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sexual violence.

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Frequently asked questions

Why did it happen to me?

You are not to blame for what happened. There are many different kinds of sexual violence from flashing and voyeurism to sexual assault and rape. Sexual violence is what happens when someone does not consent to a sexual act. Sexual violence can happen to anyone, no one ever deserves or asks for it to happen.

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When it happened I just froze, why couldn't I fight him off?

What happened is not your fault. People often assume 'if it happened to me I would fight for my life'. Sometimes these assumptions are unrealistic and unhelpful. Some survivors are able to fight, others try to run and others freeze. These are all natural reactions when you are in situations out of your control.

You can't choose how your body will react when you are in danger. There are also times when the fear or threat of further violence makes it less safe to fight and resist.

Being unable to fight someone off does not mean you agreed or make you in any way complicit with what happened.

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I don't know how to cope with what happened. What can I do?

There is no right or wrong way of coping with sexual violence. Everyone has their own way of dealing with it. People often expect that after a rape or sexual assault that a survivor will be 'hysterical' but many remain very calm or even numb. How people cope in the long-term varies. This can depend on how long the sexual violence lasted for, how safe they feel in your everyday life, whether they are able to talk to people you trust or if they have had other support, for example from the RCS Helpline or from a local rape crisis centre.

The very fact that you are reading this indicates that you are taking positive steps to find ways of coping.

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I keep having nightmares and remembering what happened, sometimes it's as if it's happening again and again. Am I going mad?

No you are not going mad. This is a natural reaction to having survived a trauma such as sexual violence. When people survive such a dangerous event or have lived with sexual violence it is natural for the brain to replay what happened.

Sometimes this is called 'flashbacks' – these can be memories in your mind, nightmares in your dreams, sensations on your body or even smells. The way you experience these will be individual to you and what has happened. They do not mean that you are going mad, but are a way of your mind trying to make sense of what happened.

It is very distressing to relive it in this way. But by remembering, your mind is trying to find ways of moving on. It won't feel like it, but these memories or flashbacks are part of the healing process.

It may be helpful to phone the RCS Helpline or to speak with a local rape crisis centre. They can give you some practical hints for managing flashbacks and can support you to find ways of overcoming these memories.

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How long will it take me to get over it?

Everyone is different and many factors can influence how long it takes. These include the nature of the attack, how long the abuse went on for, who the abuser/s was/were and whether or not you feel safe now. How you cope and how you recover is individual to you. There is no set time in which you should be 'over' what happened to you. It's important not to put pressure on yourself and to give yourself as much time as you need.

It can be helpful to remember that healing from sexual violence can mean that sometimes you have times which are better or worse than others and that this is natural. It can take a lot of energy to recover so it is important to make space for yourself to try to rest.

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I am worried I might be pregnant, what can I do?

Depending upon when you think you may have become pregnant there are different options. You can take the Emergency Contraceptive Pill up to 3 days (72 hours) after the attack. An IUD, often called a coil, can be fitted up to 5 days (120 hours) and must remain 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 buy the Emergency Contraceptive Pill from a pharmacy for £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. It is about what is right for you. The RCS Helpline and local rape crisis centres will be able to support you and give you an opportunity to talk things through if this would be helpful. No one at Rape Crisis will judge you.

UK law states that a termination can legally take place up until the 24th week of the pregnancy. However, in practice, it is rare for terminations to be carried out after 18 weeks of pregnancy. Early terminations are generally safer than later ones.

In order to arrange for a termination you will need to see at least 2 doctors. The first will refer you on to the second. If your own GP has chosen not to be involved in referrals for termination, they must refer you to another doctor or service that will.

If you are under 16, you have the right to a termination as long as the doctor who sees you decides you fully understand the procedure and its implications. Your parents do not have to be told.

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I was raped recently and I'm worried about sexually transmitted infections, what can I do?

You can visit your local family planning or sexual health clinic for routine testing of STIs. You do not need to tell them what happened unless you wish to and you do not even 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 provide you with 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 (family doctor) but they have to record the test and the result in your medical record.

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Should I report it to the police?

RCS Helpline and local rape crisis centres will provide support whether or not it's been reported.

If you are thinking of reporting to the police, it might take a few hours to make the report.

Usually you are asked to make a statement when you report but you can ask to speak with an officer first and then decide if you want to report.

If you do not remember everything don't worry, you can add to the statement the following day. It can be a good idea to take the name and number of police officer who you see in case you do wish to add to your statement.

