Protecting adults at risk in London: Good practice resource

Investigating adult abuse: Sexual assault - issues to consider

Sexual abuse is defined as direct or indirect involvement in sexual activity without consent. It may involve rape and sexual assault, including penetrative or non-penetrative sexual acts, that the adult at risk has not consented to, lacks the mental capacity to consent to, or is pressurised into consenting to.

In an emergency, call the police on 999. If a crime has been or may have been committed, refer immediately to the police unless the adult at risk has mental capacity and does not want a report made, and there are no overriding public or vital interest issues. The police may also be contacted later, if more information becomes available and it is then apparent that a crime has been committed.

Where an allegation of serious sexual abuse is identified it must be reported immediately to the police to preserve any forensic evidence. If it is thought that the event occurred within the previous seven days, it is important (if at all practical) to advise the adult at risk not to use the toilet, wash or have anything to eat or drink until the police have attended. This is so that vital evidence, which can still be in place some days after an assault, may be preserved by medical examination. A victim of rape or serious sexual assault may wish to:

If so, it should be carefully explained to them that they may destroy valuable evidence by carrying out any of the above or by not protecting the physical scene. Such advice should balance the victim's wishes with the need to preserve potential evidence. Advise the person not to discard sanitary products or condoms.

All of this will clearly be distressing to the victim. Early evidence kits are available from the police if the adult at risk wishes to clean their teeth or have a drink. Use of the kit ensures quick and effective recovery of forensic evidence that can be lost due to time delays between reporting and medical examination. If the person does not want to wait until a kit can be used and wishes to clean their teeth or have a drink they should be advised to place the toothbrush in a clean plastic bag and give it to a police officer on arrival. Any clean drinking vessel used should also be preserved in the same way.

If this is a case where the police are not involved, the adult at risk should be informed about the availability of specialist centres in London for people who have been raped or sexually assaulted where they can seek support, advice and treatment. If the police are made aware of the assault they will make contact on the person’s behalf.

Evidence may be found on clothing worn by the person at the time of the offence. The person should not change their clothes if there is any possibility that they were wearing them at the time. Any other items that may have been worn at the time of the offence should be left where they are for the police. If you have had to move anything, tell the police where you have put it and why it had to be moved.

If it is known where the assault took place, this scene may also yield evidence. If the location is indoors no one should be allowed inside. If the adult at risk is in the building or room, nothing should be moved or touched unless absolutely necessary. By restricting access to scenes of crime, contamination from people walking over evidence or inadvertently disturbing things can be minimised.

Many specialist support agencies offer an independent sexual violence adviser (ISVA) service to victims of rape and sexual assault. An ISVA is trained to look after a person’s needs and ensure they are receiving appropriate care and understanding. They will help the person to understand how the criminal justice process works. There are also specialist ISVAs to assist people with learning disabilities and mental health needs.