How To Get Help After Being Sexually Assaulted (In The Immediate Aftermath)

September 28, 2017

Yesterday, I said I’d talk about what to do in the immediate aftermath.

[In case the note at the top of the post (below) isn’t clear, here’s a longer disclaimer]: I want to make a quick disclaimer here just to remind all of us, I’m not a lawyer. I’m not a police officer. I’m not a doctor. I’m not a public servant. I am no one who is intimately involved in the laws or investigations or anything like this. I am merely a girl who kind of wishes she would’ve done things differently – though I’m not really positive that there are ever any “right” answers. Even if you do everything “right.” Even if you preserve all evidence, etc., it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get “justice.” I mean, there’ve been cases with lost of evidence – bruising, bleeding – witnesses(!) that still don’t get a conviction, or get an exceptionally light one. So, I act like I have any advice, but what do I know? Because even when you do it all “right,” sometimes it still doesn’t mean anything… So, anyway, here’s the advice I’ve come to know as someone who’s been through this – not as an expert, not as a lawyer, just as a survivor who’s known other survivors in groups and such.]

After everything I’ve seen with dealing with my own issues, and everything I’ve heard while talking to other survivors, this is the best advice I have. I can’t say that it’s the advice. I’m not a law enforcement officer, or a doctor. Please do not take my advice as the be all, end all for advice. But for the best guess I have, here is what I would recommend.

[This is based on being raped by someone you know. If it’s a complete stranger, I would lean toward doing all the same things, but I would not struggle with step 3.]

1. Go to the hospital. Immediately.

Even if you don’t think there are enough cuts or bruises or something to mean something, go anyway, because you never know. This will be the only physical evidence you have a chance of getting. Everyone who might be able to help you (cops, lawyers) will need all they help they can get in your case. So, get a rape kit.(If you have to carry any of your clothes, do it in a paper bag if you can. It preserves the evidence better than a plastic bag.) I know there are giant issues with rape kits in America. There’s a backlog. I’ve read stories of very unhelpful or rude hospitals, or people who’ve refused to issue one. There can be a lot of issues in trying to get a rape kit. I like to believe that “oh, I’m sure you live in driving distance of a hospital with a medical professional with the correct training to respectfully administer a rape kit. And even if you can’t afford it, some charity or some GoFundMe or somebody will help.” (Also, rape kits are supposed to be free. You can read more about that here.) But I’m a privileged person in a big city. I don’t know any of that for sure.

It’s also nerve-wracking that this administration wants to make having been raped a pre-existing condition. That’s scary. So, maybe you don’t want that in your medical record. These feel like impossible decisions to make after something so shocking has happened to you. And I’m not 100% sure how to make them. For me, personally, knowing what I know now, I would go and get one done. If you do, this might be the beginning of helpfulness and people telling you the next steps to take. So, you may not need to read any farther than this. But if you do…

2. Write down everything that happened.

Sadly, I think a lot of what happened will stay with you deeply in the coming days/weeks/months (maybe even years?). So, it’s not that I think you will forget the most painful parts. But officers and lawyers will potentially want to know every. single. detail. to the best of your ability.What time did you go over (or did he come over)? What was the exact sequence of events?

Write it all down – everything. It will help you keep the timeline and facts and everything straight as you are potentially asked by many different people for exactly what happened. Some of those people might even be trying to intimidate you or “trip you up” – even though you’re telling the truth. That’s why you get it all down. In writing. Immediately. I think it will help you to question yourself less, and have something to refer to if you are not calm enough to answer questions through tears, or shock, or whatever is going on with you.

3. Don’t contact your rapist.

This, I’m sure, seems so straightforward to some people. There is no situation I know of where this is ever good. I know multiple people who thought at the time, “He didn’t really mean it… He didn’t mean to hurt me… If we just talk it out, it will be fine.” And on and on and on.(I was nice to mine. (But that’s another post for another day.)) And that kinda makes sense! You get used to dealing with things in relationships without bringing in the cops. (Like, what? The police. That feels dramatic!) You do kind of question yourself. “How could he have done that? How could this be real?” And this is the spot where quite honestly, I don’t know what to do… Because if you go to the police about being raped by someone you know, they’ll somewhat likely have you do a phone call in which you call the person and see if they’ll admit what happened while on the phone.

For me, personally, had he been super apologetic and truly hadn’t realized what he’d done, I don’t think I would’ve wanted to see him punished. I don’t want vengeance. I just want to feel safe. If he felt bad and didn’t proverbially spit in my face about it all, and try to push me out of school, etc… If I could’ve gotten a true apology and felt like he wasn’t trying to go on a counter-attack (or I guess, more like a double attack since he originally did something to me, and then was trying to do more…), I think that’s all I would’ve really needed. I think. I can’t know, because it didn’t happen that way. But I think that’s probably true.

I might well still have needed therapy. I might well still have had some issues. But they wouldn’t have to do with feeling intimidated by him in the present (or at least recent past). And I don’t think I would’ve needed to see him punished, if it had truly been him soooooooomehow mishearing/mis-construing my words/body language/every single available way to tell that a human is not okay including asking me if I was okay and me saying no…

And if that had been the case though, I’m pretty sure I’d be allowed to drop charges, right? Isn’t that how it works? [Potentially not -Edited to add more in the paragraph below.]

