Survive / What to do if you have been raped or sexually assaulted

What to do if you have been raped or sexually assaulted

Everyone deals with trauma and shock in their own way. There are no hard and fast rules about the “right” way to feel or behave. However you react is your way of coping, and is the “right” way for you. How you will feel and behave after being raped or sexually attacked is no different. One thing is for sure you will be in a state of shock, maybe feeling numb, disorientated, unbelieving, horrified, scared, frightened, hysterical. Some women can’t stop crying, others are too numb to cry. The tears do eventually come. You may be physically injured, or you may not have a mark, well none that can be seen, but if you are hurt you will need medical help, either from your GP or your local hospital.

For women who have been raped the need for having a bath or shower is often the first priority. The need to cleanse their minds and bodies of their attacker is of prime importance. At this stage you may not want to report it to the police but sexual violence is a serious criminal offence and you can, if you want your perpetrator to be prosecuted, report the crime to the police. It is your choice. You can do this later if you want to but the reason for reporting a sexual assault as soon as you can after it occured is so that forensic evidence can be taken. Forensic evidence is irreputible evidence and can be a major indication that an attack did indeed take place. Even if you do bathe, sometimes traces of semen can be found in the vagina up to 24 hours after an attack. Keep the clothes you were wearing. Don’t burn them or destroy them. They too can be a valuable source of forensic evidence.

It is important to trust and validate your feelings, and do what you need to do in order to recover. It is your body that has been violated, listen to it, you know what is best for you to do. Some people do this by telling someone close to them what has happened or maybe going to a place where they feel safe. Even if you feel guilty and ashamed by what has happened try to confide in someone. This is incredibly hard to do. The majority of women who are raped know their attacker. Someone you knew violated your body and your trust in them was abused. This makes it difficult for you to to trust anybody. You feel like your ability to judge anyones intentions is impossible. Sometimes it is easier to talk to someone on the end of a phone, someone who can’t see your face, or doesn’t know your name. Just to say the words “i’ve been raped”, admitting it to someone else is the first step to recovery.

In order to cope with the trauma of the event many women will just try to carry on as normal and not tell anyone for a long time. However, often distress can surface a considerable time after the event. No matter how much later, a woman can always seek help from counsellors, GPs etc. Do not feel you have to cope on your own simply because you did not report the incident soon after it happened.

Involving the police:what to expect

Having being raped recently myself i know how frightening it is to actually pluck up the courage and report what happened to you to the police. With me it was the fear that no one would believe me becuase i knew the man who raped me, he was a good friend. But i have been treated with sensitivity, tact, understanding, empathy and kindness by the police. All police stations have specially trained staff who deal specifically with victims of sexual violence. Many police stations have a “rape suite” attached, or have the use of one. A “rape suite” is a place where victims of any kind of sexual crime can be interviewed. It is usually either a house or a set of rooms that looks like an ordinary house, with carpets, curtains, comfortable chairs and sofas. Designed to help put the victim at ease. There is usually an examination room and a bathroom with a plentiful supply of hot water and clean towels, where you can bathe after the forensic examination.

If it is soon after the attack took place, don’t change clothes before you go. Go as you are. Just take a fresh set of clothes with you. If you have changed take all of the clothes you were wearing at the time of the attack with you in a plastic bag, and be prepared for them to stay at the police station for examination.

Take someone with you to the police station. It is good to have someone familiar with you in a strange place. They will be allowed to stay with you all of the time if you want them to. Take someone you feel comfortable talking in front of about what has happened.

Female rape victim’s statements are taken by female police officers. They have been specially trained to work with victims of sexual attacks, and before they take a statement from you they will explain police procedures to you and give you advice and information of the next stages including the court process. They want to make sure that you know the seriousness of the allegations you are about to make, and understand the implications. Remember if you have reported a sexual offence you still have the right to withdraw the complaint at any time.

The police officer will work through the events as they happened going at a pace you feel comfortable with, writing it down as a statement. They understand how traumatic it is for you, and will reassure you that there is no hurry. Remember even though they are police officers, they are human too, and will try as best they can to make it was easy for you as possible. Don’t worry if you forget things. This is only the initial statement, and you will get many chances to go throught it again during the investigation until you are satisfied that there is nothing missing.

Sometime during your initial time at the police station you will have to undergo a forensic examination. This is performed by a female police surgeon. She is a GP who is employed part time by the police and is experienced in dealing with all aspects of sexual crime. She will take a description of events that happened during the attack and also a brief medical history, before she examines you.

