What happens at a Sexual Assault Treatment Unit?

Who is the Sexual Assault Treatment Unit (SATU) service for?

Written by spunout


If you have been raped or sexually assaulted, you can access a Sexual Assault Treatment Unit (SATU) service for free. 

In Ireland, there are six Sexual Assault Treatment Units and they are located in:

  • Dublin: Rotunda HospitalPhone: 01-817 1736 (Out of hours: 01-817 1700).
  • Donegal: NoWDOC premises, Old Town, Letterkenny; Phone: 0870681964 / 0749104436 (Out of hours: 087 068 1964).
  • Galway: Galway Sexual Assault Treatment Unit, near Galway Racecourse; Phone 091 765751 / 087 6338118 (Out of hours: contact your loacl garda station)
  • Mullingar: Midland Regional Hospital; Phone: 044 9394239 / 086 0409952 (Out of hours: 044 93 40221 for hospital switchboard and ask for nursing administration)
  • Waterford: Waterford Regional Hospital; Phone: 051 842157 (Out of hours: 051 848000 for nurse on call).
  • Cork: South Infirmary / Victoria University HospitalPhone: 021 4926297 / 021 4926100 bleep 789 (Out of hours: 021 4926100 for nursing admin).

There is also a limited out-of-hours overnight service available in Limerick University Hospital from 6pm-8am, every day of the year. They can be contacted via SHANNONDOC on 1850 212 999.

What is a Sexual Assault Treatment Unit (SATU)?

SATU provide a service to people who have experienced a sexual crime. They will give you the immediate medical, psychological, or emotional support you need. A rape crisis centre support worker will be there to meet you.

This can include:

How to make an appointment at a SATU

  • You can call the SATU directly and tell them you’d like to make an appointment.
  • You can go to your local Rape Crisis Centre and tell them about your assault and let them know you’d like to go to a SATU.
  • You can contact the Guards to report your assault. The Guards will then contact the SATU.

No matter who you make your appointment through, a worker from your local Rape Crisis Centre will be there to support you the whole way through. The National Sexual Violence Helpline 1800 77 8888

Who is the SATU service for?

The SATU service is for anyone aged fourteen or over who is the victim of a sexual assault or rape. Both women and men can access the SATU service.

Anyone under eighteen accessing the service must have a parent or legal guardian with them. This is because they will have to co-sign consent (give permission) with you for the forensic clinical examination. Both you and your guardian will sign the form.

What happens at a SATU?

You can attend a SATU for medical care whether you have decided to report the rape or sexual assault to the Gardai or not.

When you visit a SATU, you will be brought to an examination room where you will meet a forensic clinical examiner. They will ask you to tell them in some detail about the assault and they will carry out a forensic clinical examination. 

Even if you have not reported to the Gardai, forensic evidence can be gathered and held for a year in case you decide to report at a later date.

The examination will be explained to you, and you will have to sign a consent form. If you are under eighteen, your parent or legal guardian will co-sign the consent form with you.

Who will be present?

  • The forensic clinical examiner – this could be a doctor, a midwife, or a nurse.
  • Assisting nurse chaperone – this is a nurse who is present and helps during the examination.
  • A Rape Crisis Centre (RCC) support worker will offer you support before and after the examination.
  • A member of An Garda Siochána, if you want them present. If you are reporting the crime, a Garda must be there for legal reasons if you are having a forensic examination. The Garda will be behind a screen or outside the door and will not be able to see the examination take place. If you are not reporting the crime, then a Garda will not be present for the examination.

All of these people will be aware of how difficult this is for you and will support you to provide as much evidence as you are able to in order to support the investigation of the assault. You will not be put under pressure to have any examination you do not wish to have. If you are under the influence of any substance, the examination will be postponed until the effects have worn off so that you can legally consent to the examination

What is a forensic clinical examination?

This is a special type of exam that is carried out to get evidence following a rape or sexual assault. It can be carried out up to seven days after a rape or sexual assault.

What happens during a forensic clinical examination?

  • The examiner will ask you some general health questions
  • You will be asked to share what you remember about the assault. The staff understand that this may be difficult for you, but these details will help to make sure the right treatment is carried out, and all of the evidence can be collected.
  • You will be given a gown to wear during the examination. Your clothes, shoes and personal effects may be taken by the Gardaí as evidence.
  • You will provide a urine sample and get a blood test
  • Any injuries will be documented. This may include photographs.
  • Swabs will be taken from places like fingernails, hair, and the vagina or penis. In some cases, swabs may also be taken from the back passage (bum) if necessary.
  • You may be asked to return in a few days to see if bruising has developed.

What if it has been more than seven days since the rape or sexual assault?

The time limit for a forensic clinical examination to be useful for collecting this type of legal evidence is seven days. However, even after seven days the staff in SATU can still help you by:

  • Dealing with your worries
  • Performing a medical check for injuries
  • Organising follow up care, if required, for example for infection

What to do before visiting a SATU

  • If you want to report the assault, contact the Gardaí who will arrange an appointment with the SATU and accompany you there
  • If not reporting to the Gardaí, it is best to contact the SATU to make an appointment in advance
  • If possible, do not wash beforehand.
  • If you were assaulted in your mouth, if possible, try not to eat, drink, smoke or use toothpaste or mouthwash before samples have been taken from your mouth area.
  • Do not wash the clothes you were wearing at the time of the assault. Take them with you if you have changed or take a change of clothes, shoes and personal effects with you as your clothes may be kept for examination and evidence.

What if I change my mind once I go to the SATU?

  • You control what happens when you are at the SATU
  • You can choose not to go ahead with the exam
  • You can stop the exam at any time
  • The staff will always respect and support your wishes

Find your local Rape Crisis Centre here. You can contact the National 24 Hour Helpline on 1800 77 88 88.

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