If you report the crime in a city, you are likely to be seen in a Family Protection Unit where staff are trained in sexual violence and where an examination can be carried out. If you live in the Strathclyde area, and you are reporting a recent attack (within 7 days), a specialised service – Archway - offers a 24-hour service for reporting, examination of and support to survivors of sexual violence. In some areas where there is no Family Protection Unit, CID will work with the case.

If the attack or abuse that you experienced happened some time ago, you will be asked to give a statement but you will not be asked to have an examination.

If you have recently been raped or sexually assaulted, you will be asked to have a medical examination. You can ask for a female doctor but depending on the area you live in this might not be possible. The timescale can be quite important as the examination is looking for forensic evidence. The timescales for forensic evidence from an internal source are within the first 72 hours, however other forensic evidence such as a hair or stains to clothing can be detected for between 5 and 7 days.

If you have recently been raped or sexually assaulted it is very natural to want to wash, or to take a drink to help with shock. This can destroy evidence, however, so police advice is to try not to wash or eat or drink anything before going to the police. If you have changed out of the clothing you were wearing at the time of the assault, you should take this with you to give to the police.

If it has been a recent attack it is likely that you will be asked to return to where it happened so that further evidence can be gathered. It is also possible that you will be asked to return to the police station a couple of days after you report in case bruising has become visible.

Whether the attack has been recent or happened a long time ago it is entirely your own decision to report. It can however, be helpful to talk it through or to get some support. You can take a friend or relative to the police station to wait for you and give support, or you can contact your local rape crisis centre whose staff may be able to go with you. The RCS Helpline is available to offer support and information if you are thinking about reporting or want to talk it through after you have done so.

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I've reported to the police and he was arrested but I haven't heard anything for weeks. Has it been dropped?

It is common not to hear. Often the legal process can take quite a long time. If the accused is held in custody, the case has to be heard in court within 140 days. The accused is often released on bail unless he has previous convictions for sexual violence, is on parole or is wanted for another crime. If the accused has been released on bail, the case should be heard within 1 year, although this can be extended to 18 months at the judge's discretion.

If you want to check what is happening with the case, contact your local Victim Information and Advice. The local VIA office should make contact with you after the accused's first appearance in court.

If your case does go to court then you will be able to get support from the Witness Service which can organise a pre-court visit and support you on the day.

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I've just received a letter from the Procurator Fiscal saying that my case won't be tried in court. Does this mean they didn't believe me?

The Procurator Fiscal receives the police investigation after the accused is caught. Their job is to look at the evidence and decide if it will stand up in court. Scots law requires corroborative evidence – that is at least 2 pieces of evidence which back each other up. Usually, your statement is one piece of evidence and the other/s can be forensic evidence, witnesses or in some cases of abuse, other survivors who have also reported against the same abuser.

If the Procurator Fiscal does not have enough evidence to proceed, the case is dropped. This is not your fault and it does not mean that you have not been believed.

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I'm scared I might see him again. What can I do?

Depending on who he is, for example, acquaintance, relative or stranger, you will have an idea of whether or not you are likely to see him again.

If you have reported the attack to the police and it's going to court, it is an offence for the accused to approach you. If he does so you should report this to the police.

If he lives close by and continues to intimidate or threaten you, you can report this to the police. You can also consider applying for an interdict to prevent him from approaching you or your home.

If the sexual violence has been carried out by your partner or ex-partner you could consider approaching Women's Aid for support, information and accommodation.

If you are a young person aged 16+ and the abuse has been carried out by a parent or guardian, the RCS Helpline and local rape crisis centres can help put you in touch with projects which specialise in supporting young people affected by sexual abuse, some of which offer accommodation.

If you are a young person under the age of 16 you could tell any adult who has a responsibility to make sure you are safe. This could be a parent/carer, social worker, teacher, youth club worker, doctor. You are not to blame for what has happened and have the right to live in safety.

If the attacker was a stranger, you may be worried about seeing him, for example in town. This is a very understandable fear. It can help to think about steps you can take to make you feel more confident. This could be attending a women's safety course, carrying a mobile phone, arranging to meet a friend, thinking about what times of day and what places feel ok for you.

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I am currently involved in prostitution – can I receive support from Rape Crisis Scotland?

Rape Crisis Scotland recognizes that those involved in prostitution are often at high risk of sexual violence. The law in Scotland is absolutely clear – rape and sexual violence carried out in the context of prostitution is a criminal offence, and all survivors are entitled to exactly the same justice and support. There have been a number of successful prosecutions in Scotland in recent years of cases involving sexual violence against women in this context, and Rape Crisis Scotland has supported many women in prostitution who have been raped and sexually assaulted.

If this has happened to you, we will be very glad to offer you support. If you are considering reporting what happened, we’ll be very happy to talk through any aspect of this that might be helpful.

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