What is the true cost of surviving sexual assault?

Illustration: Alamy

Alex Salmond, the former first minister of Scotland, raised over £100,000 in three days to “clear his name” following multiple allegations of sexual assault. But what does a survivor have to pay? And what help is available to them?

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By Olivia Feld on

What’s the real cost of being sexually assaulted? Not the emotional and often damaging experience of surviving sexual assault, but the cost in terms of money and time.

It’s a question worth considering, after Alex Salmond, the former first minister of Scotland, raised over £100,000 in three days to “clear his name” following multiple allegations of sexual assault.

Salmond is under investigation by both the police and Scottish government after several accusations of sexual assault by two former colleagues. He denies the allegations and is petitioning the Court of Session in Edinburgh for a judicial review into how the investigation was handled by the government. A crowdfunding effort has seen him raise more than twice his target – he will have money left over, he says, which he plans to donate to undisclosed “good causes”.

Anyone accused of a crime is, of course, innocent until proven guilty, and everyone should receive a fair trial. Salmond is free to use his position as a well-known public individual to raise money in an attempt to clear his name.

Mounting a defence against a criminal allegation requires legal representation and some lawyers do come with a high price tag. That being said, those who cannot afford the costs – including for a judicial review – can apply for legal aid.

Survivors of sexual assault may not face legal costs in a criminal investigation – but what about the other financial and time costs? What does a survivor have to pay for, and what help is available to them?

Reporting a sexual crime can be a lengthy and arduous process. If you choose to report a sexual assault or rape to the police, you may need to arrange a medical examination and treatment for any injuries you have sustained, including emergency contraception and STI tests.

The police have specialist teams who handle sexual assault and rape cases. Once the crime has been reported, you will be interviewed by a specialist police officer at a prearranged, videotaped interview. These interviews can last an entire working day. 

Everyone reacts to the trauma of being assaulted differently – some recover quickly, but for others there can be long-lasting physical and emotional effects. Survivors of sexual assault can experience depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders, panic attacks, flashbacks, eating difficulties, self-harm, drug and alcohol problems and suicidal thoughts.

Counselling is available on the NHS, but it is limited. Your GP can refer you to see a counsellor or therapist, but a referral is at the discretion of the doctor and usually the number of sessions is limited. Seeing a therapist, which can be hugely beneficial to survivors, can cost anything, from £35 to over £70 an hour. And, unless you qualify for free or reduced-price prescriptions, prescriptions for medication such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs cost £8.80 in England.

Survivors of sexual assault have to cope with processing and recovering from a traumatising crime they did not bring on themselves

If you have reported the incident to the police and they decide they have enough evidence to make an arrest and charge the suspect, your case could be handed to the Crown Prosecution Service. At this point, the accused may plead not guilty – and if they do, the case will go to trial. The likelihood is that you’ll then need to take more time off work to give evidence, not to mention deal with further trauma and the associated mental-health costs.

Of course, you can claim expenses for going to court – including for loss of earnings – but these are limited. In England, you can receive £33.50 for up to four hours of lost earnings, or £67 for longer, which works out roughly £2 more a day than the minimum wage.

If you’ve been sexually assaulted at work you may want to take your case to an employment tribunal, where legal aid is not available, and you may choose to pay for a solicitor. Bringing a civil claim for damages can be very expensive, and the process to get legal aid is not especially clear. While the Civil Legal Advice – the body who advise potential claimants on legal aid – told me that legal aid is not available, the Ministry of Justice said that legal aid is available for civil legal services against private or public parties concerning allegations of sexual assault. However it is subject to means and merits tests.

This laundry list of financial burdens is not exhaustive. Every survivor of sexual assault is impacted in different ways and, while it might feel overwhelming to look at in black and white, everyone should feel assured that reporting, if that is the right decision for you, will be taken seriously. 

Emotional support is available, and some financial assistance is available – if you have reported the crime to the police, you can apply for criminal-injuries compensation through the government.

And there are charities that provide help and support to survivors. Rape Crisis and Rape Crisis Scotland provide counselling and advocates to support survivors through the criminal-justice system.

But the human and financial cost for survivors are not calculated. Mechanisms exist for those accused of perpetrating sexual crimes to be given access to legal counsel, mount a defence and, if the case goes to trial, a fair hearing. Yet, survivors of sexual assault have to cope with processing and recovering from a traumatising crime they did not bring on themselves. If they choose to report it, they have to deal with the anguish of reliving the event. Stigma, low prosecution and conviction rates all deter survivors from reporting these crimes to police.

Everyone is entitled to raise money how they see fit – although, personally, I’m yet to see a crowdfunding effort by a survivor, bar the global #MeToo movement, arguably. But it is worth questioning how much those who have been sexually assaulted have to pay for their recovery and, very occasionally, justice.


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Illustration: Alamy
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Sexual assault
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