Rape: A Brief Guide for Victims

What constitutes rape?

Rape is defined as when one person, or a group of people, forces another person to have penetrative sex against their will. Most victims are women, but men can also be victims. Sexual assault is defined as any kind of sexual contact or behaviour that is against the will of the victim.

Rape or sexual assault can be committed by someone who the victim knows, including members of their family. You can also be raped or sexually assaulted by your partner, friend or a complete stranger.

Babies, children, teenagers and adults can also be victims. With a victim under 18 years of age, rape can be referred to as child abuse.

At times, different terms are used to describe different kinds of rape. For example: marital rape, acquaintance rape, date rape or stranger rape. None of these terms have any legal meaning. It is not relevant what the relationship is between the complainant and the defendant, if any.

What constitutes consent?

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 defines consent as:

  • She or he agrees by choice, and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice.
  • A victim is deemed not to have the capacity to make that choice if she or he is mentally incompetent, intoxicated, drugged, or below the age of consent.
  • The law recognises that consent can be withdrawn at any time during a sexual act.

Person A is guilty of an offence if person B does not consent to the act, and person A does not reasonably believe that person B consents to the act. This means that person A has the responsibility to ensure that person B consents to the sexual act. The police will endeavour to establish the steps taken by person A to satisfy themselves that person B consented to the sexual act.

Where a complainant has consumed large quantities of alcohol or other substances and have consented to sexual activity, then no offence is committed. This is the case even if the complainant would not have consented if they had not consumed the alcohol or substances.

Reporting rape

If a person has not given consent or was not capable of giving consent to a sexual act, it is irrelevant what they were wearing, how much they had to drink or where the act took place. The sooner and incident is reported to the police the more forensic evidence can be collected, and this will help bring a conviction. At the police station request to see the Sexual Offences Liaison Officer.

Advantages of reporting rape
  • It is an opportunity for you to present your side of the story.

  • The attacker could be prosecuted.

  • If you are frequently attacked by the same person, reporting it will stop future attacks.

Disadvantages of reporting rape
  • Reporting an incident does not necessarily mean that the attacker will be prosecuted.

  • Once you have reported an incident you will have little control over proceedings.

Police Procedures

All police investigations start with the collection of forensic evidence. These tests are done by taking swabs from any part of your body that the assailant came in contact with. It is important that you do not do any of the following before the swabs are taken:

  • Do not wash

  • Do not brush your teeth

  • Do not smoke a cigarette

  • Do not eat or drink

  • Do not change your clothes

  • Try not to go to the toilet

  • Do not clear or clean the scene of the area where the incident took place

Incidents of sexual violence that are reported to the police will usually be recorded on video. This video could be played to the court at a later trial. If your statement is not recorded on video, a police officer will take down a written statement from you. You will be asked to read your statement before signing it to check that it is correct. The statement should be written in the language and style of speech that you use or is appropriate to you. Interpreters will be made available if required. Support workers are available from support organizations, it is recommended to have one with you when making your statement.  Discuss any concerns you have about making a statement with the police officer dealing with your case.

Police investigations

Every police investigation concerning sexual violence will be overseen by an Investigating Officer and a Specially Trained Officer (STO) who will support you throughout the investigation and trial, if there is one. During the investigation of the offence the police may contact any witnesses and ask them to:

  • Make a statement.

  • Seize any evidence, such as CCTV, computers or mobile phones.

  • Send evidence away for analysis.

  • Carry out identification procedures, like identity parade or video ID.

  • Arrest or interview a suspect.

Charging a suspect

On completion of the investigation the police will pass the evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) who will decide, based on sufficient and reliable evidence, whether or not the suspect should be charged with a criminal offence. The CPS will also consider whether there is a realistic chance of a conviction.

If the suspect is charged

Once it has been decided that a suspect will be charged with a sexual offence, they can either be released on bail and later attend the magistrates’ court on a set date, or be held in custody and appear in court within 24 hours.

Withdrawing a complaint

There may be circumstances in which you decide that you no longer wish the police to continue their investigations, or you no longer wish the case goes to court. If you have not yet given a statement you can decide not to give one, without a statement there will not be an investigation.

If you have made a statement you can withdraw it at any time by asking the police officer dealing with your case to make a withdrawal statement. You will have to explain in the withdrawal statement why you no longer wish the investigation to continue. If a complainant admits to giving false information in a previous statement, they could be investigated for wasting police time or perverting the course of justice.