Sexual assault is a crime that is deeply misunderstood. It is a sexual expression of violence, not a violent expression of sex. Most people think that rapes are only committed by strangers lurking in the bushes who wait on their unsuspecting victims as they walk by. Actually, most rapes are committed by someone that the victim knows — a relative, a date, a co-worker, an acquaintance, or a friend. It is essential that all victims have a tangible source of information available to them that can serve as a guide in the event that they will ever need it for themselves or a friend.
This section was written to assist you, a survivor of sexual assault. It does this by providing you with the medical, legal, and counseling information that you need immediately following a sexual assault. This information should help you regain the control you feel you have just lost by allowing you to make your own decisions as soon as possible after an attack. This is an important step in your healing process and this information will help you accomplish it.
Each of the following sections contains valuable information in three areas, which will be very important to you:
Each section should also provide you with a list of resources you can use to seek further help if necessary. In addition if you have any other questions or need help coping with everything that is happening in your life at this time, please contact the Rape Crisis Center, Brazos Valley in Bryan, Texas.
EMERGENCY ROOM INFORMATION
In order to prove a sexual assault in court, there must be legal proof of vaginal, anal, or oral penetration by an actor without the victim’s consent. This means that you should have a pelvic examination no later than 72 hours after the assault. The usual procedure that the hospital follows in aiding sexual assault survivors is to perform a rape kit examination for collection of evidence.
There is a possibility of a lengthy wait before you can be seen. Often, however, the police may want to use this time to talk to you (if you’re able). If you are not ready to talk to them, then you may prefer to talk to the rape crisis advocate who is notified by the hospital when you register and should arrive shortly after you. An advocate is a good person to talk to because they can answer any questions you have about what is about to happen. The advocate will also be there to listen to you and lend support.
When you are admitted to a room you will meet a nurse who will briefly explain the rape kit to you. Then, you will be asked to sign a statement of consent to perform the rape kit. If you have other questions about the rape kit, this is when you might want to ask the advocate to answer them for you.
There are strict guidelines, which must be followed during the examination and collection for the rape kit. The evidence for the kit will be collected either by a nurse and a physician or a sexual assault nurse examiner who has been specifically trained to deal with sexual assault survivors. The nurse or examiner will then ask you some general questions about your health, followed by more specific questions about the assault. These facts will help the examiner to know what to look for during the exam. Then the examiner will perform an examination to collect medical evidence. When your assailant is found, he/she may undergo a similar exam to collect evidence. This will allow for a comparison of medical samples with the evidence they collected from you. It may also help to positively identify the person as your attacker. If you would like to know more about the purpose of each procedure performed during the rape kit exam, be sure to ask the examiner or the rape crisis advocate. They can answer any further questions you may have.
During the rape kit exam, the doctor or nurse examiner will write down all signs of abrasions, bruising, cuts, concussion, and evidence of penetration on a special report form. If you notice any bruising following your rape kit examination, you may want to go for a follow-up visit with your doctor or have the bruises photographed by a friend. If the case goes to trial, photos and testimony of the doctor or nurse examiner will be very important.
Another important issue that you need to consider is the expense of the rape kit. The rape kit exam will be paid by the law enforcement agency investigating the assault “if the survivor cooperates with the investigation.” “Cooperation” could simply mean filing a report with the police department, or it could require you to press charges. If you are unsure about your circumstances, ask the attending officer. These costs can be up to $400, and if you do not “cooperate” according to the department’s standards, you will be obligated to pay all of those fees yourself. Any additional tests for pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases will be your own expense. You are encouraged to have a follow-up exam 2 – 4 weeks following the assault.
After the rape kit is completed, you will probably be interviewed by a detective from the attending police department. At this time, you will be asked to give a statement and you will be asked whether or not you want to press charges. Don’t panic if you’re still not sure what you want to do. Go ahead and allow the investigation to continue, if you feel comfortable doing so. This way, if you decide that you definitely want to press charges, and then the investigator will have as much evidence as possible. On the other hand, if you do not allow the investigation to continue, and you later want to press charges, it may be too late. The investigator’s opportunities to collect evidence from the suspect or the crime scene will probably be gone. If you have any questions about anything that is happening, be sure to ask. The officer or the advocate from the rape crisis center should be able to answer these questions for you.
