Sexual violence is what happens when someone does not consent to a sexual act. There are many different kinds of sexual violence from flashing and voyeurism to sexual assault and rape. It can happen to anyone – women, men, girls and boys. No one ever deserves or asks for it to happen.
This section gives more information and some answers to frequently asked questions. See also Information and Help after Rape and Sexual Assault produced by the Scottish Government.
People of every age, race or religious background are raped. No matter where you were, what you were doing, what you were wearing, what you were saying, if you were drunk or under the influence of drugs, you did not deserve this. The responsibility always lies with the attacker, not you.
Our statistics show that women are more often attacked by someone they know and trust. No matter who the attacker was you did not deserve what has happened.
See facts about rape for more information about rape and sexual assault.
Your emotional and physical health are important.
If you have recently experienced sexual violence you may have injuries which need medical attention. These injuries may be internal or external. There may also be a risk of pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
It is natural to feel scared or nervous about going to a doctor or clinic.
If you think there is a risk of pregnancy you can take the emergency contraceptive pill up to three days (72 hours) after an attack. An IUD often called a coil can be fitted up to five days (120 hours) and must stay inside you until the time of your next period. You can get emergency contraception from local family planning and sexual health clinics. The RCS Helpline or your local Rape Crisis Centre can help to find your closest service. You can also buy the emergency contraceptive pill from chemists for a cost of £25.
If you are pregnant and do not wish to continue with the pregnancy you can ask your GP or a doctor at a family planning clinic for a termination (abortion). It is your decision and no one has a right to tell you what you should do.
If you are concerned about STIs you can visit your local family planning or sexual health clinic for testing. You don’t need to tell them what happened unless you wish to and you don’t need to give them your real name. The services are free and confidential. If any of your tests are positive for STIs, the clinic will give you the right treatment such as antibiotics.
If you are having an HIV test it is worth considering when best to do this. This is because it takes 12 weeks for the infection to show up. You can also have these tests done by your GP but they must record the test and the result in your medical record.
If you experienced sexual violence some time ago you may have been in poor health since then. It is not unusual to experience pains associated with specific injuries or more unspecific pains, for example in your abdomen. The effects of sleeplessness, depression and flashbacks can all be physical and associated with general ill health.
It is important to ask for help.
Everyone reacts differently to a traumatic event. Whatever you feel is a natural response to what has happened. Some examples are below. But you might feel none of these. Whatever you feel, it is important to get support if you need this. The RCS Helpline or local rape crisis centres can help.
It is important to ask for help if you are feeling any of these things.
Take things at your own pace. There is no right or wrong about how long it can take to come to terms with something like this.
It can be hard to look after ourselves when we are going through a traumatic time, but it is important to try to eat and sleep as well as you can. Everything can seem much harder to cope with when you are tired and run down.
You don’t have to cope alone.
Share your thoughts and feelings about your experience with a trusted friend or family member, partner or another survivor.
It is up to you whether to report to the police, immediately or some time – even years - later.
If you decide to report to the police:
If the police find and charge the attacker, normally a report is passed to the Procurator Fiscal (PF). The PF will decide whether or not to take things further. This might mean bringing charges against the attacker and the attacker appearing in court. It is the PF who actually brings the charges, not you.
Where the attacker appears in court to answer charges it is likely that in most cases, he will get bail. He will be warned not to approach you. If he does, contact the police again and let them know.
Whether or not the attacker appears in court to answer charges it is likely that the evidence in the case will be investigated by the PF. This is called a precognition investigation. It is normal for the PF to ask you to go in for a meeting to discuss the case, including any applications for special measures (e.g a screen or a supporter). The PF may also ask the police to take an additional statement from you, if they require any additional information.
The accused’s lawyer is also likely to want to speak to you before the trial. This is a normal part of the legal process. You do not have to agree to the interview but the fiscal will encourage you to take part. The interview gives the defence lawyer a better idea of the case and helps them advise the accused whether they should pled guilty or not guilty. This sometimes means that a trial can be avoided. You can arrange this meeting at a location where you feel comfortable, and you can have a friend, relation or someone from a rape crisis centre with you. The accused will not be there.
Cases of rape and other serious sexual offences are heard in the High Court. Other offences, for example attempted rape, are dealt with in the Sheriff Court. The difference between the two is the power they have for sentencing.
In court you are the chief witness for the prosecution and you are not represented by a lawyer.
It is hard to say how long the case will last. It may be postponed, but you only have to be there to give your evidence. Often there are long periods of waiting.
