Guidance

Victim of rape and sexual assault abroad

Information for British nationals affected by rape or sexual assault abroad, including how to access medical treatment and legal advice in the UK.

Disclaimer

This information is provided by the British government for the convenience of enquirers, but neither Her Majesty’s Government nor any official of the consulate accept liability for any loss or damage which you might suffer as a result of relying on the information supplied. Medical information was provided by The Havens Sexual Assault Referral Centres of Kings College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and was accurate as of February 2022.

If you are abroad: who to contact

Travel Advice pages contain the contact details for the emergency services in most countries. In the European Union, you can phone 112 for local emergency services.

You can contact the nearest British embassy, high commission or consulate, or the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) in London on +44 (0)20 7008 5000.

How the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) can help

We take any report of rape and sexual assault seriously. We will:

  • provide you with immediate support on the telephone at any time of the day or night
  • try to see you to provide in person assistance as soon as possible, depending on location and timing
  • be empathetic, patient, sensitive and non-judgmental

Many victims of rape and sexual assault, regardless of their gender, prefer to talk about their ordeal with women. If that is what you want, we will do our best to make sure that a female consular official is available to speak to you, and attend any meeting.

We can tell you about:

  • local police and legal procedures including information in our Rape and sexual assault abroad guides
  • if you want to contact the police, we may be able to attend the police station with you, depending on the location and timing
  • if possible, we can ask that you are interviewed by a female police officer if that is what you would prefer, and one is available
  • if you want us to, we can give you a list of local lawyers and interpreters

Only you can decide whether to report the crime to the police or take legal action – we cannot make this decision for you. Remember that if you choose not to report the crime immediately but change your mind later, forensic and other evidence may be lost. We cannot collect evidence or investigate crimes ourselves.

In most countries, you must report the crime before returning to the UK if you want it to be investigated. In a very small number of countries, being the victim of rape or sexual assault could be considered illegal. In these countries, reporting an incident could result in the local authorities questioning you in relation to the incident. If you have any concerns about this, contact the FCDO for advice. We also produce general information on what you can do and who to contact if you are a victim of crime abroad.

How the FCDO can help with medical assistance

We can:

  • help you to deal with the local authorities to arrange a medical examination, by a female doctor if possible and if that is what you would prefer

  • arrange for you to see a doctor who can give advice on sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, and on pregnancy or abortion depending on local conditions and laws. An examination by a doctor that has not been arranged by the local police will not necessarily include the collection of forensic samples. You should ask for a summary of what procedures were done and any treatment you were given

  • we can contact your family or friends if you want us to

  • give you information on what professional help is available locally and in the UK, both for you and for your family, including rape crisis organisations

  • request support from a sexual offences trained officer from your local UK police station to advise and help you, if such a trained officer is available

  • put you in touch with Glasgow & Clyde Rape Crisis Centre for support and advice if there is no local rape support organisation where you are. Their live online support service gives women and girls aged 13 and over access to UK-based support from anywhere in the world

Returning to the UK: contacting the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO)

If you reported a rape or sexual assault to a British embassy or consulate abroad, you can still contact the FCDO when you are back in the UK if you need support. You can call the FCDO on 020 7008 5000 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The FCDO can tell you about professional support organisations in the UK that might be able to help you if you need them.

If you reported the assault to local police abroad, where judicial authorities share information with us, the FCDO can update you with any developments in your case if it goes to trial. You may want to appoint a lawyer abroad. The local British embassy or consulate should be able to advise on which ones can help in rape and sexual assault cases.

Medical assistance

After any sexual assault, it is important to consider your health. If you need medical assistance, there is a network of support in the UK. You have choices about what to do next. If you are in pain, you should go to your GP, nearest hospital, or dial 999.

If you need medical advice, you can contact your local GP, a sexual health or genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic, or a specialist Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC).

If you did not have a medical examination whilst abroad, you may wish to have one when you return to the UK. Even if you did not sustain physical injuries following a sexual assault, you may find it helpful to seek medical advice.

If you are thinking about having a forensic medical examination, then you can contact your local SARC for advice. It may be possible to gather such evidence up to a week after a sexual assault.

