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Freephone 08088 00 00 14Glasgow & Clyde Rape Crisis helpline
08088 01 03 02National rape and sexual assault helpline

Rape and the law

It can be overwhelming when you are thinking about reporting or going to court. We can provide you with some information that might help you to make up your mind and support you along the way.

When a woman has suffered a sexual assault it can be very difficult for her to decide whether or not she wants to report the incident to the police.

If you have been raped or sexually assaulted and have decided to report to the police, the prospect of facing the complexities of the legal system can be quite frightening.

The legal system is very complicated. We don’t know all of the answers to all of the questions, but we have listed below some of the most common questions we are asked at Rape Crisis. We have tried to cover as much as we can from the moment you walk in the front door of the police station until the actual trial.

  • I have decided to report the attack to the police. What should I do?

    You should go to the police as soon as you can after the assault as it is important for them to gather evidence as soon as possible and preferably before you wash or change your clothing. If you do want to change your clothing, put the clothes you were wearing in a plastic bag and tie it tightly shut to preserve the evidence. Try not to drink anything either, especially alcohol.

    If you live in Greater Glasgow you can either report the assault by telephone or in person, at your local police station or you can contact Archway which is a Sexual Assault Referral Centre staffed by women doctors, nurses, support workers and counsellors. You need to contact the Archway within seven days of the assault.

    Can I just go to Archway on my own?

    If you decide to report directly to Archway, you will need to contact them in advance, you can’t just arrive at the door. You can ring them on 0141 211 8175.

    You will be seen in the first instance by a female doctor and nurse who will ask you some questions about your immediate health and also about the assault and then they will begin a forensic examination (if you are undecided about going to the police). This is so that forensic evidence can be gathered to corroborate the evidence given in your statement. This is why you should try not to wash yourself or throw away any of your clothing. Your first instinct may be to have a bath or shower and get rid of your clothing but this evidence may be essential.

    You may want to bring one person along to support you at this time because waiting room space is very limited at Archway. Check with the doctor you speak to when you call and ask about bringing someone along.

    In Scots Law, in order to prosecute, there must be corroborative evidence – which means two or more pieces of evidence that support each other. As there is usually only one witness in the case of a sexual assault – the woman herself – the forensic evidence may corroborate the fact that the assault took place and may assist in the identification of the perpetrator.

    Your clothes may need to be kept for evidence and you can be provided with clothing by the Archway or you may ask for a relative or friend to bring clothing to you.

    Nurses will also make arrangements for you to have testing for sexually transmitted infections carried out two weeks post assault and will give you information about accessing support or counselling.

    What if I just go straight to my local police station?

    If you go directly to your local police station you will be asked to make a statement before you are taken to the Archway for your medical examination. If you live outside the Archway service area, you will be examined by a police surgeon at the nearest police station with facilities for this. Again you should try not to bathe or discard your clothing.

    You may be called back to the police station to continue giving your statement or for a further examination.

    If you live outside the Archway service area you will have to make your own arrangements for sexually transmitted infections testing. Archway can give you advice about this or you can contact Rape Crisis for support or for information on support services in your area.

    Can I take someone to the police station with me?

    Yes, but there may be occasions when your support person may not be allowed access to a confidential interview. This will be dependent on individual circumstances.

    They will be able to wait for you but in some police stations the waiting space is limited. If you are taking someone with you they should be aware that they may have to wait a considerable time.

    Is there anything else the police will want from me?

    Apart from taking your statement and the medical examination, it is hard to specify what will actually happen at the police station. It really depends on the circumstances surrounding the attack. If you were attacked in your own home, you will probably be visited by the police who will look for further evidence. If you were attacked outside, you may be taken to the scene of the attack and asked to show the police exactly where it happened. They will search the area and may remove items which may be of evidential value.

    You may be asked to return to the police station to look at photographs or to attend an identification parade. If this happens your anonymity will be safeguarded as far as possible. Although there are still parade rooms which operate a two way mirror system, the police have now introduced video identification parades which eliminate the need for a woman to see the accused in person.

    How long will all this take?

    You can be in the police station for a number of hours, however every case is different so there is no set time for interviews. If the interview is going to take up a great deal of time you may be asked to return to the station.

    You should be able to have a short statement taken before your forensic examination with a full statement taken at a later time (usually the following day). If you have been hurt or bruised, you can ask for this. Your follow-up statement can be taken in your home or at another place such as the Rape Crisis Centre. Each case will be different and there may be a reason why it would be more suitable for your statement to be taken at the police station.

    What will happen after I have given the police all the information that they need?