If you made your own notes, read them through before you go.
If the accused pleads “guilty” you will not have to appear, but this may not happen until the last minute.
Be prepared for several people to be in court when you give evidence. Members of the public will be cleared from the court while you give your evidence and the press will not publish your name or address. The accused will be in court while you give evidence.
Often, people may worry about their personal records (e.g. medical, education, social work) being brought up in court. The Crown Office have published a leaflet which should answer any questions you may have in relation to this - you can see this at: http://tinyurl.com/7rqtg4h
If the accused is found “guilty”, he will be sentenced. There is a three-year maximum sentence in the Sheriff Court, but no upper limit in the High Court.
You should receive a letter from the PF asking if you want to opt into the Victim Notification scheme. This means that you would be informed when your attacker is released from prison. You can opt into this scheme at any time although they strongly suggest you do so as soon as possible. You can also opt out of this scheme at any point.
If he is found “not guilty” he will be released. You cannot appeal against this decision.
If the case is “not proven”, this means there has not been enough evidence to convict him and he will be released.
You may be able to claim compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. Rape crisis centres can help you apply.
Anyone who has experienced sexual abuse, rape or any other traumatic event can experience flashbacks. Flashbacks are a memory of a frightening or painful experience, which occurred either in childhood or adult life. It tends not to be like an ordinary memory, but more a sudden and unexpected intrusion. Flashbacks can be experienced as a single slide from a slide show, a snapshot or photograph that flashes repeatedly or like a video clip. A flashback can feel almost as real as when it originally happened and can also be as frightening. Not everyone’s flashbacks are visual. Some take the form of words and phrases or sounds that were heard in the past. They can be accompanied by intense feelings of shame, sadness, anger, or physical sensations known as “body memories”, which may have been felt at the time of the original abuse. Flashbacks can happen at any time, anywhere and often occur without warning. They can be triggered by the time of year or day, TV programme, film, smells, words, phrases, a song, places, someone who reminds you in some way of your abuser, pictures, taste, a particular feeling such as fear or anxiety, having sex or being intimate with your partner. These can occur instantly or sometime later. Sometimes a flashback can occur in response to hearing voices that tell you to do things such as harm yourself or someone else. Hearing voices can be very frightening.
Some ideas are:
Remember flashbacks are a natural response to what you have experienced.
Some people harm themselves to relieve distress. This can take many forms including cutting, burning and overdosing. Physical pain is often easier to cope with than emotional pain. Self-harm can make people feel relieved and calm for a while. It is not an attempt to die. It is a way of coping with intense feelings. There are things you can do to minimise harm. Some ideas are:
Remember you are not alone. Many people self-harm as a way of coping.
Sexual violence is more often committed by someone known to the victim. This can be a partner, ex-partner or boyfriend and can happen in the context of an intimate relationship. You always have the right to say no to sex, whether or not you have previously had consensual sex with someone. Forced sex within marriage or an intimate relationship, whether this takes place within a heterosexual or same-sex relationship, is still rape. This is a crime.
No matter whether alcohol or drugs were taken voluntarily or not, responsibility for the sexual violence always lies with the perpetrator.
Alcohol is the main ‘drug’ associated with drug-assisted sexual violence.
Sometimes alcohol or drugs were taken voluntarily before the rape or sexual assault.
Sometimes drinks are ‘spiked’ with stronger drinks or additional measures.
This can happen anywhere – at home, in a pub – and done by someone known or unknown.
The drugs which are used to spike drinks are sedatives. The effects of these are made more powerful and dangerous if taken with alcohol. These drugs, sometimes called “date rape drugs” can take effect very quickly and the effects can last for hours. Rohypnol is well known, although many other prescription drugs and illicit substances are used including ketamine, temazepam, valium, GBL and GHB.
Depending on the drug, the effects of these can vary but include:-
Many of the above are also associated with significant alcohol consumption so their consumption can be difficult to identify. The combination and amount of drugs, combined with alcohol can be life threatening and it is important to seek medical advice if you have any concerns.
You may not remember much of what happened. This can make reporting very difficult. Not knowing what or all of what has happened, having gaps in events, possibly not knowing who was involved or where you were taken can also be difficult to cope with.
You may have other evidence to suggest something has happened, such as bruises or bleeding or you may find yourself somewhere or with someone you do not know. You may find yourself going over and over what happened, or torturing yourself with thoughts of what might have taken place.
