A Sexual Assault Occurred: Now What?

The reality of sexual assault and rape is heartbreaking, and the stress on the victims of these attacks, and their families and communities, are devastating and long lasting. One in fours girls, and one in six boys, will be sexually assaulted before their eighteenth birthday. The availability of the Internet has increased these statistics and created a new point of access for sexual predators. It is estimated that there are approximately 39 million people in America that have been a victim of sexual assault in their childhood. The first step to improving these unsettling statistics is to educate parents, children, and victims of child abuse about warning signs of abuse, what to do after a sexual assault , and the support systems that are available to advocate and help victims deal with the trauma of a sexual assault.

A sexual assault should never be taken lightly. One of the most important steps in dealing with a sexual assault is to report it to the proper authorities, including the police, rape counseling services, and medical professionals. It is also important to understand the difference between a rape and a sexual assault. A sexual assault, by definition, is any sexual or indecent action taken against another person accompanied by physical force or the threat thereof. On the other hand, a rape is defined as the act of any forced sexual intercourse against another person. Although it has been argued that a rape can only be carried out against a female, due to specific nature of the definition, a sexual assault can be carried out against any person regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. It is important to act swiftly in the event of a rape or sexual assault, time is of the essence and valuable physical evidence can be lost if victims do not seek immediate medical attention. Resources and support services are available to assist victims of rape and sexual assault each step of the way and are extremely committed to advocating and supporting victims. While reporting quickly does have its advantages, it is important for victims of a sexual assault to understand that it is never too late to report the attack. Effects of a sexual assault are not only physical, but mental, and resources are readily available to those dealing with the effects of assault, even years from the time the attack took place, support services are available to help victims cope with the actions taken against them.

What should I do if I am sexually assaulted?

It is important for a victim of sexual assault to remain as calm as possible, and to be aware from the very beginning. Remembering specific details about an assailant be very helpful when speaking to the authorities. Victims of a sexual assault should take any opportunity to scratch, bite, and pull out the hair of their attacker in an effort to retain traces of DNA from the assailant that can be used to apprehend them by the authorities. Victims should also seek out support immediately. There are various support service available to victims that can provide comfort, guidance, and advice during the difficult process. Each person reacts differently when faced with a traumatic event, such as an assault. The professionals that staff victims support services are trained to respond to each scenario with the utmost sensitivity and professionalism. It can also be helpful if victims record the events of an assault in writing. Writing down a record of the assault, although emotionally difficult, will keep details preserved and serve as a valuable resource for the authorities.

Along with a written record of the attack, it is essential that a victim of a sexual assault should do their best to preserve any physical evidence. It is very tempting to shower and clean after an attack, victims have reported that they feel dirty, violated, and showering is a natural reaction in such a scenario. However, before showering it is crucial that evidence is recorded in a rape kit, a battery of examinations to extract physical evidence from a victim. This evidence will play a big part in finding the assailant and prosecuting that person to the best of a court’s ability and help physicians to treat any infections or sexually transmitted diseases that may have been passed to the victim during the assault. Throughout this horrible and terrifying ordeal, it is important to know that a sexual assault is never the fault of the victim, no one deserves to be mistreated and abused in any way, especially in a sexual way. Victims often feel guilt or blame themselves, believing that they should have been able to stop the attack. That is not the case.

How can I help a friend who has been sexually assaulted?

If a friend or family member has been a victim of a sexual assault, it is important to stress the importance of reporting the attack and following through appropriate medical examinations and counseling. Having the support of friends and family can be very encouraging for victims and lets them know that they have a support system to fall back on. The best thing the people close to them can do for them is to be continually supportive. Withholding any judgment is very important and an understanding for the victims mental fragility during this difficult time is crucial for a successful recovery. A solid support system can mean the difference between self loathing and self acceptance. Encourage anyone involved or effected by a sexual assault to speak out about their experience, no matter how long ago the incident took place, it is never too late to seek out support for any violent crime. Also, encourage friends or family effected by a sexual assault to seek professional counseling to better deal with the stress and negative emotions ignited by a sexual assault. Above all, listen. Be open to listening to the victim and make yourself available to help them through their recovery in whatever way possible. Advocacy programs are a great resource for families to utilize to help work through the trauma of a sexual assault together.

What can I do to reduce my risk of sexual assault?

While it is import to understand that no victim of a sexual assault is at fault, or should be blamed for any actions taken against them, there are precautions that can be taken to decrease your likelihood of being a victim of sexual abuse. Using positive decision making when choosing which activities to engage in is important. Do not participate in activities in which you feel uncomfortable, degraded, or exploited. Don't be afraid to speak up and voice your concerns, if you think a situation seems off, follow your gut and leave a negative situation. Consider incorporating these simple safety measures into your daily routine and show others how to better protect themselves against various attacks:

  • Use a buddy system when going to bars or parties

  • Never leave any food or drink unattended

  • Park only in well lit areas with a high rate of foot traffic

  • Avoid walking alone at night or in dark places

  • Have your keys in your hand as you are walking to your vehicle

  • Know your limits when it comes to alcohol, and keep a clear head to make positive decisions

  • Be aware of your surroundings and know where the exits are

  • Avoid being alone with strangers

  • Make sure someone knows where you are and what your plans are

  • Do not accept beverages from people you don’t know

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How can I protect my child and other loved ones from sexual assault?

The best way to protect a child or loved one from sexual abuse is to talk to them openly about the importance of communication and the difference between appropriate and inappropriate actions. With children specifically, it is important to explain that nobody has the right to make them feel uncomfortable of ashamed in any way. Children are extremely susceptible to the advances of sexual predators. Talking to children early on about their body can help build a healthy familiarity with their body parts and help children understand the difference between a good and bad touch. It is also helpful for parents to be familiar with the people surrounding their children, including teachers, coaches, friends, and the parents of a child’s friends. Open communication can bring attention to unhealthy situations. Teaching children to be aware of their surroundings and to use the buddy system are also very important in protecting children from a sexual assault. Being involved in neighborhood organizations can also be an effective way to get to know the people in your child's life, and can act as a forum to voice any concerns. There are also web-based resources available to parents, such as a sex offender databases.

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