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Treating Sexual Assault

Woman talking to therapist.
Talking with a counselor and to others who've experienced assault can help with your recovery

After a sexual assault, it is normal to have a range of feelings. This can include feelings such as anger, fear, and even self-blame. Don’t let these feelings keep you from getting the necessary medical care you deserve. Medical care can help you recover physically as well as emotionally from the experience of sexual assault.

Know that:

  • You are not responsible for the sexual assault

  • Only the person who attacked you is to blame

  • You did all that you could to survive the assault

Talking with a counselor and to others who've experienced assault can help with your recovery

What to expect after the assault

If you have suffered a sexual assault, you should go to your local emergency room for treatment right away. A healthcare provider will greet you. You will be asked questions about the assault.

You may find these questions hard to answer. But, keep in mind that these questions will help the healthcare providers take care of you. A family member or friend can stay with you for support throughout your treatment in the emergency room.

You will get thorough emergency care after a sexual assault. This includes an exam and treatment for physical injury and pain and mental health concerns.  

A healthcare provider will discuss the following:

  • Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). Sexual assault can place you at risk for gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomonas, syphilis, and viral hepatitis (hepatitis B and C). You may choose treatment to prevent most of these diseases right away in the emergency room.

  • HIV. You have a very slight risk of getting HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) from a sexual assault. You can choose to take medicine to help protect against the virus. It is important to start this treatment right away in the emergency room for it to be most effective. This medicine must be started within the first 72 hours after the assault.

  • Pregnancy. You may choose treatment to help prevent pregnancy. Emergency contraception is medicine that helps prevent pregnancy.  It is most effective when taken as soon as possible after the assault. Therefore, it is important to receive this medicine during your emergency room visit.

Depending on the state where the sexual assault happened, the emergency room staff may be required by law to report the assault to the police. If the assault happened in a state that does not require mandatory reporting, you can still choose to report the assault to the police. The emergency room staff can call the police and help you report the assault.

Your decision to report or not report the assault, will not affect the emergency care you receive. If you decide to not report it, you will still get all the urgent medical, surgical, and mental health care you need.

Usually if the assault happened within the past 72 hours (or up to 96 hours), you will be asked if you would like to have a forensic exam or a sexual assault forensic evidence collection kit done at the hospital. This exam is done to document your injuries and collect samples of evidence, such as clothing fiber, hair, and body fluids. Samples may be taken from your body and clothing and later used as evidence. Because of the extreme care that must be taken collecting the samples, the exam may take a while, usually 3-4 hours.

Even if you are not sure whether to report the assault to the police when you arrive at the emergency room, you may choose to have the forensic exam and evidence collection kit done and stored anonymously. This can be done in case you decide to report the assault at a later time.

It’s important to know that the best time to collect evidence is at the time of your original emergency room visit. It becomes more challenging to collect complete evidence as time passes. It’s important not to shower or bathe before going to the emergency room. Bring all clothing. Do not discard anything. Be aware that activities such as eating, drinking, and tooth and hair brushing can also disrupt evidence.

You have the right to turn down any or all of the forensic exam or evidence collection. However, you still have the right to emergency care.

Follow-up care

Schedule a follow-up visit with your healthcare and mental health providers 1-2 weeks after the assault. Your providers can also help you find support services for sexual assault survivors. It is very important to care for your emotional and psychological well-being after a sexual assault. Visiting a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist can help. Many emergency rooms have counselors available at the time of your emergency room visit. Know that you are not alone in your experience of sexual assault. Many others have survived this experience, too. Getting care for yourself can be an important first step in your recovery.

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 11/1/2020
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
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