If you think you might have been raped or sexually assaulted and want to involve the police it is important to do this as soon as possible as traces of the drugs can leave your system very quickly, along with other forensic evidence. This varies depending on the drug. Some leave no trace after 12 hours, others 48. The police may want to take blood, urine and hair samples in addition to the forensic examination associated with rape/sexual assault.
Whether or not you involve the police you may want to think about contacting health or support services.
While support may not be able to reassure you about what has happened or give you answers to the questions you may have about those gaps it is important you know that there is support available.
Remember, you are not to blame and you deserve to be safe, listened to and to have the support you need.
Most abuse is ritualised in some way and, generally, people accept that children can be subjected to a range of terrifying and repetitive abusive experiences. One definition of ritual abuse is when one or more children are abused in a highly organised way, by a group of people who have come together and subscribe to a belief system that, for them, justifies their actions towards that child. This usually extends into family involvement and may have been practised as a religion or a way of life for years. Although survivors speak of differing experiences, many elements are common:
Rape crisis supports survivors of all forms of sexual abuse, including ritual abuse.
Sexual harassment can include: someone making degrading, abusive remarks or gestures; being leered or stared at; being subjected to sexual jokes and sexual propositions; having to listen to comments about personal sexual activity or sexual preference; and, experiencing unwanted touching and bodily contact.
Although sexual harassment happens everywhere, it is very common at work, which can make it especially distressing and difficult to deal with.
It causes stress and hostility in the workplace, and over time, it can lead to physical and emotional problems such as headaches; nausea; cystitis; depression; anxiety; sleeping problems; nightmares; eating problems; loss of self-confidence, self-esteem and/or self- worth.
If this is happening to you, it is not your fault and you are being unreasonable in not liking it. The harasser is to blame and is abusing their position of trust and power. You may not be the only person they are harassing.
It is important that you speak to someone who will take your feelings seriously.
Rather than putting up with the situation or reporting the harassment, many women leave their job and look for work elsewhere. However, with some support and information, there are things you can do:
Most organisations and companies have proper procedures for dealing with sexual harassment and complaints. If your employer reacts badly and you are sacked, this could be “unfair dismissal’’. If you have to leave because nothing is done about the harassment, this could be “constructive dismissal”. In both situations, you can take the case to an industrial tribunal.
No one should have to put up with unwanted advances towards them at work. You can get help to deal with it.
Child sexual abuse is any type of sexual assault on a child under 16. It takes many forms: explicit sexual talk; showing pornography; sexual touching; lack of privacy to bath or undress; masturbation; and sexual intercourse. In more than three quarters of cases, an adult the child knows and trusts commits the abuse. The vast majority of abusers are men but women are also capable of sexual abuse.
Many children do not tell anyone about the abuse because they:
If this happened to you as a child, you cannot be responsible for consenting to an act you didn’t understand, were forced into or had no choice about.
No matter how long ago you were abused, your feelings about what happened to you are important. You have the right to be listened to, no matter what you want to say. Through speaking about your abuse you may be able to overcome any difficulties that you experience as an adult.
The abuser is always to blame for the abuse. Some children are made or forced to abuse other children as part of their abuse. They often have no choice. They may be threatened with serious harm if they do not comply. If this happened to you, you are not to blame.
Anyone who has experienced sexual violence needs to be listened to and believed, whether they have just been attacked, or are talking about events that happened some time ago, for example, in childhood. You can help in many ways:
Listen to what s/he has to say in their own time. It might not be easy to start talking about something that has been hidden for a long time. The abuser may have threatened them to stay silent.
Believe. People rarely lie about rape or sexual abuse. Why would they? It is important to believe what they are saying.
Respect their feelings and decisions. Crying can be part of the healing process.
Remember it is not their fault - no-one asks to be abused or deserves it and cannot be blamed for being unable to prevent the abuse.
Recognise the courage it takes for someone to speak. It takes a great deal to face up to fears and to talk about any experience of sexual violence. It can be important for friends and family members to acknowledge the courage it has taken for someone to speak about what happened.
Don’t tell them to forget about it. Don't say, “It happened a long time ago, why does it suddenly bother you now?” Healing can take time and some people block or try to forget traumatic events. This is a way of coping with what has happened. Remembering can be triggered by events such as the birth of a baby, a TV programme, marriage, changing job, starting a new relationship and so on
Don’t ask them why they didn’t fight back. People can freeze when confronted with a terrifying situation.
