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Self Referral (SARCS)

This Act is a great step toward compassionate and trauma-informed responses to sexual violence that empowers survivors. Making the decision about whether or not to report a rape or sexual assault can be really difficult, but forensic evidence is time-sensitive. Self-referral means that you can make sure forensic evidence is captured and wait to make a decision until you are ready.

Don't know where to turn if you've been raped or sexually assaulted? Turn to SARCS

What is the Forensic Medical Services Act and what it does mean for survivors? The Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) (Scotland) Act 2021 is a change in the law which came in to effect on 1st April 2022. The Act changes the way that survivors can access Forensic Medical Exams (FMEs) after rape or sexual assault. To find out more about the NHS Sexual Assault Response Coordination Service (SARCS), go to the NHS Inform Website.

What is a Forensic Medical Examination (FME)? An FME is an examination performed by a specially trained healthcare professional to collect forensic evidence after a rape or sexual assault. You can usually access an FME for up to 7 days after the assault(s). After this window, it is unlikely (but not impossible) that evidence could be gathered.

What’s changing for survivors? As of 1st April 2022, anyone aged 16 and over that has been raped or sexually assaulted can self-refer for FMEs, meaning that you don't need to make any immediate decisions about whether to report to the police. The window for collecting forensic evidence is short, but we know that making the decision about whether or not to report a rape or sexual assault can be really difficult. Self-referral means that you can make a decision about reporting when you feel ready, whilst also capturing any potential evidence.

SARCS is an NHS Scotland service, here to offer you a choice in healthcare and support after rape or sexual assault.

How to self-refer for an FME: You can access an FME through the NHS at your local Sexual Assault Response Coordination Service (SARCS). You can refer yourself to SARCS by calling their dedicated number, which is available 24/7 and free from landlines and mobile: 0800 148 88 88 (available 24/7).

A specially trained nurse will be with you throughout your appointment, and you can bring someone with you for support. As well as your FME, this service will also seek to meet any other immediate healthcare and wellbeing needs, such as providing emergency contraception, and referring you to support services like The Compass Centre.

In Shetland, the local Sexual Assault Response Coordination Service (SARCS) is at the Gilbert Bain Hospital in Lerwick.

What happens next?

Any forensic evidence collected will be stored securely by the SARCS for 26 months from the day of your FME. This evidence will not be reviewed or analysed unless you decide to report to the police. SARCS is a confidential NHS service, meaning that the police and other agencies will not know unless you decide to tell them. In certain circumstances, a healthcare professional might have to tell them if you or others are at risk of further harm, but they should speak with you about this and keep you informed.

If you decide not to report before the end of the 26 months, you can choose to have your evidence destroyed or for certain evidence (such as personal items or clothing) to be returned to you. After the 26 months, your evidence will have been safely destroyed, but you will still have the option of reporting to the police.

More information and support

More information on self-referral see the NHS leaflet here, and the easy read version here. For more information on what to do after a rape or sexual assault, see Rape Crisis Scotland’s leaflet.

Remember: No one should ever pressure you in to reporting to the police. Our advocacy workers can talk you through your options and what to expect if you're thinking of reporting.

We're here for you, no matter what.

Our helpline is open 9am-1.30pm Monday to Thursday. Call 01595 747174. Email

The Rape Crisis Scotland helpline is open 5pm - midnight, every night. Call: 08088 01 03 02. Email: Text: 07537 410 027.