Sexual assault referral centres (SARCs)

SARCs provide comfortable, multi-functional places, providing a private space for advice or consultation, and where appropriate and with your consent, an examination. Their specialist staff, including appropriately trained clinicians can provide you with medical care and forensic examinations free of charge for women, men, young people and children in the UK. SARCs are independent of the police and will not pass on anything you tell their staff without your consent. However, if you are under 18 a SARC may have to report the crime to the police and to social services as part of their safeguarding obligations. In Scotland SARC services may be performed by forensic centres, which do require police involvement.

You can find contact details for SARCs where you live:

England NHS Choices website, or search the internet for ‘NHS SARC
Scotland Archway SARC: phone 0141 211 8175, Archway (sandyford.org)
Wales - New Pathways Cardiff and Vale New Pathways SARC: phone 01685 379 310, Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) » New Pathways , Ynys Saff Sexual Assault Referral Centre - Cardiff and Vale University Health Board (nhs.wales)
Northern Island Rowan SARC Northern Ireland: phone 0800 389 4424, Sexual Assault Referral Centre - The Rowan

Visiting a sexual assault referral centre (SARC)

If you choose to make an appointment at a SARC, staff there will ask you some questions about what happened to you to help you assess your options for what to do next. In Scotland you must visit within 7 days of the assault.

Read more detail about what help to expect when you visit a SARC detail. It is important that you decide what is right for you. You can decide to engage with as much or as little of this process as you feel comfortable, and you can change your mind at any time. The staff at the SARCs are there to support you in every way they can.

Sexually transmitted infections (STI)

If you think you may be at risk from an STI, you can speak to your GP, local SARC, or a sexual health clinic. They can offer advice and arrange tests, taking into account in which country the incident occurred, and treat you if necessary. Most STIs are easily treated. These services are free and confidential.

At SARCs and sexual health clinics (and some GPs), you can be tested for HIV, syphilis, gonorrhoea and chlamydia. Tests can include swabs from the throat, vaginal and rectal areas, a urine sample and/or blood sample. You can self-swab if you prefer. In many areas, sexual health testing is available on-line with kits sent out by post. It is important to remember that tests for infection must be done at the correct time; if done too soon, an infection may be missed. The SARC or clinic will advise you about this.

If you require further tests or treatment for a positive result, the SARC or sexual health clinic can discuss further appointments and what treatment will involve. Staff will be also be able to discuss vaccinations against infections, for example, hepatitis B.

You may be advised to have follow up blood tests at least 12 weeks after the assault. It can take some time for some infections to show up in your blood.

If appropriate, staff at the SARC can discuss Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) with you. This involves 28 days of treatment that may reduce your risk of contracting HIV. You start this treatment within 72 hours of the assault. This treatment is not always appropriate or necessary and staff will discuss and explain this, including possible side effects.

If you started taking a course of PEP medication abroad, you can continue it in the UK. You can get more information on (and supplies of) PEP drugs from A&E, SARCs, sexual health and GUM clinics, and on the NHS website.

Pregnancy

You may be at risk of unwanted pregnancy. If the assault was recent, you can take the emergency contraceptive pill up to 72 hours (and in some cases up to 5 days) after the assault to prevent pregnancy. However you should also seek advice about this from your GP, SARC, sexual health clinic or pharmacist as early as possible. When seeking advice, remember to mention time differences between the country and the UK. Time differences may need to be taken into account in order to give the correct advice.

You may be able to have a copper IUD (intra-uterine device or ‘coil’) fitted. In some circumstances this can be fitted more than 5 days after the assault, depending on how many days it is since your last period began. SARC or sexual health clinic staff will be able to give you more information about this.

If you are pregnant and do not wish to continue with the pregnancy you may be able to terminate the pregnancy. You should contact your doctor or family planning clinic to discuss your options.

Mental health

There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to feel if you have been the victim of rape or another form of sexual assault. People react to the trauma in different ways. You might feel angry, low in mood, ashamed, frightened, guilty, numb, or in shock or disbelief.

Some people may have difficulty sleeping, or experience flashbacks, intrusive images or memories of the incident. You may have different feelings at different times.

