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Sexual assault

3-minute read

Sexual assault is any sort of sexual behaviour that you don’t agree to. It is sexual assault if the other person uses physical or emotional force, and it makes you feel uncomfortable, frightened, intimidated or threatened.

If you have been sexually assaulted and you don’t feel safe, call triple zero (000).

Anyone can experience sexual assault. After a rape or sexual assault, you may be affected emotionally and physically. Only you can decide what you feel up to doing in the following hours, days or weeks.

Here are some pieces of advice, so that you have the knowledge you need to make the right decisions for you and get the support you need.

Safety first

If you have been raped or sexually assaulted, the first thing you need to do is go somewhere you feel safe, such as the home of a close friend or family member or even a police station.

Then, if you feel you're able to, you should consider telling someone you trust what has happened. You shouldn't feel ashamed or to blame for what has happened to you.

You could talk to:

If you speak to someone from an organisation, they will be able to give you support and advice over the telephone. You don't have to give them your name if you would prefer not to.

Try to resist the urge to wash yourself or your clothes until you have decided whether to report what happened to the police. Vital evidence can be found in clothing and on skin swabs that may help you in if a police investigation is conducted. For example, if your breast was ‘kissed’ during the assault, then don’t wash it. Keep any clothing you were wearing when you were assaulted in a paper bag and do not wash it.

If you do decide to report the sexual assault to the police, they have a better chance of identifying the assailant and successfully prosecuting them if they have DNA evidence. In order to get this evidence, a specially trained doctor will need to take samples of your saliva, urine, blood and pubic hair, and swabs from your mouth, rectum and genitals. You can have the swabs taken and still decide not to go to the police. It is best if this specialised evidence is collected within 72 hours (3 days) of the assault.

If you go to the police station, a police officer will arrange for these swabs and samples to be taken by a doctor in a special examination suite, or they may escort you to a local hospital. There are procedures in place to support you and reduce your distress.

If you're not sure whether you want to go to the police, you can go with a friend or family member to your local sexual assault referral centre (see 'Sexual assault and abuse helplines' section) where you can have forensic and medical examinations. Swabs can be taken from any area that the assailant came into contact with you and then stored in case you do decide to report it to the police at a later time.

You can also resport a sexual assault anonymously through the Sexual Assault Report Anonymously (SARA) website. Your information will be passed on to police without identifying you.

Not sure what to do next?

If you are still concerned about your sexual assault, check your symptoms with healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: November 2019

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