What to do if you’ve been sexually assaultedLast updated April 3, 2019
This is a guest post by therapist Emma Kenny who runs her own practice at www.ekenny.co.uk and can be found on IG: emmakennytv
The unthinkable has happened; you have been sexually assaulted.
Right now, you are struggling to even compute how you have found yourself in this position. A million terrifying thoughts are rushing through your mind and you haven’t got a clue how to deal with this situation.
I get it – I totally get that, right now, the last thing you want to be thinking about is preserving evidence and confiding in the authorities. I am not here to tell you that this is what you need to do; that isn’t my job, and you certainly don’t require a lecture from me in this moment. Nevertheless, I am going to give you some vital information that will make a big difference, should you decide to seek justice for what has happened to you. Even if you choose, like 85% of sexual assault victims, not to report it, I promise you that this article will help you figure out a way forward.
While you may want to go home, shower, crawl into bed and pretend that this hasn’t happened, the fact is that it has, and the feelings will not simply disappear because you want them to. You need – and deserve – support; remember, you are the victim here. No one is allowed to touch you sexually without your full consent.
Your brain is going to be trying to rationalise and make sense of what happened to you. Often it does this by trying to make you feel responsible for the assault. You may find yourself thinking, ‘If I hadn’t been drunk, it would never have happened’, or ‘I shouldn’t have walked home by myself’, or even ‘maybe I acted like I wanted it’. This isn’t because any of those thoughts are true; it is just your brain trying to jump back into the driving seat. Basically, none of us want to feel out of control, so if you can make it your fault, then you can convince yourself that you can prevent this type of thing ever happening again.
If there is only one thing that you take away from reading this, then let it be the following statement: “IT WAS NOT YOUR FAULT!” It doesn’t matter how drunk you were. The clothes you chose to wear had no bearing on what happened. You have a right to walk anywhere, and to go back to anyone’s, because you are a free human being with freedom of choice. Your choice was taken away the minute that someone chose to place their hands on YOUR body without consent. That is all you need to know – you are innocent, you are a victim, and now we need to make sure that you get the support you are going to need to get through this.
Ok, so where do you begin? Scary as it may seem, your local Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) is a good place to start; there are many centres throughout the UK that offer medical, practical and emotional support to anyone who has been sexually assaulted.
SARCs have trained specialists who can carry out tests for sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy and talk you through the stages of a police investigation. They can also perform a forensic medical examination – I understand this will feel intrusive, but it ensures that useful evidence is preserved. Should the matter ever be taken to court, it makes a huge difference to the likelihood of a successful prosecution. A specially trained doctor or nurse will carry out the medical examination and take samples, such as swabs, from any areas of contact; it’s painless and doesn’t take long.
If you do want the police to investigate the assault, it is important to have a forensic medical examination sooner rather than later. As violated as you may feel, it is crucial to avoid washing until the examination has been performed, so that important DNA evidence can be preserved for trial. You should also avoid cleaning any clothes you were wearing at the time of the attack and store them in a paper bag, as plastic can damage forensic evidence. I understand – this is the LAST thing you want to be thinking about, but please – take off your clothes and put them in a paper bag. If you haven’t got one, then just roll your clothes up and carry them.
Even though you may not be able to think that far ahead, try and follow procedures that will protect you in the long-term. I promise you, SARC staff will not pressure you into reporting your assault and can store the results of any medical examination until you have decided what action, if any, you would like to take. They will also arrange any necessary follow up services to safeguard your medical, psychological, social and ongoing needs, and ensure that you have a consistent point of contact who will support you through the criminal justice system, should you decide to take that route. I understand that this may feel overwhelming but, whether you know it or not, you are going to need support.
In addition to a SARC, your local GP and hospital A&E department can offer help and support in the aftermath of being sexually assaulted, as can volunteer organisations and charities including:
- Women’s Aid – 0808 2000 247
- Victim Support – 0333 271 3707
- The Survivors Trust – 0808 801 0818
- Refuge – 0808 2000 247
- Survivors UK (for male victims of sexual assault)
- M power (for male victims of sexual assault) – 0808 808 4321
- Free, 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline, run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge – 0808 2000 247
- Rape Crisis national freephone helpline – 0808 802 9999
I want you to repeat to yourself again and again, “It was not my fault”. I also want you to confide in someone that you trust as soon as you finish reading these words, because you cannot navigate this territory alone.
You can get past this event, I promise you, and your life can be the fantastic one that you always had planned. It does not define who you are; you decide that by yourself. I want you to understand that whatever you choose to do now is completely up to you. Someone took away your choices and control, so feeling a sense of power over your decisions right now is really important.
Should you choose not to talk to the police, you may find that some people struggle to take your assault seriously. This is a lack of understanding on their part; don’t waste your energy trying to justify your decision when it is better spent around people who love, support and believe in you.
I wish this hadn’t happened. I wish that you didn’t need to wrap your clothes in paper, or put off that long, hot shower that you so dearly want before crawling into bed. I promise – you can do all of that soon, but right now, we need to look after your best interests.
So, take a breath, call a friend or family member, and ask them to read this so that they can hold your hand while you decide on the choices that are right for you.