May 24, 2004

Surviving Sexual Assault

Posted in Surviving Sexual Assault at 11:42 am by iBlog

Sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes in the United States, with researchers estimating that more than half of all sexual assaults and rapes going unreported. Based on the 2004 National Crime Victimization Survey, someone is sexually assaulted approximately every two and a half minutes in the United States.

Rape and sexual assault are not exactly the same. There are many definitions of these two terms but simply put, rape is unwanted sexual intercourse while sexual assault is any unwanted sexual activity, including touching, fondling, kissing, intercourse, or any other sexual activity that you do not agree to. Rape is therefore one type of sexual assault, and it is important to know that intercourse does not have to occur for a person to have been sexually assaulted.

Anyone can be sexually assaulted, both males and females. Yet, the majority of sexual assault victims are female and the majority of perpetrators are heterosexual males. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that one in six women and one in 33 men experience an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. Sexual assault is not just about sex, it is a crime that is motivated by the need for control and power. Unfortunately, rape and sexual assault are all too common in our society. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, in 2004 there were 209,880 victims ages 12 years or older of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault. This survey also showed that 47% of victims were assaulted by a friend or acquaintance (sometimes referred to as date rape). The CDC reports that in 8 out of 10 sexual assaults, the victim knows the perpetrator.

It’s important to know how to protect yourself from sexual assault and if it does happen to you or someone you know, how to survive it. The following questions and answers provide advice on how to be a survivor and not just a victim. Fortunately, there are resources available to help you or someone you care about through the healing process.

What can I do to reduce my risk of being sexually assaulted?
There is no way that any of us can guarantee our safety but there are some precautions that we can take to minimize the risk of being sexually assaulted. Even so, it’s important to realize that sexual assault is never the victim’s fault.

Since most sexual assaults involve people who know each other, consider these tips when out with acquaintances or on a date:

  • Trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable, try to remove yourself from the situation immediately.
  • Set limits on sexual activity. It’s okay to speak up when you’ve had enough.
  • Be aware when someone is intruding on your personal space. It may be a sign that they do not respect your boundaries.
  • Go out on group dates when possible to avoid being alone with someone you don’t know that well.
  • Clearly communicate what you want and don’t want.

Sexual assaults can involve a stranger. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Be observant and aware of your surroundings.
  • Walk with confidence.
  • Trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable, try to remove yourself from the situation immediately.
  • It’s unfortunate but true: more people will respond to a call to “Fire” rather than “Help.”
  • When in a parking lot, have your keys in your hand before you start walking to your car and once you get in your car, lock your doors immediately. Also, have your keys out and ready when you are going in your house and as soon as you are inside, lock the door behind you.
  • Walk in well-lit areas and drive on well-lit streets.
  • Never hitchhike or pick up hitchhikers.
  • Keep the doors of your house/apartment locked at all times.
  • If you are driving and think that you are being followed, drive to the nearest police station, fire department, or open business.
  • If you have to leave your car at a mechanic/auto body shop or parking garage, leave only the key to your car.

What should I do if I’ve been sexually assaulted?
If you have been sexually assaulted, the first thing to do afterwards is to get to a safe place away from the attacker. Once you’re away from your attacker and in a safe place, follow the steps below:

  • Get medical attention as soon as possible. You can go to a hospital emergency room where you can be checked for injuries and you can receive treatment to prevent pregnancy and STDs. They may be able to conduct a “rape kit” to collect evidence for possible prosecution of the attacker.
  • Do not shower, bathe, or clean yourself in any way or change your clothes. This can all be used as evidence.
  • Call 911 or the police. You can call the police from the hospital.
  • If you think you may have been drugged, you can ask the medical staff to take a urine sample.
  • Call someone to talk to. It can be a friend, a family member, or someone at a hotline. If you’ve been assaulted, it’s very important to talk to someone about how you are feeling – even if you don’t think you want to or need to. There is a national sexual assault hotline that is free and confidential: 1-800-656-HOPE.
  • Write down any details that you remember about the attack and the attacker immediately. Many women are amazed at what they will forget because of the stress and trauma.
  • Remember that it wasn’t your fault.
  • Even if the sexual assault happened a while ago, it’s never too late to get help and it’s always important to talk to someone.
    Remember that it will take time to heal after being sexually assaulted. Talking to someone about how you’re feeling will help you move forward.

Where can I get help?
There are many resources available if you’ve been sexually assaulted. However, sometimes it’s difficult knowing whom to turn to and deciding where to go.

For information on resources and knowing your rights, click:
http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc/help/rape.htm

To find local resources in your state, click:
http://www.feminist.org/911/resources.html

What can I expect to happen if I have a sexual assault exam?
It may be helpful to bring someone with you to the exam. This can be a friend or someone from a hotline or local women’s center, anyone who can offer support. If you would feel comfortable, you can have someone with you during the exam. The following will occur at an exam:

  • A history will be taken to check for injuries and determine treatment needed for you.
  • A pelvic exam will need to be conducted.
  • With your consent, a “rape kit” will be used to collect evidence. It is possible that the attacker may have left behind evidence (hair, saliva, semen, etc.) that could help in an identification. Swabs will need to be taken from the mouth, genitals, and rectum, along with hair samples. They will check under your fingernails for evidence of the attacker’s blood or skin.
  • Photographs will need to be taken of any bruises and other injuries.
  • Blood tests will be conducted (this is to check for pregnancy and STD’s). It’s important for you to consult with the doctor to review the results of these tests once they are received.
  • Tell the nurse or doctor at any time during the exam if you need to take a break or you want to stop the exam.

The doctor should inform you about emergency contraception (also known as Plan B) to prevent pregnancy. If the doctor doesn’t, and you could possibly get pregnant, you can ask for it yourself. Plan B should be taken within 72 hours to be effective in preventing a pregnancy. Plan B is a form of birth control that works after unprotected sex, not a form of abortion. To get more information on Plan B and find out how to get it, click: http://www.go2planb.com/ForConsumers/Index.aspx

How can I help a friend who has been sexually assaulted?
If you know someone that has been sexually assaulted, they need your support and understanding. Sexual assault is a traumatic experience. Remember that it may take time for your friend to heal both physically and emotionally. Also, many victims of sexual assault don’t report it right away. Those who commit sexual assault are likely to do it again if it is not reported and they are not held accountable for their crimes. These are things you can discuss with your friend. You can also call a hotline to discuss ways to talk to your friend. Most importantly, know that it is not your friend’s fault if they were assaulted and respect their right to make decisions they are comfortable with.

For more information on sexual assault, check out these sites:
http://www.rainn.org/
http://www.4woman.gov/
http://www.usdoj.gov/ovw/

For information on date rape drugs, go to:
http://www.4woman.gov/faq/rohypnol.htm

To read the report Sexual Assault on Campuses: What Colleges and Universities Are Doing About It, click:
http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/205521.pdf