What To Do If You’ve Been Sexually Assaulted
We’ve written a lot about sexual assault on The Frisky this week, from the death threats faced by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s alleged victims and the weatherwoman who filed a false report, to the “Congratulations, you’ve been bad touched!” greeting card on Etsy.com and blogger Andrea Grimes’ incredibly thought-provoking essay, “Who Will Rape Me?” Heavy stuff in the days before Christmas, to be sure.
Yesterday, commenter _JSW_ made a great suggestion that The Frisky get all service journalism-y and provide information on what to do if you’ve been sexually assaulted. I’m more than happy to oblige in the hopes that we can skew our coverage towards more positivity.
If your sexual assault just occurred, you must take care of your physical well-being first.
- Get to a safe place. Go home, go to a friend’s house, go to your RA (if you’re in college), go to a police station, go a hospital — any place where you can collect yourself.
- You may decide to report the crime to the police. You might not. Either decision is fine and is up to you. But either way, it’s important that you go to a hospital or health care facility and get tested for STDs and STIs, including HIV. You can find a hospital or ER by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE) or your local rape crisis center. That number should be in your phone book, in your dormitory, or easily found online.
- Medical personnel can give you medication to prevent HIV transmission, as well as “the morning after pill,” which will prevent you from getting pregnant. You also need to be treated for any injuries you may have sustained.
- The hospital/ER/health care facility can perform an examination and collect a “rape kit.” A “rape kit” is the forensic evidence your body has on it (sperm, blood, skin cells, hairs, etc.) from the perpetrator. It will likely be collected by a sexual assault nurse examiner, who is a trained professional. Your local rape crisis center might offer to send someone along with you during the examination to hold your hand and provide emotion support.
- The following instructions come from the Rape Abuse Incest National Network on how to best prepare for the examination: DO NOT shower or bathe, as it may be cleaning away the forensic evidence; DO NOT comb your hair or change your clothes; DO NOT clean up the crime scene or move anything the perpetrator may have touched because his/her fingerprints will be on it; and DO NOT throw away anything you may have been drinking out of if you think you were given the “date rape drug.” The examination will likely involve a pelvic examination, but you can say “no” to any part of the examination and your wishes will be respected. You can read more about what happens during the examination on RAINN web site.
If you choose to report the sexual assault to police:
- You aren’t required to report the sexual assault to police, but if you do report, it could help with prosecuting your attacker and even preventing him/her from hurting anyone else. You can call 911 yourself or have someone at the hospital/ER/health care facility do it for you.
- You do not have to report the incident to police immediately. Plenty of people take time to decide what to do. However, it’s helpful to report sooner rather than later lest you feel burnt out/overwhelmed and decide to ignore/drop the incident entirely.
- It is my understanding that some police departments try when possible to send a female officer to female assault victims when they are able to. If you feel uncomfortable talking to a male officer, try asking if you could please speak with a lady cop. Assuming the station is sensitive to the needs of assault victims, they will likely acquiesce.
- Unfortunately, not all police officers are sensitive. Some aren’t at all. I’ve heard stories of police officers who insinuated victims were lying or that they didn’t really know what had happened because they were passed out or on drugs. Or they accuse the victim of changing the story, even if it never changed. I’ve also heard stories of cops implying a victim wasn’t raped at all, but instead consented to sex — even to the point of inviting a random stranger into her house. If your cop is an insensitive jerk, try to remain calm and not get flustered. I know it’s hard, but people on power trips thrive off of making people upset. And definitely keep track of what he or she said to you and how he/she treated you, so you can report the behavior to his/her higher ups later, if you so choose.
- If you do report your assault to police, you may be eligible for “victim’s compensation.” The government reimburses victims of violent crimes, including rape and assault, for medical and dental costs, counseling costs, funeral and burial costs, and lost wages. You can learn more about “victim’s compensation” on the the web site for the National Center for Victims of Crime.
- If you take your assailant to court, there may be court advocates to help navigate the legal process. If one is not offered to you, ask.
- See counseling info below:
If you choose not to report, you still need to care for your mental health:
- You can search for a local rape crisis center that provides counseling on the RAINN web site here. If you are a college student or in the military, it is likely that you received information on places to receive counseling in an informational packet. You can also ask for a referral from a doctor, nurse or your campus health center.
- Concerned about the costs of counseling? Some sexual assault counseling is free and your local rape crisis center could help you find that. You can also be reimbursed for the costs of counseling with “victims compensation” if you do decide to report.
- Just like you do not have to report immediately, you do not have to talk to a counselor immediately. But obviously it can be better to talk about it sooner rather than later before you start dealing with it in self-harming ways elsewhere in your life, like drinking and using drugs.
- Be gentle with yourself and don’t abide anyone else’s BS that you should “get over it.”
Resources for the future:
These resources come recommended from an acquaintance of mine, Sabrina Hersi Issa:
- The Rape Recovery Handbook: Step-By-Step Help For Survivors Of Sexual Assault, by Aphrodite Matsakis
- After Silence: Rape & My Journey Back, by Nancy Venable Raine
- Angela Shelton’s Survivor Manual web site provides information about her“Sword of Trauma” theory and info about trauma/abuse and its effects on other facts of life anxiety and depression, eating disorders, parenting, etc. I’m told it can be particularly helpful to peruse the video section.
Once again, the number for the National Sexual Assault Hotline is 1.800.656.HOPE.
These tips are very basic and obviously not all-encompassing. I left out tons of different scenarios and suggestions. But I would love it if Frisky sexual assault survivors would share their advice in the comments, including resources like books and blogs, and words of support. Let me say in advance: thank you all.