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Forensic exam after a rape or sexual assault

A forensic exam is a type of medical examination offered in a Sexual Assault Treatment Unit (SATU). It is carried out to get evidence after a rape or sexual assault.

The best time for forensic samples to be collected is in the first 72 hours (3 days) after the assault. But samples can still be collected within 7 days of the assault.

This evidence helps the Gardaí to investigate the crime. You can choose to report the assault to the Gardaí immediately. If you need time to think about whether to report the assault, we can store the samples in the SATU for up to one year.

What happens at a forensic exam

We will ask you some general health questions. We'll also ask some questions about the assault. We only need to know what happened to your body and any ways that you were harmed. This is to make sure that the correct physical checks can be done and forensic samples can be taken. You don’t have to tell us about the events around the rape or sexual assault.

We know that it may be difficult for you to give these details and we will help you through it.

Collecting forensic samples

The doctor or nurse will perform the exam and they will document any injuries you have. They'll take any relevant combings from your hair and swabs from nails.

You will be in charge at all times. You can refuse any part of the exam or take a break if you need to.

You will usually be asked to have a blood test and give a urine sample.

If needed, the doctor or nurse will also take swabs from your vagina or penis. Depending on the type of assault, they may also have to examine your bottom and take swabs from there.

Your clothes may be taken by the Gardaí and we will give you a change of clothes.

Stopping the exam

If you change your mind once you are at the SATU, you can choose not to go ahead with the exam. You can stop the exam or ask for a break at any time.

After the exam

After the exam, we will give you a health check. You will be offered medication to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy.

You'll have access to a shower, fresh clothes and refreshments.

We will also give you details of follow-up appointments and any referrals you may need.

If you are unsure about reporting

If you were sexually assaulted within the last 7 days but don't know if you want to report the assault, we can still help. We can collect the relevant samples and store them for up to one year without the Gardaí being there. If you decide to report it to the Gardaí, you will have forensic evidence to support your statement.

We will look after your healthcare needs first. This will allow you time to get support and treatment. You can then decide later if you want to report the assault. Your decision will be supported by all members of the SATU team.

If you decide to report later

Unless the incident is officially reported to the Gardaí, no investigation will be carried out.

Delayed reporting may mean that other evidence is lost.

For example:

  • CCTV footage may no longer be available
  • witnesses may be hard to find
  • forensic evidence may be lost from the scene

If the assault was more than 7 days ago

SATUs also provide care for patients who come to us after 7 days. We can document and treat your injuries and help you deal with any worries you may have.

We can provide you with:

  • sexual health treatment
  • a general health check
  • follow-up care if needed

If you were sexually assaulted a long time ago, we can discuss what care options are most suitable for you now. You can also get support by calling the Rape Crisis Centre 24-hour helpline at 1800 77 88 88.

There is no statute of limitations in Ireland when reporting rape and sexual assault. This means that by law, you can report the incident to the Gardaí at any time, even many years after it happened.

Related topic

Where to find a Sexual Assault Treatment Unit

page last reviewed: 19/02/2020
next review due: 19/02/2023