The examination itself consists of checking all of your body for marks, bruises, scratches that you may have incurred during the rape. Don’t worry if there aren’t any physical signs that you were raped. When a woman is sexually assaulted she may react in various ways. Some women scream or fight back, many become quiet, too shocked to speak or cry out. Paralysed by fear, they may be unable to resist. If violence is threatened some may take the decision to struggle less in the hope of getting away with the least amount of physical harm. Consequently, they may or may not have torn clothes or signs of struggle afterwards. Verbal intimidation, threats or emotional blackmail may be used by the assailant. Therefore a woman does not need to show physical injuries to prove she has been assaulted.

She will also check you internally and take swabs that may be used to match the perpetrators semen. She will take samples of your blood, hair (both head and pubic) and any other relevant samples she think may be useful in proving that intercourse had taken place, and that may help the police in their investigations. Don’t worry if you haven’t gone to the police immediately after the event. You will still be checked for forensic evidence, even if you don’t think there is anything to find. All of the forensic evidence is then placed in bags, named and numbered, put into a special box which is sealed in front of you. This is then placed into a special freezer that is kept just for that purpose, until it is needed.

If you are very traumatised after the assault you may arrange another time for a statement to be made. If English is not your first language the police can arrange for an interpreter to be present.

When the initial statement is complete it will be given to you to read and check that it is what you said. If when reading it through something isn’t quite the way you said it or meant it don’t be afraid to say so. Your statement will be checked over then by the CID who will decide what to do next. This usually involves arresting the person that you have alledged raped you, if you were able to identify him.

No matter how many people you may have told it is only the very first person you spoke to and admitted being raped to after the attack that will be able to give evidence in court.

If the perpetrator admits on interview by the police that he did in fact rape you, he will be arrested and charged, and will appear in court fairly quickly to be remanded in custody to await an appearance in front of a judge and his fate to be decided upon.

If however, as in most cases he denies it happened the way you said, and in fact he did it with your consent, you have a long hard fight ahead of you. This will involve many more visits either by the police or to the police station to make further statements, to clarify points, to try and put together a strong case against the perpetrator. If he is still pleading not guilty the police have to ensure there is enough evidence to send to the crown Prosecution Service. The CPS will then decide if there is enough evidence to ensure that they can get a conviction before they decide to take it to trial.

Once it is in the CPS’s hands it is a waiting game. The perpetrator will have to appear in the local magistrates court several times before they send him on to a Crown court. It is not unusal in cases where the perpetrator has made no contact with the victim, for him to be remanded on bail to appear in court on a regular basis until the CPS decide what is to happen. The newspapers may print personal details like his name, age and address during this time, but at all times your anonimity has to be respected.

Even if in the end the CPS decide there is not enough evidence to take the allegations you have made to trial, at least you did something about it. You showed him that you were not a victim, not someone that would just take what was done to you. You know you were raped, but you also know that you are a survivor, and that makes a big difference to the healing process.

Medical advice

There are many things that go through a persons head after they have been raped. One thing that doesn’t always surface until what has actually happened sinks in is the need to be checked over by a doctor. It was not something i thought about till i was examined for forensic by a lovely doctor in the rape suite at the police station. She was very good and explained to me where i could go for help locally to be tested. Obviously if there is injury that needs immediate attention you will need to go to hospital. Also if you report the crime to the police fairly soon after it happened you will be examined by a police doctor for forensic. But if you decide to wait before you report it, or you haven’t got anything that needs treating urgently it is still important to get yourself examined by a doctor who will advise you about tests that are available, and where you can get them done if he can’t do them.

The most obvious worry is pregnancy. If there is a chance that you may become pregnant after being raped you will be able to get the “morning after” pill to prevent this. You can get this from your GP or from your local family planning clinic. You do need to take it as soon as you can afterwards for it to be effective, although it can be taken up to 3 days after the rape. Another alternative is the morning after coil (can be used up to 5 days after the rape) Both GP’s and Family Planning Clinics can offer a free and immediate pregnancy test and help with making decisions about pregnancy.

A check-up is a safe-guard, even if you do not have any symptoms. The Genito-Urinary clinic at your local hospital will carry out tests for sexually transmitted diseases. You may also wish to have the separate test for HIV antibodies. If so, you should request this at the clinic and you will be offered pre-test counselling. You can make the appointment yourself, or discuss it first with your GP or family planning centre. Even if you know your attacker and presume him to be ok, you still must consider getting yourself tested. After all you didn’t think he was capable of raping you, so why should you presume he was also safe? Once again your GP should be able to either test you or tell you the nearest place you can go to get it done.

I found that i also needed some medication to get me through the first few days after the attack, just to calm me down and to help me rest at night. Don’t be embarrased or afraid to go to your GP and tell him what has happened. I found mine to be very caring and supportive and a mine of information about where to go locally to find support groups that could also help me come to terms with what had happened. Most GP’s surgeries have a notice board with local support group leaflets like rape crisis centres, victim support, and womens aid.