Don’t ask why they didn’t say anything sooner. If it happened when they were young they may have tried to tell but been ignored or disbelieved. They may have been threatened or been too frightened to say anything. Most people do try to tell someone at some time.
Don’t tell them what to do. They need to be in control of the decisions about matters which affect them. You can help them to explore options available.
Don’t pressure them into doing or talking about things they are not ready to face. When they are ready they will speak.
If your partner has recently been attacked or has remembered some past abuse which they have blocked out, they may find sexual and intimate contact difficult. It is important to realise that this is not something to do with you. It is to do with the feelings and memories they have. Reassure them and let them take things at their own pace. With your help, patience and understanding, they can heal from the trauma.
Seeing someone you care about dealing with a traumatic experience can be distressing. It is important that you get support for yourself. Without such support, it can be really hard for you to be there for your friend or family member. Try asking a trusted friend or family member or contact the Rape Crisis Scotland Helpline or your local rape crisis centre.
Men and boys experience sexual violence, usually perpetrated by other men.
The evidence suggests that eight per cent of the male population are sexually abused, and some put it at 20 per cent and higher. (Mankind UK, 2002)
It may be difficult for men to talk about what has happened because of the common view that men should be 'strong' and able to protect themselves or (in the case of straight men) because they think the assault has 'made them gay'. Because sexual assault of men is less common, they may not come forward because they think they will not be believed.
Men often find it easier to talk to women about the abuse as they fear being judged by other men.
Men and women may share similar feelings about sexual violence but may react in different ways. Men may be more likely to hurt themselves or damage things but this is not always the case.
If men are crying and struggling to cope, they may feel this is 'unmanly' and this can affect their self-esteem.
Men who are abused as boys can struggle to dissociate from seeing all adult men as abusers. This can affect their concept of self as well as relationships and intimacy.
Men may feel particularly vulnerable because of expectations that all men should be strong, in control and able to protect themselves. This may be made worse if they have no one to confide in or they think that friends and family will be unsupportive. This in turn may make it more difficult for men to talk about the assault.
Gay men may think that the assault happened because they are gay. They may have been taunted about their sexuality as part of the attack. Straight men may feel very confused and wonder if they are gay as a result of the assault or because of how their bodies responded during the assault. They may be more distressed by the sexual element of the assault than the violence and be reluctant to say anything because they are worried about being seem as gay. However, sexual assault has nothing to do with the sexual orientation of the attacker or the victim. Sexual assault does not make someone gay, bisexual or straight. It is a crime of violence that affects straight men as much as gay men.
If you have been raped or sexually assaulted, it is important for your health and that of your partner (if you have one) to get a check up at a health clinic so you can get advice about possible infections and treatment.
If you or someone you know has experienced rape or sexual assault, you can find out about services in your area by phoning the Rape Crisis Scotland Helpline. All rape crisis service offer initial help to men who have been raped or sexually assaulted and several provide ongoing support.
If you were sexual assaulted as a child you may find it helpful to look at the information on www.survivorscotland.org.uk
What is Stalking?
Stalking is unwanted, focused behaviours carried out by one person, or persons, against another, causing fear and alarm. Stalking is not a one off incident but taken together forms a course of conduct and can include some of the following:
It may be that the acts themselves are not threatening or abusive, but the meaning and context may have a particular or hidden significance and are aimed at causing you fear and alarm.
Stalkers rarely employ one type of stalking behaviour and often employ several. It is also not uncommon for stalkers to have help from others, unwittingly or not.
In the main stalking is a gendered crime, perpetrated by men against women, however stalking can affect anyone and can be perpetrated by anyone. Stalking can be by someone you know, it can often be part of ongoing domestic or sexual abuse or it may be that the person is unknown to you. Sometimes children, family or others around you may also be threatened or targeted.
Whatever the situation your safety is paramount.
The absence of violence in a stalking case does not mean that you are unaffected. Living with stalking can be extremely frightening and can have a profound impact on a person’s life.
Being stalked can leave you feeling alone and isolated. If the stalker is not violent or threatening, you may find that others do not take your concerns seriously or feel you are over-reacting. Do not ignore your concerns and trust your instincts. Get the support you need from those who take your concerns seriously.
It is not uncommon if you are being stalked to feel anxious, depressed, hypersensitive, to be afraid to go out, afraid to stay at home, afraid to answer the telephone or afraid of what the post may bring. And these feelings can remain even after the stalking behaviour stops.
