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What to Do Immediately After Sexual Assault or Rape.

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When rape or sexual assault occurs, victims feel a sense of loss of control and power. There is nothing that disrupts a person’s sense of identity or grip on reality like sexual assault. Most victims go into hiding, withdrawing from friends and family and instead of seeking treatment, reporting the assault or asking for help, choose the path of silence and secrecy out of misplaced self-blame and shame. If you have been raped or sexually assaulted, you may be both physically and emotionally affected. Only you can decide what you feel up to doing in the hours, days or weeks that follow.

This article provides information and advice to help you make the right decisions and get the support you need.

 Safety comes first

The first thing you should do is go somewhere you feel safe, such as the home of a close friend or family member. It may be the last thing you would feel like doing, but you should consider telling someone you trust about what happened. You shouldn’t feel ashamed or blame yourself for what happened to you. Click here, for organizations you can contact if you have been raped or sexually assaulted. Contacting a healing-based organization for help is highly important, they will give you the support you need and advice you on what your next step should be. A Victim Support volunteer can also visit you at home if you would prefer to talk to someone face-to-face.

Try to resist the urge to wash yourself or your clothes until you have decided whether to seek medical help or report what happened to the police. Should you decide to report to the police, not washing your cloth or taking a bath would help preserve the DNA evidence that would give the police a better chance of identifying the attacker and successfully prosecuting the crime in the law court.

To obtain this evidence, a specially trained doctor will need to take samples of your saliva, urine, blood and pubic hair, and swabs from your mouth, rectum and genitals. Swabs will also be taken from any part of your body that the attacker came into contact with, and the samples will be stored in case you decide to report it to the police at a later date, or to help detect patterns in future crimes affecting others. However, the swabs and other samples will not be used for these purposes without your permission. If you are not sure whether you want to go to the police , you can go with a friend or family member to the closest sexual assault referral center (SARC) or to a hospital, where you can have forensic and medical care and treatment.

You can receive treatment for any injuries, get emergency contraception, or check for STI and not have any forensic tests if you don’t want them.

Treatment.

Even if you are unsure whether to report the crime to the police, it is advisable to get some medical support after a rape incident or sexual assault. You may have injuries that need to be treated. It is also advisable to get guidance about emergency contraception and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

All doctors and nurses will deal with your medical needs confidentially, and they will not inform the police without your permission. However, your general practitioner (GP) will have to record any tests and the results in your medical record. If you think you might report the crime to the police, you should tell a doctor or nurse, so they can arrange for some forensic swabs to be taken that could be used as evidence. You can have the swabs taken and still decide not to go to the police. If you are at a SARC and you want to report the assault to the police, the doctors and nurses will arrange for the police to come to the medical center to discuss things with you.

Emergency contraception

If you are a woman and have been forced to have sex without any contraception, such as a condom, there is a chance you could become pregnant. Emergency contraception, if used in time, can prevent a pregnancy occurring.

There are two methods of emergency contraception:

  • The emergency pill (also known as the morning after pill)
  • The copper intrauterine device (IUD)

Emergency pills are given as a single tablet to be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex. The use of the pill is recommended after 72 hours (three days) because the chances of it working after this time are greatly reduced.

The copper IUD can be fitted into your womb by a doctor or nurse within five days of having unprotected sex or the earliest time you could have released an egg (ovulation). The IUD has a success rate of almost 100% in preventing conception if fitted within this timescale.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

Even if you don’t have any symptoms, it’s best to have a check-up for STIs. After supporting you in the immediate period following a sexual assault or rape, the trauma center may also provide STI testing and HIV prophylaxis. If you don’t want to go to a trauma center, you can go directly to a normal hospital for further testing. You may choose to have an HIV test. If you decide to have an HIV test, you will be offered counselling first.

Reporting sexual assault or rape to the police

Only you can decide whether to report sexual assault or rape to the police. Sexual assault is a crime. You can report a sexual offence to the police at any time – for example, immediately after the incident or days later. However, it’s important to know that if you report the crime immediately after it happened, the chances of the police collecting evidence and effectively investigating the crime are increased. Click here for more on reporting.

Support and advice

Being raped or sexually assaulted can be an extremely distressing experience. Everyone reacts differently, and feelings tend to change over time or even day to day. You are likely to go through a range of emotions, such as fear, anxiety, shock, guilt and anger. However, what’s important to remember is that if you’ve been the victim of sexual assault, it was not your fault. You may need some help getting over what happened, even if it’s just someone to talk to. A trusted friend or family member may be a starting point. You may prefer to talk to someone you don’t know, such as a counselor or someone from a healing-based organization. Organizations who cater to victims of sexual assault can help you develop the confidence you need to get your life back. 

It is important to see your GP if you are experiencing anxiety or symptoms of depression. They will certainly offer you support and advice. They can refer you to a counselor and may also prescribe medication, such as antidepressants. A Rape Crisis Centre can give you relevant information, support you with your health options, and develop methods for maintaining your health.

Remember, you can seek help either immediately after the assault happened or in the following days, months or years, but the earlier, the better.

 

 

 

 

 

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