OPTIONS FOR REPORTING THE ASSAULT
As a victim of sexual assault, there are many legal considerations that you are suddenly going to be faced with. The first of these, reporting the assault, is a very important one because it determines what other legal issues will follow. Before you decide whether or not you want to report your assault to law enforcement, you should be aware that there are three different types of legal reports that you can choose to complete:
1. Crime Report
2. Pseudonym Report
3. Third Party Report
4. Other options for action
You are the only one who can decide whether or not to make an initial crime report, and how to report the crime. If you decide to report the assault, the first step is to complete a crime report, which may be done before or after the physical exam in the emergency room. The officer may ask you personal questions and they may ask the same questions more than once. Try not to be offended by this. They are just trying to find out information in order to make a better case for you.
Remember, it is not you who did these things, but the assailant. The information you provide is the basis for a legal proceeding and must be accurate. You have the right to read over everything that law enforcement officers write on forms and ask them to correct any misinformation. Be certain to get names, badge numbers and business telephone numbers of the officers. Many people find that they remember more details of the event a while after it has occurred. If you find that you have remembered something that you may not have told the officers, call them with the information. Also, do not worry if you remember details a little differently later on. This is not uncommon and should not hurt your case. Keep a journal and write down new information as you recall it so you can give that information to the investigator.
A pseudonym report is the exact same report as a crime report, with one exception: a false name (pseudonym) is used in place of your own name. This option in reporting is designed to help maintain your privacy by protecting your identity. The false name that is chosen for you will be used on all legal and medical documents associated with the assault.
THIRD PARTY REPORT
If for any reason you choose not to file a formal crime or pseudonym report, you can also report information anonymously about your assault, and more importantly, about the assailant(s) to the police. This option is called third party or “Jane Doe” reporting. The sharing of this information benefits both you and the police. The police add the third party report information to the other data they have collected concerning sexual assaults and assailants. With third party reporting, you can give information to the police without pressing charges and going through a trial. You do not have to worry about the assailant finding out about your report, because no one will call or approach him as a result of it. Making this report can help you to re-establish some peace of mind.
OTHER OPTIONS FOR ACTION
The criminal process may not be sufficient to satisfy your needs for financial, physical, or mental compensation. In this case you may wish to pursue other alternatives that may be available to you. Two of these options, the Student Conflict Resolution Center at Texas A & M and civil suits can be explained by your rape crisis advocate. If the offender is not a Texas A&M student but attends a college or university, their school may have a student disciplinary process as an option.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SUPPORT COUNSELING
After you have experienced the trauma of sexual assault, you need to have someone who can listen to you, offer support, and provide you with information. There are two basic types of support counseling in which you may want to participate. The first of these is individual counseling with a professional counselor or support from a trained rape crisis center support advocate. The second is group counseling for sexual assault survivors. You may choose to seek help through these options separately, or you may prefer to participate in both forms of counseling at the same time. The important point is that you get involved in some sort of counseling as soon as possible.
Just as there are no standard reactions that all rape survivors must experience, there is no set amount of time that you should remain in support counseling. The amount of time will vary for each survivor, depending on factors such as how soon after the attack you begin receiving counseling, what type of counseling you are participating in, and how effective your family and friends are in helping you to get through this emotionally trying time. Only you can know for sure when you have fully benefited from the counseling you have received and are ready to end your sessions. Your counselor can also help to advise you about when you should be able to stop receiving therapy. Finally you should keep in mind that counseling services will always be available to you. If you feel that you ended your sessions too soon, you can always continue them. Also for any occasional problem that may arise, an advocate on the rape crisis center hotline is available 24 hours a day.