Royal Holloway conducts an anonymous survey on sexual assault and medicine

TW: this article deals with sexual assault and medical procedures that may be triggering as a result.

health medicine rape sexual assault surveys

For people who have been sexually assaulted, the thought of invasive medical check-ups can be terrifying, bringing back traumatic and unwanted memories. As a result, the psychology department at Royal Holloway is conducting an anonymous survey in partnership with My Body Back Project for people who have experienced rape or sexual assault in order to provide a more sympathetic and safe environment to undergo cervical smears to test for cancerous or abnormal cells. Respondents are given an ID number so no personally identifiable information is required or stored.

Though the form only refers to women, it is equally important to acknowledge trans and non-binary people in the same circumstance, who may require additional support when dealing with the heavily gendered approach medical professionals already use in this situation.

Both the NHS and GOV.uk have websites listing what to do in the immediate aftermath of assault, yet the emotional impact can still be felt months and even years after the event taking place, and especially in the context of an intimate and invasive medical examination. The importance of this survey in researching the psychological effect of cervical smears on people who have been sexually assaulted in the past allows doctors and nurses to approach patients with a better understanding of handling their emotional welfare, offering better knowledge of what may be inadvertently triggering and how best to go about the situation while being sympathetic of risks to a patient's emotional wellbeing.

Equally though it is important to understand why people would be reluctant to attend a cervical smear, regardless of circumstance. The fact that it is a very intimate procedure, combined with official NHS adverts shaming people who don't go as 'failing'), is enough to understandably make people nervous. When you take into account the courage needed for someone who has been assaulted to arrange and attend a check-up, to be faced with already accusatory language only adds another barrier towards getting the medical attention they require.

Raising awareness of the unique issues people who have faced rape or sexual assault may encounter during these procedures creates a much better educated team of doctors and nurses, who in turn can provide a much better environment. While surveys like these can be understandably distressing, the information gained from them is critical if the medical world is to adapt and react to their patients' unique concerns and offer better support for generations to come.

For further questions or concerns relating to the survey, contact Katie Madden at [email protected] or 01784 414012.

Contact details for relevant charities can be found below:

My Body Back Project (a female-run charity supporting women around a year after assault)

Mankind (for men)

Pandora's Project (for LGBTQ survivors of rape/sexual abuse)

Rape Crisis

RAINN

The Survivors' Trust

Samaritans – 116 123 (24 hours), [email protected]

The Havens – 020 3299 6900

– Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre (RASASC) – 0808 802 9999

– SafeLine – 0808 800 5008

– SupportLine – 01708 765 200

Jo's Trust

Eve Appeal