What is rape?

If a man forces you to have penetrative sex, or has sex with you without your consent or agreement, that’s rape. Rape includes penetration with his penis of the vagina, anus or mouth without consent.

Whatever the circumstances, nobody has the right to force you to have sex or have sex with you without your consent. If this happens to you, it’s important to remember it’s not your fault.

Both men and women can be raped but only men can commit rape.

If someone (male or female) sexually assaults you by penetrating you with another part of their body or another object, this is classed as ‘assault by penetration’ but will be treated similarly to rape if taken to court.

What is sexual assault?

If someone intentionally grabs or touches you in a sexual way that you don’t like, or you’re forced to kiss someone or do something else sexual against your will, that’s sexual assault.

This includes sexual touching of any part of someone’s body, and it makes no difference whether you’re wearing clothes or not.

Anyone can be sexually assaulted and both men and women can commit sexual assault.

What is consent?

Consent can never be assumed, even in a relationship or marriage. It doesn’t matter what you were wearing at the time, or how you were behaving — sex without your consent is rape.

You may not be able to give your consent if you were under the influence of alcohol or drugs, didn’t understand what was happening or were asleep. If you don’t have the capacity to give your consent, it cannot be assumed.

You’re allowed to change your mind — if at first you wanted to have sex but then decided against it, that’s ok and no-one has the right to force you to continue. If they don’t stop, then what they are doing is sexual assault or rape.

The age of consent in the UK is 16 and a child under the age of 13 cannot legally consent to any sexual activity.

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If you need to speak to someone, we’re available every day, night and day. Find out the different ways you can get confidential and free support now.

In the last year there were 121,113 sexual offences committed in England and Wales, of which 41,150 were rape (ONS Crime Survey for England and Wales, year ending March 2017).

The number of rape cases recorded by the police has risen by 15% compared with the previous year (year ending March 2016).

One in five women in England and Wales has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16 (ONS Crime Survey for England and Wales, January 2013) and women are nearly five times as likely to have experienced sexual assault as men (ONS Crime Survey for England and Wales, year ending March 2016).

Here are some other terms you might hear used in relation to rape, and what they mean.

Date rape

‘Date rape’ isn’t a specific offence but you might hear the term used to describe rape when the survivor and perpetrator are known to each other, for example if they’re friends or are dating.

The person raped may be drugged and unable to give consent.

It doesn’t matter if you knew the person who raped you — sex without consent is rape.

Marital rape

Consent can never be assumed, even in a marriage.

Being married does not give your partner any right to force you into having sex or to have sex with you without your consent. If this happens, it is still rape and your partner can be prosecuted.

Statutory rape

‘Statutory rape’ is the term that’s sometimes used to describe the rape of children under the age of consent.

In the UK, a child under the age of 13 cannot legally consent to any sexual activity. The age of legal consent in the UK is 16.

Gang rape

If someone is raped by a group of men, this is sometimes referred to as ‘gang rape’.

Oral rape

‘Oral rape’ is a term often used to describe what happens when a man penetrates your mouth with his penis, without your consent or agreement.

Digital rape

People sometimes use the term ‘digital rape’ to describe penetration of the anus or vagina with someone’s finger(s). This can happen to anyone, and could be committed by both men and women.

In legal terms, this is classed as ‘assault by penetration’ but will be treated similarly to rape if taken to court.

Anal rape

If a man penetrates your anus with his penis without your consent, this is rape. Both men and women can be raped anally.

If someone penetrates your anus with another part of their body or object, this is called ‘assault by penetration’. This type of sexual assault can be committed by both men and women.

In the courts this will be treated very similarly to rape, with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Rape and sexual assaults are traumatic experiences that can affect you both physically and emotionally.

It’s important to think about getting medical help as soon as possible, to check for sexually transmitted infections, injury or pregnancy.

Everyone reacts differently to these events. You might experience some of the emotions below, or you might feel nothing at all. Whatever you feel, your response is normal and we can help you cope.

You might:

  • feel ashamed or even guilty about what happened
  • feel depressed or suicidal
  • have flashbacks
  • have difficulty focusing or sleeping
  • feel numb and in shock
  • be tearful, angry or irritable.

These are all normal reactions and might last a long time.

It’s important to remember what happened is not your fault and you’re not alone. You can talk to us.

All survivors of rape and sexual assault should be able to get the help they need to empower them to move on from the impact of the crime.

We don’t just help people who’ve recently been sexually assaulted or raped — we’re here to support both men and women weeks, months and years after the crime took place.

All of our services are confidential, free and available to anyone who’s experienced sexual assault or rape. We can give you emotional and practical support, regardless of whether you have told the police or anyone else about the assault.

  • ISVAs (Independent Sexual Violence Advocates) are specially trained advisors available in some Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs) or other voluntary organisations like Victim Support, to help people who have experienced sexual violence. Our ISVA services are staffed by specialist caseworkers and are supported by specialist volunteers. These workers will help you decide on what action you want to take and the support and help that feels right for you. ISVAs often support survivors through the criminal justice system, if you choose to report the crime, and co-ordinate health and support services.
  • Our victims’ services work with anyone affected by crime. We’ll help you to decide on the range of support and help that might benefit you.
Many people worry about reporting rape and sexual assault to the police because they:

  • had been drinking alcohol or taking drugs at the time
  • are in a relationship with or know the person who attacked them
  • have had a sexual relationship with that person before
  • had been kissing or touching that person before the attack
  • were with someone of the same sex (gay or lesbian relationship)
  • didn’t say ‘no’ or didn’t fight back
  • can’t really remember it properly.

If you’ve been raped, this is never your fault — no matter the circumstances.

The police will take reports of rape seriously, and you can contact Victim Support to discuss options and have support throughout the process.

You don’t have to report the crime to the police if you don’t want to, and we’ll be here to support you regardless of whether you choose to report.

If the rape or sexual assault happened recently (within 7 days), you can have a medical examination carried out at your nearest Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) to collect forensic evidence. You don’t have to have a forensic examination, however it can give useful evidence if you choose to report the crime to the police and the case goes to court.

If you’d like to have a forensic examination, try to keep the clothes you were wearing at the time and don’t wash them, and avoid showering if possible.

You can report a rape or sexual assault by calling 999 soon after the crime. Always call 999 if you feel you’re in danger.

If the rape or sexual assault happened a long time ago, you can still report this to the police by calling 101.

Experiencing a rape or sexual assault is traumatic, and it can take a lot of courage to talk about what happened.

Getting support is an important part of surviving and moving forward with your life.

You might be able to get support from a trusted friend or family member, but there are also organisations that can help. You can speak to your GP about getting help, or talk to a support worker at an organisation like Victim Support. Whoever you decide to talk to, remember you don’t have to face this alone.

Contact Victim Support for help.

You may find the following information leaflets useful.

Rape and sexual assault – information for men

Basic information for men who have experienced rape or sexual assault, including useful contact details.

Download the ‘Rape and sexual assault – information for men’ leaflet in PDF format

Rape and sexual assault – information for women

Basic information for women who have experienced rape or sexual assault, including useful contact details.

Download the ‘Rape and sexual assault – information for women’ leaflet in PDF format

It’s important that you consider getting medical help as soon as possible after a rape or sexual assault.

Domestic abuse describes negative behaviours that one person exhibits over another within families or relationships.