What are the Signs of Sexual Assault?

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


It can be difficult to know what to look out for when considering sexual assault. To complicate matters some victims will not display signs of being sexually assaulted, others may be unsure if they have experienced sexual assault. In this guide, we will discuss the different signs and symptoms of sexual assault helping people to recognise when this is happening to them or someone they know.

What are the more obvious signs of sexual assault?

Not all sexual assaults cause visible injuries, some of the injuries could be internal. The signs will of course vary depending on the nature of the assault and other factors. However, some of the obvious signs include;

  • Bruising
  • Bleeding
  • Broken bones
  • Difficulty walking
  • Soreness
  • Torn, stained or bloody clothing

This list is not exhaustive and there will be many other signs, some victims may isolate themselves and experience changes in their behaviour such as outbursts of anger or crying. They may also experience loss of appetite and have trouble eating.

What are the more subtle signs of a sexual assault?

The subtle signs of sexual assault may be more difficult to detect especially when the victim doesn’t even realise that it is happening to them. However, this can be equally as destructive as violent assaults like rape. Some of the signs include:

  • Signs of depression
  • Mood swings
  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Alcohol or drug misuse
  • Loss of confidence
  • Anxiety

There will be other signs which will vary for each individual depending on the situation. Often the perpetrator will make the victim believe the assault is part of the ‘love’ if they are in a relationship or threaten the victim not to tell anyone. The perpetrator will also try to isolate the victim by keeping them away from family and friends.

How do I know if I was sexually assaulted?

This can very a very difficult situation to be in, but if the perpetrator’s actions were non-consensual or the incident involved force or coercion then a sexual assault has occurred. The different types of sexual assault can include the following:

  • Rape – unlawful sexual intercourse or penetration of the victim’s body or part of the body without the victim’s consent
  • Attempted rape
  • Forcing the victim to perform sexual acts
  • Fondling
  • Unwanted sexual contact or touching

The important thing to remember is that it is always the perpetrator who is responsible for this happening and not the victim. It is normal for the victim to feel confused, shocked or scared after the assault but know that there is resources available to help victims through this.

Does sexual assault have to include penetration to be classed as rape?

Rape is a form of sexual assault, the legal definition of rape is “when someone intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of another person with their penis, without the other person’s consent.”

How do I know if I was spiked?

This will depend on a number of factors for example the type and amount of drugs or alcohol used, it will also vary depending on the amount of alcohol consumed, the body size and any other medication you may be taking. The common symptoms of being spiked include:

  • Feeling light-headed or drunker
  • Loss of balance
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Hallucinations
  • Difficulty walking
  • Problems with vision
  • Confusion

This list is not exhaustive and there will be many more symptoms including loss of memory. It can be difficult to distinguish between being spiked or just being too drunk, however, it is always best to seek medical help straight away.

Can oral sex be a form of sexual assault?

Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual contact or behaviour that the victim did not consent to, this would include oral sex.

Can a husband or wife sexually assault their partner?

When an individual commits a sexual act without the consent of their spouse or against their will it is classed as marital rape. Marital rape has been illegal since 1992, before this date forced sexual activity within marriage was not considered as an illegal offence.

Can a woman sexually assault a man?

In the UK as a matter of law, a woman cannot rape a man according to the definition of rape in the Sexual Offences Act 2003. However, a woman can sexually assault a man by touching him sexually without his consent.

Can a woman sexually assault another woman?

Sexual assault is when any male or female intentionally touches another person without their consent, this would include a woman sexually touching another woman without her consent.

Does the assaulted party having an orgasm change whether it was sexual assault or not?

If a victim is aroused during a sexual assault it does not mean they consented to the sexual act, an orgasm cannot be equated with consent. An orgasm is simply a physiological reaction to physical stimulation, a victim of sexual assault can experience this without consenting to the perpetrator’s actions.

What should I do if I have been sexually assaulted?

Reaching out and talking to someone is really important. If you find you are unable to speak to friends and family because you fear them being judgemental, then consider someone independent, this may be a counsellor or psychotherapist.

What should I do if I am currently being sexually assaulted ongoing by someone?

Remember no one has the right to do this to you, you need to tell someone and get help. Physically freeing yourself from the abuse is a priority and a step towards recovery. However mentally freeing yourself can take time, but with the right support, you can heal from this experience. Reach out to friends and family. You may feel you need professional help such as counselling, there are plenty of organisations that provide this service free of charge. Alternatively, you may wish to arrange this with your GP.

What if I’m still not sure if it was sexual assault or not?

You may find it helpful to speak to someone independent such as a counsellor or psychotherapist. These people are trained in helping you to understand what you have been through and can offer further support and guidance. Be kind to yourself and know that it was not your fault. Remember there are plenty of people and organisations out there that are willing to help and support you through this


We understand how difficult it is to see someone you know or love experiencing abuse, sometimes trying to help a victim 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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