    After the interviews and examination, and providing the perpetrator has been identified, the police then prepare a report for the Procurator Fiscal.

    The Procurator Fiscal is the public official responsible for the investigation and prosecution of crimes committed within her/his district.

    On the basis of such reports, the Procurator Fiscal may decide to initiate criminal proceedings, or may instruct the police to make further investigations.

    The Procurator Fiscal, whilst taking into account the interests of the victim of a crime, will also consider whether it is in the public interest to proceed.

    A report will then be submitted to the Crown Office (the Procurator Fiscal’s headquarters in Edinburgh) where it will be decided if there are to be further criminal proceedings.

    What will happen if I am asked to go to the Procurator Fiscal’s office?

    You are no longer required to give a 'precognition statement' to the Procrurator Fiscal. This was when you had to give a second and seperate account of what happened to the Procurator Fiscal before the trial began.

    The statement that you give to the police will form the basis of what the Crown Office presents at the trial, if the prosecutor decides they need more information or clarification they will contact the police and they will in turn contact you.

    In some cases it may be possible to see your original police statement before the trial begins. This can be read at the Procurator Fiscal's office. Some cases can take up to a year to come to court so you may feel like you want to read your statement again. This is entirely up to you and you can speak to your VIA contact about this. (see question below)

    What is VIA?

    Victim Information and Advice (VIA) is part of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. VIA staff are not prosecutors: their job is to provide information regarding the process of a specific case to victims and witnesses involved. They can also provide information about how the criminal justice system works and can arrange help and support at the time of the trial.

    There can often be some time delay between reporting a rape or sexual assault to the police and being contacted by the Procurator Fiscal’s office. If the accused appears in court after arrest, VIA officers will keep you informed as to the progress of the case. There can be delays between the various times that the accused will appear in court or when the Crown will contact you for information. Although these delays are normal, it can be quite upsetting not knowing what is happening with your case. You are entitled to phone the Fiscal’s office or to contact VIA at any time to check what is happening. If you do not feel able to do this, you can get a friend or Rape Crisis to contact the Fiscal or VIA on your behalf.

    Will I be told whether there is to be a trial?

    If the trial is going ahead you will receive notification that you must appear as a witness to give evidence for the prosecution. If the man pleads guilty you will not have to appear. When this happens you should be informed. If you want to know you should tell the Fiscal that you would like to be kept informed about all proceedings concerning the case.

    In cases where it is decided that a prosecution will not take place, you will receive a letter from the Procurator Fiscal to that effect. The letter will advise you of the proposed decision. If you wish, a meeting can be arranged to enable you to discuss the matter more fully.

    You may not be informed of the reasons why proceedings are not being taken. This information is confidential and the Procurator Fiscal may not be at liberty to disclose her/his reasons to you. If proceedings are not taken it does not necessarily mean that you have not been believed, but rather than there was not enough evidence to proceed.

    Will he get out on bail?

    Unless the accused has broken bail, has previous offences or is considered likely to re-offend, he will be bailed under the European Convention on Human Rights.

    A person cannot be held in custody until proven guilty unless the above applies. This can be very upsetting, particularly if he lives near you. However, a condition of his bail will be that he does not interfere with witnesses so if he, in any way, bothers you, you should report this to the police immediately.

    Additionally, the court may impose a further special condition of bail that the accused does not approach, contact or attempt to contact you. If he does this should be reported to the police.

    Where will the case be heard?

    Rape cases are always heard in the High Court.

    Other offences may be heard in the Sheriff Court or High Court.

    Do I need a lawyer?

    No, you don’t need any legal representation whatsoever.

    You have done nothing wrong so you don’t need any defence.

    The Procurator Fiscal will be prosecuting on behalf of the Crown. You will be a witness for the prosecution.

    Does my address have to be made public?

    If you do not want your address to be made known to the accused or his solicitor, you should ask the Procurator Fiscal to ensure that your address is given as care of the police office which has dealt with your case.

    If you have requested that your address be withheld, your name will be provided to the defence but your address will be care of the police office.

    Will I have to give more statements about the attack?

    Yes. Although the Procurator Fiscal no longer requires you to give a further statement about the attack the defence lawyer will likely call you to give what is known as a Precognition Statement.

    It will be similar to the process of giving a statement to police. They may ask you some questions for clarification. You can take someone along with you for support but they may not be allowed in to the room when you are giving your statement.

    The defence lawyer will send you out a letter asking you to come in at time that is convenient for you. You must attend to give this statement but if you are concerned about anything please contact your VIA representative for advice.

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