If you've been raped or sexually assaulted, you might feel that you've lost some control over your body and life. For many survivors of sexual violence, taking care of your health can feel like one way of beginning to regain some of that control.
If you have serious injuries such as severe bruising or bleeding then you can visit the Accident & Emergency (A&E) department of your local hospital for immediate treatment. You do not have to give anyone details of what happened to you if you don't want to but you might be asked to do so. You should also bear in mind that medical staff might not be able to treat you effectively if they don't know what's happened to you in some situations. For example, if you have severe bleeding from your vagina (heavier than a period and continuous), you should go straight to hospital and you will need to tell the hospital what has happened so they can treat you effectively. Any cuts and tears are also best treated quickly.
If you are suffering from pain and/or injuries that you consider less severe or urgent, you should still try and see a doctor / GP as soon as possible. If you have a doctor that you particularly like or trust it is worth visiting her or him. Be aware though that your doctor might still refer you to A&E if she or he thinks that treatment such as stitches might be needed.
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)
It might be very difficult to think about straight away, but if you've been raped, pregnancy (see below) and/or contracting a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) are both possibilities.
STIs can be caught by vaginal, genital, anal or oral sexual contact with someone who has the infection. If you catch an STI as a result of your experience, it is because the rapist or attacker has one. Contracting an STI from being raped or sexually assaulted has nothing to do with whether or not you've had sex before, or how many times, or with how many people. It is not your fault and it is nothing to feel ashamed or embarrassed about.
Some STIs don't have obvious syptoms and are not easily picked up without a medical check-up. It is therefore important that you get tested as soon as possible and don't wait for symptoms to appear. Most STIs can be treated easily and effectively. If some STIs are left undiagnosed and untreated for a long time, however, they can cause complications and serious illness.
When STIs do have noticeable symptoms, they can often be quite similar for different infections and can include: pain on passing urine; unusual vaginal discharge; lower abdominal pain; pain in your pelvis; itching; soreness; painful lumps or warts in/on the genital area. You can find more information about the different STIs, their symptoms and treatments, on the NHS Choices website here.
If you have visited a Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC), they should have offered you tests for pregnancy and STIs there. If you have not been to a SARC, you can visit your local family planning, sexual health or Genito-Urinary Medicine (GUM) clinic for routine testing for all STIs. You do not need to tell them what happened unless you want 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.
For more information about what to expect when visiting a sexual health clinic, click here. To find your nearest sexual health services, click here. You can also have these tests done by your GP / local doctor but they have to record the test and the result in your medical record.
If possible, do try to attend any follow-up appointments at your clinic or doctor's practice for test results. Some results can be given over the phone, but some, such as HIV, will usually only be offered to you in person.
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) can be transmitted through the transfer of bodily fluids including blood, semen and vaginal fluid. This means HIV infection might be a risk if you've been raped vaginally, anally or orally and particularly if you were physically injured during the attack.
There is a course of medication called PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) that can be used to prevent contracting HIV as a result of rape and can be taken by women and men. It is important to take this medication as early as possible after an assault and within 72 hours at the most. A full course of PEP medication lasts for 28 days. PEP needs to be prescribed and is not freely available.
PEP has many unpleasant side effects and taking PEP also means that regular monitoring and tests are vital.
If you've visited a SARC, they should have discussed the risks of HIV infection, testing and PEP and its side effects with you there. If you've chosen not to go to a SARC or in areas where this isn't a SARC available, you can have these discussions / get advice about HIV and PEP from your local A&E department or a sexual health or GUM clinic.
If you think you might be pregnant as a result of rape, you can take a pregnancy test and discuss your different options with your GP / local doctor or at the SARC, at a family planning, sexual health or GUM clinic, or at a Brook centre.
You can take the Emergency Contraceptive (or 'Morning After') Pill up to 3 days (72 hours) after the attack. Alternatively, an IUD (intra-uterine device), often called a coil, can be fitted up to 5 days (120 hours) afterwards and must remain inside you until the time of your next period. You can get Emergency Contraception from local family planning or sexual health clinic. You can buy the Emergency Contraceptive Pill from a pharmacy for around £25.
If you are pregnant and do not wish to continue with the pregnancy, you can contact your GP / local doctor, a family planning clinic, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas), or Marie Stopes to discuss 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 National Rape Crisis Helpline or your local Rape Crisis Centre 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.
General health information
Rape and other forms of sexual violence can have a range of short- and long-term effects on a survivor's physical, sexual, gynaecological and mental health and emotional well-being. If you seek medical or mental health support, any doctor, nurse or other health care professional should respect the connection between your ill health and the sexual violence you've experienced. A Rape Crisis Centre can give you relevant information and support you to think about your health options and develop methods for maintaining your health.