How is Sexual Assault & Rape Proven in Court?

This post is a part of our guide series to support anyone who may have been sexually assaulted or has questions around the topic:

What is Sexual Assault? Definitions & Meanings of Rape
Who Commits Sexual Assault & Why?
What are the Signs of Sexual Assault?
Date Rape & Staying Safe
What Impacts Does Sexual Assault Have on Victims and Their Family/Friends?
Coping, Healing & Recovering From Sexual Assault & Rape
How to Help Someone Who has Been a Victim of Sexual Assault
How to report Sexual Assault (and Who to Report it to)
How is Sexual Assault & Rape Proven in Court?
Punishment and Sentencing for Sexual Assault
How can Sexual Assault and Rape be Prevented?
Sexual Assault Data & Statistics
Sexual Assault Helplines, Support & Further Reading


Victims of sexual assault and rape can find it very difficult to disclose their experience, however, this can be made a lot easier with the support of family and friends. What happens after the assault is reported? And what evidence will the courts require? In this guide, we answer these questions and discuss how sexual assault and rape cases are proven in court.

Is legal aid available to sexual assault and rape victims?

Legal aid may be available if there is evidence that the individual or their children have been victims of sexual assault or rape and cannot afford to pay legal costs.

Will I need to attend as a victim or a witness?

If the case ends up in court and you are asked to give evidence as a victim or witness, you will need to attend. Victims will attend as both the victims and witnesses, your witness statement will be used in court as well as your ‘Victim Personal Statement’ you have provided as a victim. However, you will only need to attend if either the defendant denies the charge, or pleads guilty but denies a part of the offence which may affect the sentence they are given. There are organisations such as Victim Support that provide help and support for victims throughout this process. The Court may be able to provide ‘special measures’ if you are vulnerable or too scared of the offender, this includes giving evidence from behind a screen or a live link from another room.

How is rape proven in court?

The legal and evidential requirements needed for a rape prosecution can be quite difficult to overcome. The Crown Prosecution Service states “it is necessary under the law for the prosecution to provide evidence not only that a person did not consent to the act but that the perpetrator did not reasonably believe that they were consenting.” In order to secure a conviction, the CPS must prove to the court that Defendant did not have a reasonable belief that consent had been given by the victim. This can be a very challenging task for prosecutors, as sexual offences normally occur in private places with the two individuals as the only direct witnesses.

Please note the burden of truth in demonstrating a reasonable belief lies with the defendant, and the test for demonstrating reasonable belief is subjective but balanced with an objective element. It will of course be the Jury who, after considering all the circumstances surrounding the incident, decides whether or not a defendant’s belief that consent was given, was a reasonable belief.

As difficult as it may be, it is extremely important that as a victim, you try to keep as much evidence as you can of the incident.  This may include CCTV footage, mobile messages, friends and family who know about the incident and anything else that may help prove your case. Consider getting medical help as soon as you can for any injuries and for investigation purposes, the sooner a forensic medical examination takes place, the better. Try not to have a bath or wash your clothes immediately after the assault as this may destroy forensic evidence.

How long does a rape investigation take?

It can take an average of 218 days between reporting the incident and the police referring the case to the Crown Prosecution Service. According to the Ministry of Justice, the median time between the offence and the completion of the rape case rose to 1020 days or over two and a half years in 2021.

The overall process takes a long time and the chances of securing a conviction can be difficult, making it extremely hard for victims of rape who are already struggling with the trauma of the incident.

How long does DNA stay on the victim after a sexual assault?

This will depend on a variety of things such as the type of DNA and which part of the body or clothing it is being collected from. Some of the following are examples of this;

  • DNA from a penis- most likely to be obtained from the victim within the first 72 hours
  • DNA from fingers in the vagina- up to 48 hours
  • DNA from skin-to-skin contact (kissing, bruises)- up to 2 days, if victims have not washed this can be up to 7 days

Please note the sooner the police can collect and gather the evidence the greater the chance of identifying the offender and helping the victim’s case. There are factors which can make collecting DNA more difficult, so it is important for the victim not to bath or wash any clothing that was worn at the time of the incident.

What is a rape kit?

A rape kit is a medical kit that is used to gather evidence from the body and clothes of a victim who has been raped or sexually assaulted. The materials in the kit are used to gather evidence such as bodily fluids including saliva and semen, the fibres from hair and clothing can also be collected, helping to identify the offender.

The kit contains typically the following;

  • A comb
  • Bags and paper sheets
  • Envelopes
  • Dental floss,
  • materials for blood samples and swabs
  • containers for blood and urine samples
  • metal or wooden instruments for fingernail scrapings
  • official forms for documenting the evidence gathered

The kit is normally used if the rape/assault occurred within the last 72 hours, the sooner the kit is used the more chance of collecting evidence. However, you may still be able to collect some evidence if the incident occurred more than seven days ago. You may wish to discuss your options with the police officers involved or seek advice from your nearest Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs). SARCs offer a range of services including medical, practical and emotional support for anyone who has experienced sexual assault or abuse.

Can a statement be withdrawn in a sexual assault case? And what impact can it have on the case?

If a victim or witness wants to withdraw their statement, they will need to contact the police or Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) directly and make a request for this. The statement of withdrawal should contain reasons for withdrawing support for the prosecution, this request will also confirm that the original statement was true and that the application for withdrawal is being made without any duress.

After receiving this request the investigator or prosecutor will decide whether there is sufficient evidence to continue and make an application for a witness summons, this compels the witness to give evidence. Alternatively, the prosecution may decide that there is insufficient evidence and even the witness statement is unlikely to be helpful to them and may decide not to proceed and drop the case. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a matter for the victim to decide if the CPS should pursue the case, the CPS can decide to pursue the matter even without the victim’s consent.

We understand how difficult it is to experience abuse, whether it is yourself or someone you know, sometimes trying to find help is not easy. It’s important to remember that you are not alone and the first step that you should take is to talk to someone. No one should have to deal with abuse alone.

Here at the Criminal Injuries Helpline, we help victims of violent crime and abuse recover compensation. You may want to help the victim gain some justice, get in touch with us today to see if the victim would qualify.

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