Here's what to do if you or a friend have been sexually assaulted

There are a record number of sexual assault convictions in the UK but victims are still reluctant to report crimes [Photo: Pexels]
There are a record number of sexual assault convictions in the UK but victims are still reluctant to report crimes [Photo: Pexels]

Today, Taylor Swift won a sexual assault case against radio DJ David Mueller. The singer alleged that the ex-presenter had groped her at a concert in 2013, grabbing her beneath her skirt.

In a statement following the verdict, Swift said she hoped to help others who had gone through similar experiences: “I acknowledge the privilege that I benefit from in life, in society and in my ability to shoulder the enormous cost of defending myself in a trial like this.”

“My hope is to help those whose voices should also be heard. Therefore, I will be making donations in the near future to multiple organisations that help sexual assault victims defend themselves.”

According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales, one of the most frequently used reasons for not reporting a sexual assault crime is that it is “too trivial.”

But with a record number of sexual assault convictions, it’s time to change the stigma surrounding such cases.

What is classed as sexual assault?

NHS guidelines state that sexual assault is “any sexual act that a person did not consent to, or is forced into against their will.” This includes rape and other sexual offences including groping, forced kissing or the torture of a person in a sexual manner.

The three key parts that make an offence a sexual assault crime are as follows:

  • A person (A) must intentionally touch another person (B)

  • The touching must be sexual in nature

  • Person B must not consent to the touching and person A must not reasonably believe that person B consents

The Crown Prosecution Service further states that “touching is widely defined and includes with any part of the body, or with anything else, and can be through clothing.”

It’s important to remember that any form of sexual assault is a crime and can therefore be reported to the police.

Shula de Jersey, a criminal defence lawyer from Slater and Gordon, said: “Any incidents of sexual assault should be reported to the police as soon as possible. The offence is covered by Section 3 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and often the issue is one of consent.

“It is an offence if a person intentionally touches another person, the touching is sexual and either the other person does not consent or there is no reasonable belief that the other person consents.

“Touching is widely defined and includes with any part of the body, or with, for example, an object and can be through clothing. Whether the touching is deemed sexual will depend on the circumstances of each case.

“In some cases, for example kissing or the intentional touching of a breast or buttock, will be considered sexual in nature. In other cases where the touching is not obviously sexual in nature, the specific circumstances will be considered by the court. The maximum sentence is 10 years imprisonment.”

Taylor Swift took a man to court for groping her – and won [Photo: Getty]
Taylor Swift took a man to court for groping her – and won [Photo: Getty]

What to do if you have been sexually assaulted

If you are a victim of sexual assault, your first step may be to seek medical attention. For specialist medical attention and sexual violence support, you may want to head to a sexual assault referral centre (SARC).

You can also visit your local GP, a hospital A&E department or a voluntary organisation such as Women’s Aid, Victim Support, The Survivors Trust or Survivors UK (for male victims of sexual assault).

Although you may need a little time to think about what has happened to you, you must remember not try wash or change your clothes if you are thinking of taking it to the police. Washing your clothes could result in forensic evidence being destroyed; evidence that will be needed for a successful conviction.

SARCs offer medical, practical and emotional support to victims of sexual assault. They employ specially trained doctors, nurses and support workers who can help you process your emotions and take your case to the next step.

There, you can also have an informal chat with a police officer who will explain the steps involved in a criminal investigation. If you wish to go ahead with a prosecution, you can be put in touch with an independent sexual violence adviser (ISVA) who will support you through the criminal justice system and a trial should the case go to court.

This video will show you what to expect when you visit a SARC:

If you wish to take your case to the police, you are likely to experience a forensic examination. This will involve a specially trained person taking swabs from anywhere you have been kissed or touched. They may also take blood and urine sample as well as keeping some of your clothing.

Expect to be asked about the assault as well as any recent sexual activity so that the police can build up a bigger picture of the crime.

What to do if you know someone who has been sexually assaulted

If you have a friend or family member who has been the victim of sexual assault, your first point of call should be The Havens: a site with some great advice in giving support.

Top tips include:

  • Don’t blame or judge them. Remember that sexual assault is never the fault of the person who has been assaulted.

  • Listen to the person but don’t ask for details. Don’t ask questions such as why they failed to stop the assault as this can give off feelings of blame.

  • Offer practical support. Offer to accompany them to appointments and visits with the police.

  • Respect their decisions. They may not want to report their crime to the police and you may not understand why. There’s no need to give your opinion.

  • Limit the touching. They may be afraid of physical contact including hugs so ask first. If you are their sexual partner, sex may be off the table for a period of time. It’s crucial that you don’t put pressure on a victim to have sex if they don’t yet feel ready.

  • Try not to tell them to forget about the assault. It can take considerable time for someone to deal with their feelings and emotions. Just be there for them.

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