After a trauma like a sexual assault many women and men are unsure of what to do. Do they report to the police? Should they seek medical attention? The moments, hours, and even days right after, people can experience shock, confusion, and uncertainty along with a whole range of other emotions.
Safety – First, and foremost, seek safety. If you are in immediate danger or seriously injured, call 911. If you’re not feeling safe even inside your own home, call a friend or hotline for support. Know that what happened is not your fault and this isn’t something you have to go through alone.
Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673). You’ll be connected to a trained staff member from a local sexual assault service provider in your area. They can also direct you to the appropriate local health facility that cares for survivors of sexual assault.
Save any evidence that might have the attacker’s DNA on it. Even if you don’t know if you want to go to the police, before you shower or use the bathroom, you should go to the hospital for a medical exam and for them to collect evidence. Better to have the evidence than not if you change your mind about going to the police later. The first inclination after an assault is to want to shower – but don’t. Don’t clean any part of your body before you go to the hospital for an exam. Don’t even change clothes, if possible. Also, don’t touch or change anything at the scene of the assault. That way the local police will have physical evidence from the person who assaulted you.
Hospital/ E.R – Even if evidence collection is the furthest thing from your mind – you still need to make sure you are physically okay. The hospital can also provide you medicine to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted infections and emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy. At the hospital ask for a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) or sometimes called a Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner (SAFE). These are medical personnel specially trained to collect evidence for a rape kit and to work with victims of sexual assault. You do not have to decide whether to press charges while at the hospital. They might also offer a sexual assault advocate to be there with you at the hospital – you can decide if that’s something you want or not but they are trained in helping survivors of sexual assault and have a wealth of resources available to them.
Law Enforcement – Some victims may want to talk to the police while others do not. It’s your right to choose to move forward legally or not. But never let anyone pressure you to keep quiet or convince you that you won’t be believed. If a sexual assault happens on campus or within a work setting and you are told you don’t need to go to law enforcement because there will be an internal investigation – go to the police anyway. You have a right to seek the authorities given a crime has been committed. Not all, but many institutions are far more concerned about their liability than what’s best for the victim of a crime.
Seek Support – Whether it’s through your best friend or at a sexual assault program or through a private therapist or support group, a survivor of sexual assault has a journey of recovery in front of them and support is usually needed and very beneficial.