Getting safe and getting help: Sexual Assault

Stop Rape Now graphicWhen you’ve just been sexually assaulted there are only three basic things that absolutely have to be done, and it applies to both male and female survivors:

  • Get away from your attacker
  • Go to a safe place
  • Call 911 for help (it’s extremely helpful to also call a supportive friend or family member at this point)

But here’s a more complete list of steps that will make this miserable experience easier on you. It’s a long list–very few people are going to come up with everything they need right after being raped.

That’s why it’s such a good thing to call a friend or family member who can be your supporter and who will remember things for you. Or perhaps, after reading this, you’ll find yourself being called to help someone else, and you’ll be able to make sure your friend gets everything she or he needs.

  • Get away from your attacker.
  • Go to a safe place.
  • Call 911 for help.
  • To save evidence for the police, don’t change your clothes, shower, wash your hands, or brush your teeth. Don’t eat or drink anything until the mouth swab has been done at the emergency room. You may not want to report the attack at this moment, but why not leave yourself the option?
  • Call your local rape hotline and ask them to send a rape advocate to meet you at the hospital. Not all cities will have this available, but it’s so valuable that you should always call and ask — immediately after you get safe. The advocate will know your legal and medical rights and will give you support. She/he will also refer you to support services and probably give you some brochures.
  • Call a supportive friend or family member. Don‘t call anyone who’s likely to blame you or second-guess your actions.
  • When you get to the ER, ASK FOR
    • a full rape kit,
    • to be tested for STDs (gonorrhea, HIV, chlamydia, etc.),
    • a pregnancy test,
    • and a prophylactic (like the morning-after pill).

    Of course, male rape survivors will only need the first two. In today’s legal climate, you may find yourself at a hospital where the staff can refuse you some of these necessary items and tests on religious grounds. But they are obligated to refer you to a place that will give you service if they refuse you service.
    This is another reason to call the rape hotline immediately after the attack — they will send someone who is trained to be your care advocate to the hospital and knows your rights.

  • Not all ER personnel may know your rights or their obligations. You may need to persist. Again, the victim advocate is very helpful here.
  • If you haven’t called for a rape advocate by this point, ask someone at the ER to call a rape victim advocate or someone from the local rape hotline to come and help you through it. (In my area, they make this call automatically when a rape victim is brought in.) If such a program exists in your area, you have the right to have the advocate with you throughout the rape exam and police interview. The police cannot kick the advocate out if you want her with you. She is not with law enforcement and is there solely for you, to support you, help you, and give you information about resources.
    • I speak from personal experience here, having trained and served as a sexual assault and violent crime victim advocate here in my local city. Rape advocates are trained volunteers.
      Be aware that some rape advocates are men. They too are volunteers–they’re the really, really good guys in this world. If you request a woman, they understand that. But you may find it helps your recovery to have a supportive, good man there with you after you’ve been attacked. It’s your call, no matter whether you’re a female or male rape survivor. You’re equally entitled to services, in case there’s any question.
  • After the rape kit is complete, a nurse will give you new clothes–usually a sweatsuit or a set of scrubs. Your clothes go with the police as part of the evidence. Ask the nurse, your friend/family member, or your rape advocate for help if you don’t have a way home.
  • After the police finish interviewing you, ask them what security measures you should take until they catch your attacker.
  • You do not have to press charges, even if you saved evidence for the police. The police sincerely want to do their job on your behalf, and they really don’t like rapists, so help them all you can. But you don’t have to go to court if you don’t choose to. You must weigh your personal needs and sense of responsibility to decide what’s right for you.
  • You are entitled to money from the Crime Victims Compensation fund (CVC) if you lost money due to the crime (for lost wages, counseling, lost child support, medical bills, etc.). This fund automatically pays for sexual assault exams, but beyond that–be aware that you can only receive money from the CVC if you report the crime promptly to the police. Many areas have a 72-hour reporting deadline.
  • The CVC is administered state by state. Visit the program directory to find the program and website for your state (or the state where the crime occurred, which is generally where you file for compensation).
  • Be aware that officers who come to the ER to interview sexual assault victims may be  members of a special sexual assault taskforce, which is a smaller group within the police department–it’s generally a volunteer specialty. Give them all the help you feel able to give.
    They have to ask questions that are sometimes very personal, and those questions (probably) aren’t intended to doubt your truthfulness or to humiliate you–it’s to pin down the details of the attack so that it stands up in court, and also to get details that may help them catch your attacker.

