I’ve Been Assaulted. What Do I Do Now?
In two previous articles, Have I Been Raped or Not?and Men Can Be Victims, Too., the topics of sexual assault and domestic violence were discussed. These crimes leave people physically and/or emotionally scarred and can change lives in an instant. Fear of retaliation or stigma, embarrassment, confusion, pain, and betrayal are just a few of the emotions associated with being violated. Feelings such as these can also contribute to not reporting attacks.
If you have been assaulted,it is imperative that you seek medical care immediately, especially in cases of sexual assaults or where injuries need immediate medical attention. Medical personnel are bound by their profession to not disclose any information without the express consent of the patient, so be assured your privacy will be respected. It’s not uncommon to be reluctant to press charges against attackers if they are known to the victim, so be aware that even if the police are notified, you do not have to press charges at that time. The evidence of the attack with be storeduntil, and if, such time occurs that you would like to proceed with charges. The exception to this rule is when a lethal weapon, such as a gun or knife, is used in the attack. This, by law, must be reported to law enforcement.
If you have been sexually assaulted, there are several things you should, and should not, do, prior to going to the hospital. DNA evidence is crucial to a case, and much canbe destroyed after 48 hours. The best-case scenario would be for you to go immediately to an Emergency Room or call law officers to pick you up and take you there. First and foremost, however, is concern for your safety. Get to a safe place immediately where your attacker cannot harm you further. Call the police or have a trusted person take you to hospital. In the meantime, and this is tough, do not use the bathroom, comb your hair, rinse your mouth with anything, brush your teeth, wash up, or shower. Keep your clothes on that you were wearing at the time of the attack. These are all very important to the preservation of DNA evidence. Have a friend or family member meet you at the hospital if you are alone.
The first thing they will do when you reach hospital is to evaluate you for injuries or other urgent medical issues sustained as a result of the attack, preserving evidence as best as they can; but they will not let evidence collection interfere with giving you needed medical care. Once your medical stability has been established, the forensic exam will begin. Many hospitals have specially trained medical forensic examiners to perform this evidence collection so the standards of care will be well-maintained. If you are a victim of physical assault only, they will obtain a detailed history of the incident and take pictures of any injuries. If you scratched your attacker, they may scrape underneath your fingernails for his or her skin. If your assailant spit on you, they will swab that for DNA. They may examine you for any type of foreign body such as hair, dirt, or cloth fibers and preserve them as evidence.
If you have been sexually assaulted, the exam will be more extensive, taking 3-4 hours or more, depending on the severity of the attack. They may draw blood, take pictures of your injuries, remove and keep your clothing, do a pelvic exam, collect hair samples, do swabs of your mouth and any other areas where evidence of DNA may be present on your body. If you are a woman, and vaginal penetration has occurred, they may offer to give you a hormone to prevent conception. This will be your option, and your views on contraception will be respected. They will give you antibiotics to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.
They may call a rape crisis specialist to come in, stay with you during the exam, and help you navigate the legal and healthcare systems, including guiding you on follow-up counseling. Have someone bring you a change of clothing, as yours will remain in the custody of the police as evidence.
This process is long and arduous, but essential to obtaining the best possible setting for the conviction of perpetrators of sexual and domestic violence crimes. It is hard at the timebut try to look past the inconvenience to the future. You don’t have to press charges at that time, but you may feel differently in the coming days, and if you don’t submit to the evidence collection at the time of occurrence, you may very well regret it in the future. No one else will know what happened if you don’t want to tell them. By agreeing to be examined, you will be helping yourself, and possibly future victims. Let it happen and be a party to stopping the violence.