightening symptoms such as flashbacks or panic attacks. This is an absolutely natural reaction and is NOT a sign of weakness. Section 4 gives details of services you can contact for help. You can also find out more at www.survivorscotland.org.uk.

What people think about rape and sexual assault

Unlike other crimes, some people think that those who have been raped or sexually assaulted are in some way responsible for what has happened because of their lifestyle, for example by putting themselves in a particular situation, previous sexual history, drinking alcohol or wearing revealing clothing. These views are wrong. They may also think that if a person did not struggle they must have agreed to or enjoyed it. But a common reaction to a shocking situation is to freeze. Many people do not fight back because they think this may make things even worse. Lack of physical injury does not mean that the sexual assault was any less serious or damaging or in any way invited.

What people read or see in the media might encourage these beliefs.

If you have been raped or sexually assaulted, you might also believe these things. It may help to know that:

  • Rape and sexual assault are serious crimes
  • The attacker is responsible for the rape/sexual assault. The attacker always has a choice
  • Rape/sexual assault is never the victim's fault
  • You do not have to put up with such violence
  • You can live your life in any way you want. This does not mean you deserve to be raped or sexually assaulted
  • Any sexual activity should always involve free and equal agreement between two people

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