Remember: an assault is NEVER the victim’s fault.
If the Assault Just OccurredEncouraged Actions:
- Take steps to ensure your immediate safety. Try to get to a safe place. If you are unable to get to a safe place on your own or need immediate police or medical assistance, call 9-1-1. The police can also take you to the hospital.
- Contact someone who can help you. This could be a friend, loved one, or the police. Or all of the above. You can also contact the Office for Women & Domestic and Sexual Violence Services at their 24-hour hotline (703-360-7273, TTY: 703-435-1235).
- Try to preserve physical evidence. Preserving physical evidence is important if you ever decide to pursue a criminal report. In Virginia, a victim may request the collection of evidence even if the victim chooses not to make a report to law enforcement. Reported rape kits will be kept for at least ten (10) years, allowing you time to make a decision about pursuing legal action.
- Seek medical attention and treatment. You do not have to report the incident to police to receive treatment at the hospital or have an evidence gathering exam conducted (also known as a physical evidence recovery kit (PERK), rape kit, or sexual assault medical forensic exam). You should seek medical treatment even if you do not want to report the incident. There may be injuries you do not know about or that you don’t know the full scope of. A doctor can also inform you of your options to prevent pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections.
- Document the incident. This does not mean filing a police report. It means that when you have a quiet moment, write down everything you can remember with as much detail as possible. Writing down a detailed account can help with any legal action you may decide to take and it can also help you in your healing process.
- Obtain information about the resources available to you. The Sexual Misconduct Policy offers a list of on-campus and community resources that are available. These resources range from information about protective orders, hotlines, organizations, and shelters.
- Obtain emotional support. This can mean talking to a professional counselor, on- or off-campus, talking to a friend or family member, or anyone you feel comfortable talking with about the incident. Getting help, whether emotional or medical, is the best thing that you can do for yourself, your health, and your future.
Preservation of EvidencePreserving physical evidence is important if you ever decide to pursue a criminal report. In Virginia, a victim may request the collection of evidence even if the victim chooses not to make a report to law enforcement. Reported rape kits will be kept for at least ten (10) years, allowing you time to make a decision about pursuing legal action. To preserve evidence, it is important to follow these suggestions:
- Do not bathe or shower
- Do not brush or comb your hair
- Do not douche
- Do not urinate (if possible)
- Do not change clothes – If you do change your clothes, take the clothes worn at the time of the assault to the hospital with you in a PAPER bag (plastic bags cause the deterioration of evidence)
- Do not eat or drink
- Do not brush your teeth or rinse your mouth out
- Do not touch items at the incident or crime scene
- Do not put on or remove makeup
What to Expect at the HospitalIn Northern Virginia, the preferred hospital for an evidence gathering exam is Inova Fairfax Hospital. There are specially trained nurses at this facility that are on call 24 hours a day. Inova Fairfax Hospital will provide an exam no matter where the crime occurred. A rape kit is free and increases the likelihood of prosecution if you decide to pursue legal action. At the hospital you will receive immediate medical treatment for any injuries that require immediate attention. You will be asked about any medications you have taken, if you have any pre-existing conditions or allergies, and other questions relating to your health history. Some of these questions may be very personal, such as asking about your most recent consensual sexual activity. However, these questions are meant to ensure that the evidence collected can be traced to the perpetrator of the assault. You will also be asked about the details of the assault so that the examiner can identify any areas that may be injured. There will be a head to toe examination and this examination may vary depending on your specific experience, which is why it is important to provide accurate details to the best of your ability. The exam may include a full body examination, including internal examinations of the mouth, vagina, and anus. Samples of blood, urine, saliva, swabs of body surface areas, and hair may be taken. The examiner may also take pictures of your body to document injuries. They may collect your clothes or undergarments, as well as other physical evidence such as debris or stray hair. You may be offered preventive treatment for sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy. This medical care may require a follow-up appointment or care. The exam can take several hours and it can be helpful to have a friend or advocate with you during the exam for support. If you call the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-4673) or Office for Women & Domestic and Sexual Violence Services (703-360-7273, TTY: 703-435-1235), you may be connected with an advocate who can offer support and information about the exam. Click here for more information about what to expect during an examination.1
If the Assault Occurred Some Time AgoYou may just now be realizing that what you experienced was sexual assault, or may finally be ready to call the experience a sexual assault. Even if the incident did not take place recently, you still have options. Encouraged Actions:
- Consider seeking medical attention. You should seek medical treatment even if you do not want to report the incident. There may be injuries you do not know about or that you don’t know the full scope of. You may still need treatment for physical symptoms or infections.
- Seek counseling. Unresolved experiences of sexual assault can have long-term effects on your mental and physical health, as well as social effects. Getting help is the best thing that you can do for yourself, your health, and your future.
- Obtain information about resources available to you. The Sexual Misconduct Policy offers a list of on-campus and community resources that are available. These resources range from information about protective orders, hotlines, organizations, and shelters.
- Take advantage of the resources available to you. Knowing what resources are available is the first step, but sometimes taking the next step can be challenging. If you are unsure of what you want or what would be best for your situation, contact firstname.lastname@example.org for help exploring your options. ________________________________________________________________________________________ 1. Information about what to expect during an exam is available here: https://www.rainn.org/articles/rape-kit