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Rape and sexual assault

This advice applies to Northern Ireland

Find out where you can get help if you've been raped or suffered another type of sexual assault.

This page also explains about female genital mutilation and what you can do if you're at risk.

What is rape?

Rape is a criminal offence and can only be committed by men.

Rape is defined as non-consensual penetration of the vagina, anus or mouth by a male penis.

Non consensual means that you didn't freely agree to have sexual intercourse. You will not have consented if at the time:

  • you were under the age of 13
  • you were subjected to violence or threats of violence
  • violence or threats of violence were made against someone else to force you to consent
  • you were asleep, unconscious, drugged or incapacitated by alcohol
  • your disability meant you were not able to communicate your lack of consent.

The question of whether you have given consent is a matter for the jury to decide.

What is sexual assault?

Sexual assault is a criminal offence and can be committed by both men and women.

Sexual assault happens when someone intentionally touches, the touching is sexual and without your consent.

Reporting rape or sexual assault to the police

It may be a difficult decision for you to report the matter to the police and you may wish to get specialist advice before making a decision.

Check with your local police and ask to speak to an officer from the Rape Crime Unit (RCU) or if the incident (s) happened when you were a child, you should ask to speak to a specially trained officer from the Child Abuse Investigation Unit.

Rape and sexual assault

If you are unsure about what you want to do, you can contact a Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC). The regional SARC for Northern Ireland is The Rowan, which is located on the Antrim Area Hospital site. You can speak with a member of The Rowan Team by contacting their 24 hour advice and information line on 0800 389 4424.

At The Rowan you can choose to meet with the PSNI and make a statement, have forensic samples taken, receive medical support including: testing for sexually transmitted infections, risk assessment for HIV and pregnancy.  Adults affected by rape or sexual assault can choose whether or not to report this to the PSNI. All forensic evidence gathered is stored at The Rowan for 7 years, so adults can choose to report at a later date if they wish. All children and young people accessing The Rowan will be referred to Social Services and the PSNI for additional support and safeguarding.

The Rowan provides services to men, women and children and young people who have been victims of sexual violence or abuse. They can also offer support to partners, friends and family. The Rowan accepts referrals from individuals themselves, family members and from other agencies such as the PSNI.

For more details visit The Rowan website at: www.therowan.net or call The Rowan 24 hour advice and information line on 0800 389 4424

Getting specialist help

If you are unsure about what you want to do, you can contact a support helpline, such as the 24 hour Domestic & Sexual Violence Helpline based in Northern Ireland. You can call the helpline on 0808 802 1414 or access advice by texting support to 07797 805 839 or by emailing 24hrsupport@dvhelpline.org

Further information

You can get further information about rape and sexual assault including a downloadable handbook for victims from the nidirect website at www.nidirect.gov.uk.

Nexus NI offer counselling to survivors of childhood sexual abuse, victims of sexual violence including those who have experienced rape and sexual assault. You can get more details from their website at: www.nexusni.org

Female genital mutilation

Female genital mutilation (FGM), often called female genital cutting or circumcision is a practice where part or all of a girl's genitals are forcibly removed. The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women and has many harmful physical and psychological effects. Procedures can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later, potential childbirth complications and newborn deaths.

It is a criminal offence under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 to:

  • practice FGM in the UK
  • take girls who are British nationals or permanent residents of the UK abroad for FGM whether or not it is lawful in that country
  • assist with the carrying out of FGM abroad.

If you suspect that a girl is at risk you should contact one or more of the following organisations as quickly as possible:

  • the local Social Services Department
  • the local police Child Protection Unit
  • the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000
  • FORWARD on 0208 969 4000.

If you are worried that you may be at risk of FGM, you should talk to someone you trust such as a teacher or school nurse.

You can get further information and help from www.gov.uk.

You can also contact Forward on 0208 969 4000 who provide support and counselling for girls and women.

Next steps

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