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Six Steps for Sexual Assault Victims To Do Right Now
Outside the Emergency Room
Sexual Assault is not something we plan for...
What do you do if you or a friend has been attacked? Follow these steps today to immediately take back control and begin the healing process.
It has taken me two years to write this article although I drafted it on the day of my attack. I was drugged and sexually assaulted on three different occasions by a man I thought I was dating. Sexual assault can happen to anyone. Sexual assault can happen to someone trained in being a sexual assault advocate- just like me.
Yes, sexual assault is emotionally devastating. Yes, it will take time to heal. Yes, what they did to you was wrong. Yes, the time to do something about it is right now.
Whether or not your case finds you facing your attacker in court in the future is irrelevant. That fear is not your concern at this time. Your concern is to gain back - immediately - the sense of self-worth that was stolen from you. These are the first Six Steps to Take Immediately, in quick succession, to take your humanity back.
1. Call the Police:
Whether you feel ashamed, embarrassed, furious, or catatonic; it is imperative that you call the police. You will not always feel this way and your healthy self will be grateful that you made this choice later. There may be evidence to collect. There will definitely be a need to record the assault. If not for your own justice, then think of how you are helping to protect the next potential victim.
Be prepared for the police to not be trained for sexual assault or drugging. You must clearly request a sexual assault advocate if one is not offered. A Sexual Assault Advocate has been trained to be with you and to maintain a respectful treatment of you by the authorities that you will come into contact with. They will also provide counseling for you later.
In my experience, the police officer was apologetic that he was not trained, an advocate was not called which damaged my case later, the police repeatedly encouraged me to not pursue filing a report, the doctor tried - relentlessly- to convince me that I had cough syrup in my system, the District Attorney's office tried to dismiss the drug test without actually testing the bottle for the drugs I suspected I had been given. I was victimized by the system without an advocate, but my training to be my own advocate gave me strength.
2. Put Someone in Control of Everything but You:
If your assault happened last night or last year, this day that you take action is devoted to you and you alone. You will care for yourself better than anyone. You may not be able to care for anything else. That is okay.
Call the sitter, a neighbor, your sister or friend. Have them take care of the kids, the pets, and call in sick to work for you. Whatever you need to remove yourself from needs to be put in the hands of someone responsible. Having someone simply drive you around and be physically present without talking is another acceptable request.
Personally, I ran into several friends that did not have the fortitude for emotionally supporting me. That is okay. For now, find who is supportive, open up to them, direct them, and make requests of them. Everyone else is not essential to this crisis. That does not make them bad people, it just makes them unnecessary - for now. You are not a bad person for dismissing their presence at this time.
During my crisis, my best friend (who is a male) called and I refused to answer the phone. I texted back coldly, "I hate all men today". He texted back, "I validate that feeling and you have permission to feel that way. Call me when you feel good about it." If you do not have friends with that level of clarity, then I will loan you my best friend's sincere and unselfish support. Whatever you feel, "I validate that feeling."
3. Go to the Hospital:
If a Sexual Assault Support Team is called for you, they will escort you to the hospital. If, as in my case, an advocate is not called then you must take yourself to the hospital. If you suspect that you were drugged you must request a voluntary urine test. Drugs often leave the system quickly so it is essential that you hold off going to the bathroom until this test is taken. I waited for three hours, but if I hadn't there would have been no evidence left.
If you think you know what drug you were given, you must clearly request that your urine be tested for that substance. I recommend requesting a blood test as well. The lab that tested the evidence (that I found later) explained to me that I should have requested a blood test for controlled substances.
Even if your assault was in the recent past, there may still be evidence to collect or photographs to take. I know that it is very difficult to think of taking off your clothes or being poked and prodded, but I remind you that this is a step to gain your self-worth back. If you have to change your clothes, then bring a change of clothes with you so you can change as soon as the exam is over. If you want to wear two robes in the hospital, then ask for two robes. Do you need to put on a piece of sentimental jewelry or take your teddy bear? Do it. Do what makes you feel whole right now without damaging any possible evidence.
4. Bring a Self Care Kit:
Many Sexual Assault Advocates will bring "self-care kits" for you. If you are not offered one, then collect or request that responsible friend to gather these things for you to use while you are at the hospital:
- A journal
- A pen
- A stuffed animal
- An inspirational book
- A Koosh ball or stress ball
- A change of clothes
- Anything else that they know may be a source of comfort
I brought a diary with me and wrote furiously. When I went to the hospital, I was still in shock. I had come home from our third date unaware that I was on drugs. As I spoke with my roommate trying to make sense out of my odd night, it dawned on me that I was high. I spoke with the police and arrived at the hospital still high and trying to think clearly on my own.
I wrote in my diary about how I was feeling: people were staring at me crying in the emergency room, I wanted to kill myself while waiting for my drug test results, I was raging furious at the doctor for insisting that I was not drugged. Your diary is your safe place for you to feel everything that you feel. You do not need to share your diary with anyone- ever.
I wrote about what I remembered about the evening and our previous dates. It was through this journaling that I was able to remember when and where I was drugged. I was also able to identify what drug I had possibly been given. No, it didn't feel good to understand reality, but it felt good to own reality and to journal my way out of the lies.
Writing in the diary also meant that once it was written down, I could give myself permission to never think about it again. After a sexual assault, the mind and body are in shock. Often, the brain will play and re-play the moment over and over trying to make sense of it. In my experience, this leads to trauma. It was healthier and more helpful to me to live it over once, with focus, and let it sit in that journal and not in my head.
(Cell Phone Pic On Our First Date)
5. Do Not Blame Yourself and Do Not Let Anyone Blame You:
Unfortunately, my experience with law enforcement is typical. This is the very reason that Sexual Assault Advocacy Organizations have been created. The organization I volunteered for had a saying, "Short Skirts Do Not Cause Rape".
I lived in a crazy hippie town at the time that I was an advocate. Our town actually had a woman that rode a bicycle around town naked. The city did not have an ordinance against public nudity. She was never attacked. The point is that if there is no rapist around, you can be naked in public without "causing" rape. Only rapist's rape.
Sexual Assault is not your fault. Being trusting is not a fault. Going on a date is not your "fault". Being at the wrong place at the wrong time is not your "fault". I encourage you to clearly define what you did right and repeat that over and over to yourself. Especially and even more so if no one around you is doing it for you. Rape is the rapist's fault alone.
6. Get Counseling:
The police are required to give you contact information for free sexual assault and/or victim of crime counseling. Call and continue calling other organizations until you find someone that you feel comfortable with. You need counseling.
For me, the city I lived in had an abysmal system for sexual assault victims so I called the very organization I had previously volunteered with to receive the counseling I needed. I knew they would not judge me. I was there: we were trained to understand. I was trained to not judge myself. There are many caring people in the world that want to give that to you. They will not judge you.
In the end, my police reports are on file in the city I lived in and one of the cities he took me to. I do not feel that I received justice from the law. My attacker "lawyered up" as soon as he was confronted, so the law protects him. So, why am I still advocating for you to go to the police and the hospital?
Over time, I have accepted that my attacker's brazen confidence is an indicator that he has done this before and will most likely do this again. When I feel the wheels of anger turn in my mind towards him, I imagine his next victim: scared, unsure what has been done to her, and crying out to the police for help.
When she is a victim and accuses him, she will find my reports. She will know that I am her advocate. I have fought for myself and I have fought for her. I own my reality. If no one believes her, she will know that I believe her. In time, we will both be believed and be the victors. In time, you will be a victor, too.
© 2016 Tatiana