    • Having said that, let’s be honest: There are people out there, including police officers, who will treat you badly and won’t believe you unless the rape happens in front of them. Even then, these people will find a way to blame you for it. You wore the wrong clothes, you smiled at someone, you shouldn’t have been there, you shouldn’t have been out so late, you had a drink, and so on into the infinitely stupid.
    • Since it’s not constructive to flip these people off, especially if it’s your interviewing officer, just know that you have the right to be treated with respect. If your interviewing officer of either sex is being rude, blaming you, or behaving inappropriately, speak up right away. Remind the officer that it’s not his/her job to judge you, but to do a careful and professional interview.
      If the officer is simply unwilling to do the job without badgering you or emotionally assaulting you all over again, you can request a different officer. This will lead to a wait on your part, but it’ll be worth it if the new officer will actually do the job. You also have your advocate/friend/family member as a witness.
    • Personally, if my first interviewing officer was such a wash as a professional that I had to request another officer, I’d consider lodging a complaint with the department regarding that one officer. There may be other complaints against the officer, and your action may help empower the department to straighten out a Neanderthal (and they come in both sexes).
      You also have to consider that this is the department that’ll be working on your rape case. So if you do file a complaint against an officer, don’t go in screaming obscenities. Be courteous, calm, and cooperative, and if there are questions or pressure, don’t back down from your decision to (calmly!) file.
      We can hope this would never happen in your local police department. There are many outstanding police departments across the country where this would simply never happen. So when your officer arrives and begins to interview you, proceed on the assumption that this officer is one of the good ones unless the officer proves otherwise.
  • If you live alone, have someone stay with you at least that first night, perhaps for several nights. Whatever safety tips the police gave you, follow them if you’re able. For your own feelings of security, you may want to stay with friends or move to a hotel temporarily. Do what you need to do to feel safe, and to be as safe as you can.

Having said all of this, here’s the single best book I’ve ever read about personal safety. You’ll feel safer after reading it even though you haven’t done anything concrete yet–because you’ll know what’s going on around you and you’ll have confidence in yourself. You won’t live in fear after reading this book. It’s called The Gift of Fear, by Gavin de Becker. Purchase it today.

One of the golden things about this book is that the author understands how totally different women’s and men’s worldviews are where safety is concerned. He gets the greater danger in being female, smaller, trained to be nice, etc., and he addresses it effectively, without leaving out basic safety that applies to everyone.

Likewise, if you have children, purchase the companion book, Protecting the Gift, on keeping your children and teens safe in today’s world. He addresses everything from choosing babysitters to Internet safety. I was stunned at how much of the usual wisdom is wrong and how simple it is to do safety right for children.


Sexual Assault Resources Specifically for Men

Photo of man w/bruises and cuts on faceThat men are raped is not in question. For example, see the Abused Empowered Survive Thrive and website, which has several large sections specifically for men, such as Male Rape Myths and Research and Statistics on Male Abuse Survivors.

As of 2011, the CDC estimated that almost 20% of women suffered rape in their lifetime. (By the way, just as a man’s physiological body response to rape is involuntary, so is a woman’s. This does not indicate arousal or consent for either sex. Keep reading.)

The same as for female rape survivors, many ignorant people in society hold bigoted or erroneous views about male rape survivors:

  • Men can protect themselves, so he must’ve wanted it or else he would’ve stopped it.
  • Now that he’s been raped, he’s homosexual.
  • He was homosexual anyway, so it’s all just sex for him.
  • He was homosexual anyway, so he deserved it.
  • A real man could have kept it from happening.

While many of the emotional needs of male survivors are the same as those of female survivors, men have some unique needs. First, here are some struggles both sexes face:

  • They feel violated and disempowered.
  • They question themselves.
  • They lose confidence in their ability to protect themselves.
  • They wonder if they did something to bring the attack on themselves.
  • They think they should’ve done more to stop it. Or less. Or something different.
  • They feel blamed by society (“If she hadn’t gone to a bar dressed like that it wouldn’t have happened,” “If he was straight it wouldn’t have happened,” “Why did you provoke the attacker?”, etc.).

Here are some of the unique struggles men face:

  • They feel emasculated.
  • They wonder if they’ve become homosexual.
  • They wonder if it happened because they’re homosexual (data shows that homosexuals are in fact targeted; I don’t know of an exhaustive study showing how rapists target male victims in general).
  • Society believes men can’t be sexually assaulted by women, but they can be–and this is a stigma as well, with many people viewing the male victim as weak or as less of a man, or thinking that a “normal” man would be glad to “have sex,” or assuming that no woman could be strong enough to rape a man. (Aaaand we’re back to the “not a real man” myth.)
  • Sketchy information shows that men (no matter who does the attacking) are even less likely to report rape than women because of the stigma attached to the “weakness” of a male victim or the stigma of questions about his sexuality or masculinity.
  • There aren’t many resources for male rape survivors, so they’re more isolated and less served than women. Even factoring in the lower proportion of male survivors to female survivors, there aren’t a proportionate number of resources specifically for male survivors. Most services for female survivors also serve male victims, but here I’m talking about services that are dedicated to male survivors.
  • Male survivors may have had an erection or ejaculation during an assault and feel guilty about it; the attacker or the victim’s friends/family may assume this means the victim must have “wanted it,” when in reality, both erection and ejaculation are physiological responses to stress that don’t require sexual arousal and that a man can’t voluntarily control.

Some of the good resources I can find for men are listed here.

No one, no matter what their age, race, or sex, deserves to be raped or has “asked for it.” Rape doesn’t change people’s sexual orientation, and it isn’t OK to rape a man because “men want it all the time anyway.” Rape is never a turn-on. Raping men isn’t OK, and it’s never the victim’s fault — not ever. I will shout this from the housetops. To male assault survivors: You are not alone. We women have been attacked too, and we stand with you. We believe you. We believe in you. We want more for all rape survivors, no matter who has been attacked.