You should consider getting help and advice if the symptoms are affecting your day-to-day life. Psychological therapy can be useful at helping you address these symptoms. SARC staff can refer you to appropriate support if you are worried about your mental health or consider getting in touch with an organisation such as the Samaritans.

You can find more help available in this self-help guide.

UK police

UK police do not have jurisdiction to investigate an attack that has taken place abroad and cannot direct an alleged crime be investigated. You can report the crime to your local UK police who should send the information you provide to the country where the crime happened. However, it is for foreign police forces to decide whether to investigate a crime in their jurisdiction.

British perpetrators

If the assault was reported abroad, UK authorities will assist in the extradition of any UK resident requested by a foreign country. If your attacker is a UK resident you may be able to get protection from them in the UK by, for example, getting an injunction to keep them away from you. You should speak to a lawyer about options available to you.

If you are under 18 and the suspect is a UK national (or UK resident) and the act is criminal in the country where it was committed, UK police forces may be able to prosecute the suspect in the UK for a serious sexual offence committed outside the UK. This is under Section 72 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. Your local police station should be able to advise or refer your case to the Crown Prosecution Service or Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.

Depending on where the incident happened you may be able to report the assault from the UK to a foreign police force via a third party. You could hire a local lawyer to make representations on your behalf to the local police. You can also search for UK Law Society-affiliated solicitors abroad by using the Law Society’s online Find a Solicitor search tool, and selecting the relevant country.

If you have a legal issue abroad and you cannot afford to pay legal costs, you may be able to apply for legal aid in EU countries (except Croatia and Romania) as well as Norway, Switzerland, Turkey and Azerbaijan. You may get help with your application from a publicly funded solicitor, including getting documents translated. Further information on how to apply can be found on the Legal Problems Abroad page or if you are in Scotland, contact the Scottish Legal Aid Board at general@slab.org.uk.

The Crown Prosecution Service pays allowances and expenses to witnesses who are called to give evidence in prosecutions in England and Wales, including those residents abroad. Some countries, but not all, also do this. If you are asked to give evidence to a court abroad, you should be told how to do this and who is financially responsible. Contact the British embassy, high commission or consulate for help.

Insurance

If you received medical treatment abroad, your travel insurance may cover you for any personal injuries resulting from a crime and any belongings you lost when you were assaulted. It is likely that, for the claim to be valid, the crime must be reported to police in the country where the assault took place. Check your policy or contact your insurance provider for details. Your policy may cover other costs incurred as a victim of crime, including legal fees.

Compensation

You may be entitled to compensation if you are victim of crime abroad. It will depend on the country and you usually need a police report to apply. Contact the British embassy, high commission or consulate for help.

Rape crisis and support centres

There are many rape crisis centres throughout the UK that can help provide support and advice if you have suffered from a sexual assault abroad. They provide differing services and referral routes. You can find the contact details of your nearest centre on the websites of the umbrella organisations listed below. Alternatively, you can call their national helplines. They also provide support and information to family and friends of sexual violence survivors.

Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis Centre

Glasgow & Clyde Rape Crisis Centre is a support service for women and girls aged 13 and over who have been raped, sexually assaulted or sexually abused at some point in their lifetime. Live Online Support gives British survivors of sexual violence access to UK-based support from anywhere in the world, on Skype, FaceTime, Instant Messenger and email. More information including the times Live Online support is on their website.

Rape Crisis England and Wales

Rape Crisis Scotland

Nexus Northern Ireland

Survivors UK

Survivors UK supports and provides resources for men who have experienced any form of sexual violence. Their national webchat service for men and their families, partners and friends is open 7 days a week and can be accessed on their website.

GALOP

Galop supports LGBT+ people who are victims of domestic abuse, sexual violence, hate crime, so-called ‘conversion therapies’, honour-based abuse, forced marriage, and other forms of abuse.

Samaritans

Samaritans offer a safe place for you to talk any time you like, in your own way, about whatever’s getting to you. They listen to you and help you talk through your concerns, worries and troubles, helping you think more clearly about your options.

Published 18 March 2022