The Sexual Assault Survivor’s Handbook is an important resource that addresses what comprises sexual assault, how it impacts victims, and how to get help.
Is It Sexual Assault?
Every state has its own definitions of rape and sexual assault, so the precise legal definition depends on where you live. The general meaning of the terms “sexual assault” and “rape” are described below.
Sexual assault includes a wide range of victimizations, distinct from rape or attempted rape. These crimes include completed or attempted assaults involving unwanted or non-consensual sexual contact between the victim and offender. Sexual assaults may or may not involve physical force and can include such things as grabbing or fondling. Sexual assault can also include verbal threats.
Rape is forced sexual intercourse, including psychological coercion and/or physical force. Forced sexual intercourse means vaginal, anal and/or oral penetration by the offender(s). This definition includes incidents where the penetration is from a foreign object. This includes attempted rapes, male and female victims, and rape committed by an offender who is either the same or different gender as the victim.
The relationship between the assailant and the victim is not a factor in determining whether rape or assault has occurred.
What Should I Do?
- Find a safe environment – anywhere away from the offender. Ask a trusted friend to stay with you for support.
- Know that what happened was not your fault even if:
- The person who did this to you was an acquaintance, date, friend, current partner, guardian, or caretaker.
- You have been sexually intimate with that person or with others before.
- You were drinking or using drugs.
- You froze and did not or could not say “no,” or were unable to fight back physically.
- Get medical attention. Even with no physical injuries, it is important to determine the risks of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and pregnancy. Contact EWP (231-722-3333, 24 hours a day), Mercy Health Hospital, or your physician.
- Get help. Call EWP (231-722-3333, 24 hours a day) to talk with someone who knows how to help you deal with what you are feeling or experiencing.
If You Were Recently Assaulted
You are encouraged to get medical treatment. The most important reason to do this is to ensure that you are physically healthy and safe. An exam may help set your mind at ease. You will also be given valuable information about STIs and pregnancy. In addition to emergency contraception, medications are available to treat chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV.
Another important reason to get medical attention right away is to collect physical evidence for a potential criminal investigation. Specially trained, compassionate nurse examiners at the hospital can do this within 120 hours (5 days) of the assault.
Will I need a police report?
If you are unsure about reporting to law enforcement, having the evidence collection kit completed will help keep your options open. At the hospital, evidence may be kept for 1 year as you consider your options. The sexual assault evidence collection kit cannot be released to the police without your signature on an authorization form. The hospital will not contact law enforcement without your permission to do so. If the victim of sexual assault is a minor, the hospital may need to contact Children’s Protective Services in accordance with the Child Protection Law.
Some offenders use drugs (like Rohypnol, also known as Roofies; Gamma hydroxybutyrate, also known as GHB; or Ketamine also known as Special K) to physically control the person they want to assault, rendering them defenseless. If you believe you were drugged, inform the nurse examiner at the hospital. Blood or urine tests may detect the drug in your system. Testing should be done as soon as possible, as some drugs can only be detected within 12 hours of ingestion. A police report is required for testing of these drugs to be conducted.
What about my private doctor?
Although you may feel more comfortable with your family doctor, they will not be available 24 hours a day, and will send you to the hospital to have the exam completed. Also, private physicians do not have access to evidence collection kits. The hospital can send your discharge information to your doctor, and you can complete your follow-up care with them.
If You Were Assaulted in the Past
It is still important to receive medical attention. You may want to have pregnancy and STI tests done. Even if it is beyond 120 hours (about 5 days) post assault, you can still report the crime to the police and prosecution may still be possible.
Follow-Up Medical Care
Follow-up care is vitally important. Any STI that you may have contracted from the offender will not show up until later. A follow-up test for pregnancy is also recommended. Even if you were given preventive medication, it is especially important that you are re-tested a few weeks after the assault. A follow-up exam will also give you the opportunity to check your injuries and discuss any new physical symptoms that you may have developed since the assault.
If you are uninsured or have financial concerns, you can get pregnancy and STI tests at Muskegon Pregnancy Services, or the county health department. If you have reported the crime to law enforcement, Crime Victim’s Compensation may cover any out-of-pocket expenses associated with the assault.
HIV / AIDS
Many sexual assault survivors are concerned about contracting the HIV infection. An HIV test may help you feel more comfortable. It is recommended that you get tested within the first week following the assault, again at 6 weeks (about 1 and a half months), and then 3, 6, and 12 months later. The county health department will have information about free, anonymous HIV testing.