It’s important to recognise that stalking has a similar impact to other forms of sexual violence.. The effects can include:
Everyone is different in how they react. What is important is you get the support you need and deserve.
On 13th of December 2010, the new offence of Stalking came into force in Scotland under Section 39 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010.
The Act states that a person commits the offence of stalking if they ‘engage in a course of conduct (two or more incidents) that they know, or ought to have known in all circumstances would be likely to cause in another person to suffer fear or alarm’.
The legislation provides a broad list of the most common types of stalking behaviour and the above list is not exhaustive The law recognises as stalking ‘acting in any other way that a reasonable person would expect to suffer fear or alarm’.
If the stalking charge cannot be proven in court under Section 39, it may be considered under the alternative offence of ‘Threatening and Abusive behaviour’.
How the Law can help you
If you are immediate danger call 999.
If you are being stalked, you may be worried that if you take legal action, the perpetrator’s behaviour will escalate. However, ignoring the behaviour may leave you further at risk. Speak to the Police about any concerns you have and they will be able to advise you on additional measures you can take to improve your safety both at home and elsewhere.
You can report the perpetrator to the police or apply for an interdict through a civil court. An interdict is a civil order that is applied for through the Court by your solicitor. You may find it helpful to seek support and advice before doing this.
To contact the police, either go to your local police station or call the non-emergency number and make an appointment. It will help to take a written diary of events with you, as well as any questions you have, so you don't forget anything you want to include.
Even if you don’t want to involve the police, you may wish to apply for a non harassment order or an interdict through a civil court stipulating that the perpetrator is not to contact or approach you. Breach of a non harassment order is a criminal offence, meaning the police can arrest the perpetrator immediately if the terms of the order are broken. Always ask the court to attach a “Power of Arrest” to the interdict, allowing the police to arrest the perpetrator if the terms of the interdict are breached.
If you don’t have a solicitor your local Rape Crisis Centre or Women’s Aid should be able to recommend one who could do this for you.
If the perpetrator is arrested and subsequently released on bail, you can talk to the police about the bail conditions imposed. Bail conditions could specify that the perpetrator must not contact or approach you, or go to a certain place such as your home or workplace. Breach of bail is a criminal offence and you should contact the police if this happens.
If the case is prosecuted in court, there are a number of possible outcomes. Support is available for you through this process. Depending on the evidence the perpetrator may receive a prison sentence and you could be granted a non harassment order. Whatever the outcome it is important that you know there are people to support you.
· It is important to try and gather evidence and document what is happening.
· Evidence can include a record of any communication such telephone calls, including silent calls, copies of text messages, letters and emails, screenshots of web pages or Instant Messaging conversations
· If you receive any obscene materials in the post these could also be important for the Police as the stalker could be committing an offence under Section 85 of the Postal Services Act 2000.
· If you receive a letter, package or parcel which you know is from the stalker, you should place it, unopened where possible, in a plastic bag and show it to the police if you have involved them. This is the best way to preserve any fingerprints, skin cells etc. that may be on the contents.
· It is important to keep a diary and record all incidents you think are connected to the stalking behaviour, including silent phone calls.
· Ensure you include details such as the time, date, location, outline what happened, who did what, the impact on you and details of any potential witnesses.
· Photographic or video evidence can also be useful, but check with the Police if you plan on taking pictures of your stalker to ensure you stay within the law.
· When you show your evidence to the police ask that they look at all the incidents together as a course of conduct rather than viewing each incident individually.
If you are being contacted by phone this can be very difficult as you may want to answer the calls to tell him to leave you alone or to try to reason with him and let him know the impact his behaviour is having on your and your family. However, the message he will take from any communication you have with him is that he can get a response from you; if he calls, you will answer. Some other ways to deal with this are:
Talk to neighbours, colleagues or your manager about the
harassment if you feel comfortable doing so. They may be able to help by collecting further evidence on your behalf
or by putting protective measures in
carrying a personal alarm and varying your daily routine eg taking different
routes to and from work
· Plan leisure activities that involve other people
where the nearest safe place is eg a police station, a 24 hour supermarket or
hospital with security guards
· Above everything, trust your instincts
Limit the amount of information you share on social
networking sites and check your privacy settings to make sure you are not
sharing more information than you intend to
Change your passwords often and don’t use the same
password for all websites you access
Get your computer checked for malware and key-logging
· For fuller guidance on digital stalking and improving your cyber safety see www.womensaid.org.uk
For more information about stalking see also:-