[Edited to add: I got a note from someone saying that’s not how this works – that because this becomes a criminal suit instead of a civil one, you can’t just “drop the charges.”
Again, no lawyer here, but after reading a little more once that was pointed out to me, my understanding is now that it becomes an issue of the rapist vs the state rather than vs you (in a criminal case). Apologies if I have this wrong. Please feel free to comment to help/enlighten.
Anyway, my understanding is that you can ask that the charges be dropped, if that is indeed what you decide you want, an they may do that out of courtesy (or other reasons), but they don’t have to drop the charges for you. So, I realize that if you decide you’re sort of in over your head, or you don’t want to be reliving this, that you could end up in a situation in which you’re subpoenaed and you have to appear in court and that all sounds kinds of awful. I’ve heard of people who did pursue criminal charges and some of them regret it, because the trial makes them feel victimized all over again. (And some of them don’t regret it because they get the justice they want, and they felt it all was worth it.)
Whether the toll a trial takes on you is worth it in the end, I don’t know… So, I’m glad someone did point it out to me that it isn’t quite as simple as merely “drop the charges.” That does give you things to consider. I think knowing everything I know now, and hearing so many stories from so many survivors, I would personally recommend going to the police still (because every moment after it happens is a countdown clock going. I think they want to see urgency of some kind). So, I still think I’d go. But that may not be the best case for everything.]

So, I know it feels dramatic, and it might feel like a betrayal of someone you know [I’d argue it isn’t]. But I would personally recommend going to the cops before you ever talk to your rapist. I think it’s your very best chance of getting any justice. (And some programs will only help you, and/or are more likely to help you if you’ve filed a police report (such as the ones that will give you money to potentially move, or do whatever you need to do to protect yourself (and more)).) So, for the protection of you in every single way, I think I would personally go to the police, and take it from there.

[Side note: Some police officers will not be helpful. (I’ll talk about this in a upcoming post.) And they may not be able to help you. Cops don’t solve every case. Lawyers don’t win every case. Sometimes survivors say the reporting and prosecuting is even more traumatizing than the event itself. So, maybe don’t go. I don’t know.

Again, these are impossible decisions. Even after over a year of getting to think this stuff over, I’m still not 100% certain of what I should’ve done or what I would do if it happened again. But knowing what I know now, this is my best guess of what would’ve potentially had the best outcome. [Edited to add: What I added to this seemed worthy of its own post, so I made it one here.]

[Edited to add (for clarity that I am not saying reporting is the only way to go): Now, knowing everything I know now and what happened afterward, and the almost pride he seemed to take in having hurt me, and the pride with which he acted like he knew what was best for me… In my case (with all the information I have (which I understand is not someting you have the moment it happens)), I wish I’d gone to the police. I also kinda just wish I’d fought. I wish a lot of things. Don’t let you decisions be colored by my wishes (even though I am kind of offering advice *rolls eyes at self*. But anyway. Do what’s best for you. This is what I learned and what I wish, but there are lots of things to be said and gained by not prosecuting and putting yourself through all of that. It’s an impossible decision, and I would fully support you either way.]

4. Lastly, this is where I would start stuff in the post from yesterday – call the RAINN hotline, find long-term help. This is where that begins.

If you disagree with anything in this post, please, feel free to share in the comments. I certainly don’t think I have all the answers, and I’d be more than happy to hear yours.

4 thoughts on “How To Get Help After Being Sexually Assaulted (In The Immediate Aftermath)”

  1. I think this person is entitled to their viewpoint but I keep hearing Lady Gaga’s song ’til it happens to you’ playing in my head. Only a survivor will ever know what the ‘right’ response will be for them and it may change over time. Each one of us will have different needs in our recovery and thankfully we are allowed to define that for ourselves. Stay strong and keep rockin’ on! #RnR

    1. I totally agree! And I hope I make it clear (and will maybe try to make it clearer even), that I will always support survivors in whatever it is they need. I don’t think there is a “wrong” choice. Court? No court? Move? Don’t move? And on and on and on. I am trying to give the best advice I can after going through it all. But totally everyone is different and there is no “right” answer.

  2. I have to take issue with something you say here about just being able to drop charges. That really isn’t how it works. This is not a civil suit. A crime against a person is a crime against society. The victim cannot just decide, “oh never mind.” Once the DA telkaes the case, he or she has an obligation to prosecute. It is a huge deal to accuse someone of rape. It’s not something to be done with the thought that you might think it over and decide its as not quiiiite rape. And I think as you can understand, it would be extremely difficult to build a case that is entirely he said/she said in a couple engaging in sexual relations already. How would one procure evidence of a crime? If the issue is, he or she pressed me to have sex and pushed him or herself on me in the wrong moment/room/time of day, and I went along with it but CLEARLY was not into it, but I would have had sex with this person later, can you see how impossible that is to prosecute? It isn’t right, but our society does need to maintain the idea of innocent until proven guilty, and where would the proof be? I am sorry for what through int through. I wonder why this triggered so much more disturbance than the college episode with a random guy. I can see why the whole relationship was upsetting, but I think going to the police about this and wanting to prosecute this person — I just don’t know about that. And you say you have gone to such great lengths to protect him and keep his identity anonymous. Why? Had charges been brought against him, he would have no anonymity, so that must not have been an issue. I find this somewhat confusing. Anyway I am glad you are doing so much better, found a great therapist, and are eager to help others dealing with emotionally abusive relationships and rape.

I'd love to hear from you! So whaddya say?