Forensic evidence is physical evidence found at the scene of a crime and usable in court, such as hair fibres on a carpet. It can be extremely important in helping to support what you have said about what happened to you.
If you are in a position to report a sexual crime to the police soon after it happened, then they can also find forensic evidence on your body as well as the body of the perpetrator, if they can be arrested in time.
To preserve this sort of evidence on your body, it is very important to get to the police or to a Sexual Assault Referral Centre (if you do not want to report to the police as yet) as quickly as possible and no matter what time of day or night it is.
SARCs can keep all your forensic evidence for a long time whilst you decide whether you want to report to the police. If you do decide to report in the future, then you have the forensic evidence saved which could greatly help your case. If you do not, it will just be stored safely for you.
In some cases, evidential traces can also be found at the scene of a crime years after the offence.
For example, in one case where a child had spat out semen following an assault, the police found a dried combination of semen from the abuser and spit from the victim mixed together on a rug years after the act. This type of evidence is overwhelming and, in this case, led to the offender pleading guilty at court.
Timescales for gathering forensic evidence
The police use the following time parameters as a guide to indicate the likely presence of forensic evidence following an assault. It is important, however, to remember that they are only a guide and consideration needs to be given to the circumstances of each individual case.
DNA from fingers in vagina – up to 48 hours
DNA from a penis – most likely to obtain a profile from the victim within the first 72 hours
DNA from skin-to-skin contact (e.g., on bruises, or from kissing) – up to 2 days. This includes detection of bodily fluids, cellular material and lubricant. If by chance, the person has not bathed or showered then the Forensic Science service say that the relevant area can be swabbed up to 7 days after the incident.
- Fingernail scrapings – 48 hours
- Oral (saliva and mouth swabs) – up to 48 hours
- Anal – up to 72 hours
- Vaginal – up to 7 days
- Blood test – Up to 72 hours to detect alcohol/drugs if relevant to the incident
- Urine – within 5 days
- Fibres of anything put on the head – up to 72 hours
- Semen can be detected on clothing despite washing
Generally speaking, the sooner the police can collect samples the greater the chance of detecting evidence. All the above timescales are approximate and can vary depending on other factors. Forensic evidence sometimes lasts longer than the timescales listed here, so it may still be worth checking.
If you have been recently raped or sexually assaulted, then it is important that you preserve forensic evidence on your body as soon as possible by reporting to the police or to a SARC.
However, please be reassured that this is not the only form of evidence and many cases can be proved in court even without it.
Having a forensic medical examination
You can go to your local Sexual Assault Referral Centre and have a forensic medical examination done, without having to make a statement to the police.
Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARC)
A Sexual Assault Referral Centre (often referred to as a SARC) provides a multi-agency service for survivors of rape and sexual assault.
At a SARC you can access any of the following services to support you after rape/sexual assault: police, forensic, health, independent sexual violence advisors (ISVA), referral for counselling. You can choose which of these services you want, and you do not have to use all of them. Visiting a SARC does not mean you have to report what has happened to you to the police if you do not want to.
You can find your nearest SARC by visiting the NHS website.
If you live in Sussex, your nearest SARC is:
The Saturn Centre
Address: Crawley Hospital, West Green Drive, Crawley, West Sussex, RH11 7DH
Tel: 01293 600469 (9am-5pm) 24-hour answer phone
Out of Hours Help Line: 0800 033 7797
“The next day we went to the police where I had my interview, and they gave me a number to call for counselling. I felt like it was the first start to a good thing, although very difficult.”
I feel like a completely new person, with a contented and happy life. As I write this letter, I am currently sitting on the sofa in my new flat with my partner and very happy.
Six years ago, my friends and I were celebrating our friend Mark’s birthday. We had a few drinks before leaving for Brighton’s nightlife. A friend of a friend (Billy) was coming with us and driving. I asked to go with the girls in Mark’s car, as I had a funny feeling about Billy and I knew he fancied me.
