What just happened to me? Did I dream that? Why didn’t I say something? I just felt so frozen. Its not my fault…but is it? I could have…I should have…but how? Nausea. I must hold him accountable. I must make sure he doesn’t do it again. But what can I do? Do I even have any evidence? I feel so dirty. But I shouldn’t shower right? That’s what they tell you not to do…right? I just feel so alone. Should I tell anyone about this? What would I even say? What would they even say? What could anyone do? I just feel so hollow. But I must be strong…I have to be strong. I cannot let this define me…right?
The aftermath of experiencing sexual assault for some can feel all consuming. For others, it may take a few hours, days, weeks, or even years to fully process what happened to them. There are so many decisions to make. Some are time sensitive, others are not. And what works for one person may not work for everyone. The key is to try to understand what feels right for you. What will help meet your personal needs. Here is one way to break it down that I have found helpful. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is a good place to start.
Are you safe?
Although it may feel obvious, your safety is the most important thing to consider immediately following a non-consensual sexual experience. Things to think about are your immediate physical safety, safety surrounding technology, your housing, school, or workplace safety, as well as your own personal emotional safety. If there are any immediate concerns, consider calling your local law enforcement agency. You can also consider contacting someone you trust or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE to talk to a trained staff member to discuss other options. Need help safety planning? Take a look at these suggestions as a starting point: https://www.rainn.org/articles/safety-planning .
Do you need medical attention?
Even if you don’t think you were physically hurt, you may want to be checked for internal injuries, pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases as soon as possible. Also, having a medical exam within 96 hours is best for collecting physical evidence of the sexual assault if that was something you were interested in doing. DNA evidence can be collected from the crime scene, as well as from your body, clothes, and other personal belongings. You can feel free to bring anything you think may have evidence on it with you to the hospital in a paper bag to get it tested. If you can, it is best to avoid showering or bathing before arrival and for you to bring a change of clothes.
At the hospital, you are able to get a Sexual Assault Forensic Exam. This exam consists of caring for immediate injuries, taking your medical and sexual health history, conducting a head to toe examination, as well as discussing follow up care such as STI treatment. You don’t have to report your experience to the police to have an exam, but this process gives you the chance to safely store evidence should you decide to report at a later time. To learn more, see https://www.rainn.org/articles/rape-kit .
Do you need support?
There are many resources available to help support you and discuss your options at the local, state, and national level. It is important to know that it is okay to seek help even if you are not sure if you would label your experience as an “assault.” Healing is possible, but you do not have to do it alone.
Finding support can look different for everyone. This can include reaching out to a trusted family member or friend, utilizing mental health or other therapeutic services, working with an advocate to find alternative housing, work, or school accommodations, as well as finding community through support groups, religious organizations, or sexual violence advocacy groups. Need help navigating your options? You can access The National Sexual Assault Online Hotline at https://hotline.rainn.org/online?_ga=2.175800674.174909019.1571500357-1575458619.1571500357 .
Do you want to report?
Reporting your experience is not for everyone, but for some it may help bring some feelings of justice. Justice can mean different things for different people, but the most important thing is that you are making a decision that feels right for you.
In order to make a report, you can call your local police department or you can go to the hospital and tell a medical professional there that you wish to report the crime. The time limit between having a nonconsensual sexual experience and reporting it varies by state, but you can use https://apps.rainn.org/policy/?_ga=2.170495072.174909019.1571500357-1575458619.1571500357 to take a look at the state policies relevant to your area. Feeling overwhelmed? You also can seek to be connected with a sexual violence advocate in your area to help you navigate the reporting process. To learn more, visit https://www.rainn.org/reporting-and-criminal-justice-system.
Ultimately, there are many decisions to make after experiencing sexual violence- and I know, the amount of information out there is overwhelming. Please know that there is no wrong or right way to feel or react. It’s normal to feel stuck. It’s normal to feel frozen. We are only human. Take a breath, consider what your immediate needs are, and go from there. In the end, you are the expert of your own experience. Only you know what you truly need. You deserve happiness. You deserve to feel whole.
I see you. I hear you. I believe you.