Survivors of sexual assault can have a wide range of reactions. Whatever you are feeling and thinking right now is okay. Your reactions are your own way of coping with what has been done to you. There is no standard response to sexual assault. You may experience a few, none, or all the following:
Shock and Numbness
Feelings of “spaciness,” confusion, being easily overwhelmed, and not knowing how to feel or what to do are all normal. You may react in a way that is like your reactions during other crises in your life (for example with: tears, irritability, nervous laughter, withdrawing, etc.). WHAT YOU CAN DO: Be aware that these are normal reactions to trauma. Each person handles a crisis differently, so think of things that helped you get through crises in the past. Get help to sort out what you would like to do and how you may want to organize your time, thoughts, and decisions. Be compassionate toward yourself; give yourself time to heal.
Loss of Control
You may feel like your whole life has been turned upside down and that you will never have control of your life again. Your thoughts and feelings may seem out of control. WHAT YOU CAN DO: Try to get as much control over your life as you can, even over small things. Ask for information that may help you sort out your thoughts and feelings. Use outside resources, such as counselors and legal professionals. Ask how other people have handled similar situations. Try to make as many of your own decisions as possible. This may gradually help you regain a sense of control over your own life.
Fear that the rapist may return; fear for your general physical safety; fear of being alone; fear of other people or situations that may remind you of the assault. WHAT YOU CAN DO: If you want company, do not hesitate to ask people whom you trust to be with you day and night. You may want to make your physical environment feel safer (moving, making your home more secure, getting to know your neighbors better).
Guilt and Self-Blame
Feeling that you could have or should have done something to avoid or prevent the assault; doubts regarding your ability to make judgments. WHAT YOU CAN DO: No matter what the situation was, you did not ask to be hurt or violated. Blaming yourself is a (not so healthy) way to feel control over the situation, thinking that if you avoid similar circumstances, it will not happen to you again.
Feeling that this experience has set you apart from other people; feeling that other people can tell you have been sexually assaulted just by looking at you; not wanting to burden other people with your experience. WHAT YOU CAN DO: Recovering from an assault can be a lonely experience. However, you are not alone in what you are feeling. You may find it reassuring to talk to others who have been assaulted (in a support group setting), or to a counselor at EWP who has worked with other sexual assault survivors.
Feeling that you are at the mercy of your own emotions or the actions of others; not knowing who to trust or how to trust yourself; feelings of suspicion and caution. WHAT YOU CAN DO: Trust your instincts about who you want to talk with about what happened to you. Try to talk with people whom you have found to be the most dependable in the past; select those who have been good listeners and non-judgmental. Feelings of general suspicion may subside as you begin to find people you can trust.
Feelings that you do not want to have sexual relations; wondering whether you will ever want to enjoy sexual relationships again; fears that being sexually intimate may remind you of the assault. WHAT YOU CAN DO: Try to tell your partner what your limits are. Let your partner know if the situation reminds you of the assault and may bring up painful memories. Let your partner know that it is the situation, not them, that is bringing up painful memories. You may feel more comfortable with gentle physical affection. Let your partner know what level of intimacy feels comfortable for you.
Feeling angry at the assailant, law enforcement, or courts. You may find yourself thinking about retaliation. You may be angry at the world since you no longer feel safe. If you are religious, you may feel angry that your faith did not prevent this. WHAT YOU CAN DO: Accept your anger. Thoughts of being violent toward the attacker do not mean that you are a violent or bad person. You have the right to feel angry about the violation you have experienced. You may want to talk to people who understand this.
Disruption of Daily Activities
During the first few days or weeks after the assault you may feel preoccupied with intrusive thoughts about the assault. You may have trouble concentrating, nightmares, sleep disturbances, changes in appetite, ‘startle reactions,’ phobias, general anxiety, or depression. You may have memories of prior crises. WHAT YOU CAN DO: Although these are common reactions, they can be quite disturbing. Take things very slowly. Some people find it helpful to keep a notebook at hand to write down feelings, thoughts, ideas, or details of the assault. Keeping thoughts and feelings in one place may help you feel more comfortable.
Experiencing so many different emotions is a part of working through what has happened to you. Right now, you may wonder when you will “get your life back” or, you are not feeling much at all. There is no right or wrong way to react to sexual assault. Many survivors have found that patience, time, and support from others has helped them recover. EWP has worked with many who have had similar experiences. A good counselor will understand and help you work through the emotional roller coaster that you may be on.