Messing around, the girls and Mark drove off, leaving me to go in Billy’s car. I was very drunk, so was drifting off to sleep before I felt his hand touch my leg, pushing him off, I soon realised I didn’t know where we were – certainly nowhere near Brighton. I reached out to grab my phone, when he said, “don’t worry. I’m just going a quicker way”. The girls kept ringing Billy and he just cancelled the calls. They must have rung tens of times. He then stopped the car, on the side of the main road, but a very quiet road. It was pitch black. He said, “get out”. I said, “I can’t, I’m too drunk.” He then got out, with the lights of the car still on. He came round to my side, pulled me out and threw me over the bonnet of the car and raped me. A car drove past and after many times of saying no, I said, “someone’s going to see you.” He then got back in the car. I threw my ripped tights on the floor, put my shoes back on and stumbled painfully back to the car. I couldn’t stop shaking and was in so much pain, sitting down really hurt. I could hear him moving. I looked over to see him masturbating and he said, “don’t worry, you won’t get pregnant” and sniggered.
Mark rang Billy once again and I heard him say, “we’re on our way, we just got a bit lost.” I could hear Mark joking with him over the phone about “getting some”. We got down to Brighton late and then ran straight into Mark’s car. We then went back to Mark’s house. I was crying and shaking and after asking me repeatedly what’s happened, I told Sandra and Celia (Mark’s girlfriend). They said you must tell the police, but we’ll get some rest and talk about it in the morning. The next day was a blur. All I remember was Mark coming up to me saying, “Celia said that Billy attacked you. I wouldn’t go to the police – they will never believe you”. That was that, I never spoke about it again, for another 6 years.
My family had always known something was wrong, my Mum thought I was on drugs or had bi-polar at some point. In April this year, my sister and I were arguing about something silly. It all blew up into a blazing row before she said, “I know something has been wrong with you since your late teens,” then shouted, “what’s wrong with you?” I then shouted back, “I was attacked.” She said you must tell mum and as she said that my mum walked through the door with my dad. I explained everything to them.
I had two feelings, the first one being completely free of my secret, and the second a load had been lifted off my shoulders. They suggested that I have counselling and report this incident.
The next day we went to the police where I had my interview and they gave me a number to call for counselling. I phoned them and made an appointment. I was apprehensive as I have never been through anything like this before. Mum came with me and softened the blow by promising to take me out for lunch. The lady was lovely and reassured me. She advised me of my counsellor and filled out all the forms. She also made my first appointment with my counsellor. I gave her a brief outline of what had happened and burst into tears. I felt like it was the first start to a good thing, although very difficult.
Walking into the Worthing branch of Lifecentre, it felt warm and relaxing, although I was very nervous. Again, mum came with me and sat in the waiting room. I went over the story with my counsellor in more detail and poured my heart out. Again, although very upset, I felt so relieved that people knew, and felt that I was finally making progress.
Over the next few sessions, we went into detail about everything that had happened, how I was getting on with the police and how things were progressing and how it had been affecting my relationship with my family. My counsellor pushed just the right buttons.
We started with weekly sessions and after 6 weeks, moved it to every 2 weeks. When we reached this point, I felt a lot stronger so my counsellor worked closely with me with individual points that she and I felt would help me to “come out on the other side.” We did everything from writing a personal diary to sitting on the floor doing drawings of childhood memories. Halfway through the counselling, my counsellor explained that the next time we will do something life changing. I took a big enlarged picture of my eyes from when I was 5yrs old into the next session. We sat on the floor and she asked me to have a conversation between “adult Linda” and “little Linda” using the picture and also using my right and left hands. At the time it felt strange, but it has definitely changed me. I was more aware of what was going on around me. It’s an experience I will never forget and definitely was life changing for me. After that, we dealt with various issues on a week-to-week basis within my sessions. I am now on my 19th and final week.
Although this started out as the most worrying and daunting thing I could have done, my counsellor has been absolutely fantastic. I feel like a completely new person, with a contented and happy life. As I write this letter, I am currently sitting on the sofa in my new flat with my partner and very happy.
signed – anonymous