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The Forensic Medical Services Act: What you need to know

In 2021, The Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) (Scotland) Act passed into law. This legislation means health boards can now provide Forensic Medical Examinations (FME) after a self-referral, without victims/survivors needing to report to police first.

In this blog, we will outline what the legislation means and what your rights are when accessing healthcare and Forensic Medical Examination.

If you have recently been raped or sexually assaulted and do not want to tell the police, or are unsure about telling them, you can self-refer to a Sexual Assault Response Co-ordination Service (SARCS). This confidential service is provided by the NHS for people aged 16 and over.

You will have your immediate health and wellbeing needs met and, if the assault has happened within the last 7 days, it might be appropriate for you to have a Forensic Medical Examination (FME) to preserve any important forensic evidence. You do not need to make up your mind about reporting straight away to access a FME and the police and other services will not be told unless you choose to tell them.


What to expect at a Forensic Medical Examination (FME)

An FME allows for evidence to be gathered. This is done by a trained medical professional and you can request to be examined by a male or female. FMEs can be of vital importance if you wish to later report your assault to the police as they allow the gathering of forensic evidence to aid police in identifying the perpetrator who carried out your assault. FMEs can provide strong evidence of the crime and the person responsible. The medical professional will discuss confidentiality with you and what this means. You will always be asked for your permission before any information is shared with the police.

Even if you do not wish to report the crime right away, it is worthwhile considering self-referring so you can access support and care.

You can start the process by calling 0800 148 88 88, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week - this is free from landlines and mobiles. Here, you will speak to a trained healthcare professional who can help to arrange any care you may need. They can also assist you with making a police report if this is something you would like to do. You will be able to request an interpreter if you need one. You may also request to bring a trusted friend or relative.


What happens after the examination?

The evidence gathered from the examination will be kept safely and securely for 26 months. If you report the incident to the police within the 26-month period, make sure to tell them about the examination and they will be able to obtain your evidence from SARCS. After the 26 months, the evidence will be safely destroyed. You can choose to have the evidence destroyed earlier if you wish. This does not prevent you from reporting to the police if you choose to do so at a later stage.

The SWRC can provide information and support if you are considering accessing a SARC or Forensic Medical Examination. You can reach us through our helpline or advice surgeries. You may also find our guide on Reporting Sexual Crimes helpful.

Useful resources

The Rape Crisis Scotland website has information and support resources for survivors of sexual violence, including information after experiencing rape or sexual assault and information about reporting.

You can also find contact details online for the RCS Helpline and local Rape Crisis Centres.

NHS Inform: turn to SARCS contains information on self-referral and information for people under 16.

The NHS phone number for self-referral is available 24/7: 0800 148 88 88

The NHS have also published a leaflet on self-referral following sexual assault or rape.

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