by Kristi S. Schubert
There are no “wrong” ways to respond to a sexual assault or rape. Each individual will go through their own process of psychological recovery. Whether you report a sexual assault or rape is your decision alone. The purpose of this article is to let you know some recommended things you can do to preserve your rights from a legal perspective, if you choose to do so.
Get to a Safe Place
Your safety is the most important thing. First and foremost, get yourself to a location where you feel safe. If there is someone you trust, consider reaching out to them for support.
If you live with your abuse and you are at home, if possible, take your important personal items with you when you leave (license, passport, insurance cards, wallet, phone, keys, medications, and a change of clothing)
Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673)
This number will automatically connect you to a trained staff member from one of the local sexual assault service providers in your area. They know what to do, and they can walk you through the process of choosing your next step. They can tell you where the best local health care facility will be. Put this phone number in your phone now, and you will have it at your fingertips if you or a loved one is sexually assaulted.
Get Medical Treatment Before Bathing, Eating, Brushing Your Teeth or Using the Restroom
There are multiple reasons to get treatment right away, even if you do not believe you are injured. In the case of rape, a medical examination is important to detect injury and for possible protection against a sexually transmitted disease or pregnancy. The sooner you get to the doctor, the easier it will be for them to protect against these risks.
Second, whether or not you are currently planning on pressing charges or filing a civil lawsuit, it is a good idea to preserve any evidence that might be on your body. If money is a concern, know that you will not be charged a fee. Under Louisiana law, health care providers are not allowed to charge you a fee to perform a sexual assault forensic exam (often referred to as a “rape kit”), even if you chose not to file a police report. If you decide to get treatment, keep these things in mind:
- You do not have to tell anyone who the perpetrator is unless you want to.
- Not every hospital can perform sexual assault forensic exams. Call the hospital first, or call the National Sexual Assault Hotline first and ask them what hospitals in your area can perform these exams.
- If you suspect you have been drugged, tell the hospital staff right away. The window to collect evidence of drugs is extremely short.
- The evidence preserved by a forensic exam can identify the perpetrator, or if the perpetrator is known, can help prove that the perpetrator was with you at the time of the assault.
- The evidence collected from a forensic exam could reveal that the perpetrator is connected to other crimes as well, and may even be a serial offender. The results of your exam may bring justice to a long-neglected prior victim, or prevent future crimes.
- If you wish, you can stop, pause, or skip any step of the forensic exam at any time. If you decide not to complete the exam, that is your right.
- They will ask you questions about recent consensual sexual activity. The more honest and thorough you are, the more accurate your exam results will be.
- Louisiana has mandatory reporting rules for healthcare providers regarding suspected sexual abuse of a minor. This means that if you are a minor (under age 18), the medical staff will be obligated to report the event to law enforcement.
Consider Calling the Police
It is possible that the police will have already been contacted if you have gone to the hospital. However, if you decided against going to the hospital, consider calling the police. Some survivors feel that reporting and seeking justice helps them regain a sense of control. Crimes must be reported to the police department in the parish where the crime occurred. You can call their direct line, or you can call 911 and tell them where the crime occurred. Below are some common concerns that may be on your mind about reporting:
- You can report to the police even if you knew your perpetrator. About two-thirds of sexual assault victims know their attacker.
- You can report even if there was no penetration. Sexual battery, even without penetration, is a serious crime.
- You can report even if you have no visible physical injuries. Sexual assault is wrong, with or without physical injuries.
Speak With an Attorney to Learn Your Rights and the Time Limits for Exercising Them
Survivors of sexual assault have legal rights. You may be entitled to recover compensation for any expenses you incur as a result of the assault, like the value of any wages you lost if you had to take time off of work, and the cost of psychological or physical treatment. However, you have a limited amount of time in which to exercise your rights. Typically, you will have one year from the date the assault happened. However, in some cases, you may be able to exercise these rights even ten or fifteen years after the assault occurred. The only way to know what limits apply to your specific case is to speak with an attorney.
Seek Counseling and Give Yourself Time to Recover
Sexual assault is traumatic, and you will need some time to psychologically recover. Most communities have free resources available for survivors of sexual assault. Contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline to find out the resources near you.