Medical / forensic follow up

Contributed by Penny Pestano and Chrystina Stanford and current to January 2018

Getting Medical Attention

Following a sexual assault, the most important thing is safety, followed by medical attention - when there has been physical contact. People who have experienced a sexual assault may be concerned about injuries, aches and pains, the risk of pregnancy or whether they have contracted a sexually transmitted infection (STI). The Forensic and Medical Sexual Assault Care (FAMSAC) service provides sensitive and high quality medical follow-up for people who have experienced sexual assault. It is staffed by doctors and nurses who are trained specifically to work with victims of sexual assault, they are very knowledgeable about how sexual assaults can impact a person and their goal is to focus on helping the victim/survivor become physically healthy again. FAMSAC have both male and female medical practitioners available so victims can choose the gender of the person they feel most comfortable with.

FAMSAC can provide testing for STIs - which may take several days before they show up in the tests - and offer the emergency contraception in instances where pregnancy may be of concern. The risk of contracting HIV/Aids is very rare, however, in instances where the risk is high, post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) may be provided to reduce the risk of contracting the virus. FAMSAC provides follow-up within 48 hours following the medical care/examination and with consent, can offer follow-up for three months.

People can bring a support person with them when they attend FAMSAC for a medical and/or forensic examination, a worker from the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre is available 24 hours a day to attend FAMSAC for support of victim/survivors having a medical/forensic examination.

FAMSAC services are free and confidential and the service records are kept separate from main hospital records. FAMSAC publish a number of fact sheets related to medical care following sexual assault, including Rape Related Pregnancy. These fact sheets are available through their website; www.health.act.gov.au/our-services/sexual-health/forensic-and-medical-sezual-assalt-care

FAMSAC is at the Canberra Hospital in Woden behind the National Capital Private Hospital (NACAP) and it is co-located with the Canberra Sexual Health Centre.

Forensic Examination

Following a recent sexual assault, FAMSAC are able to collect potential forensic evidence as part of their medical examination for police investigation if the person gives consent. Forensic evidence can be collected within 72 hours of a sexual assault, indecent assault or following injuries resulting from domestic violence, however, it should be collected as soon as possible.

At the time of the examination, the person may not be sure whether they want to make a report to the police or not. When a person is unsure, FAMSAC can collect potential forensic evidence and store it for up to three months whilst the person decides if they wish to engage in the criminal justice process.

Forensic evidence may include but is not limited to bodily fluids - such as semen or saliva - from the offender found on the body of the victim or on their clothes, injuries on the victim's body indicating restraint or force, bruising, scratch marks, grazing and vegetation or gravel if the offence(s) took place outdoors (Judicial Commission of New South Wales, 2013).

An important note to make is that non-consensual sexual intercourse does not always leave evidence of trauma on the victim's body, and the absence of injuries or forensic evidence does not mean that a sexual assault has not taken place. Forensic evidence can assist with the prosecution of sexual offences; however, victims/survivors who wish to report or engage in the criminal justice process should not be put-off from this engagement in the absence of forensic evidence, as successful prosecution is still possible.

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