Deciding to get help and/or report a rape is a personal decision that belongs to the survivor alone. It is important to keep in mind, however, that there are some recommended actions a survivor can take that can be beneficial in the future.
Trust Yourself. Know that when you are forced to have any form of sexual contact without your consent, it is not your fault. There is nothing someone can do to “cause” another person to rape or sexually assault someone.
Find a safe environment—anywhere away from the attacker. Contact someone immediately. Go to this person's home or have them go to where you are. Ask someone you trust to stay with you for support.
Seek medical attention immediately. Do not change your clothes, bathe or brush your teeth. If possible, refrain from using the bathroom. This can help to preserve evidence if you choose to make a police report. Seeking medical attention does not mean you have to notify the police. A physical examination is primarily for purposes of your medical safety. Even with no visible physical injuries, it is important to determine if internal injuries were sustained (such as tearing or bruising), and to weigh the risks of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. Preventative medication can be provided if the circumstances are appropriate.
If you are able to, write down all the details you can recall about the assault and the perpetrator. Or ask a friend you can confide in to record this information for you.
Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline, operated by RAINN, for free, confidential counseling, 24 hours a day: 1-800-656-HOPE. When you call, you will be connected to your local rape crisis center. An advocate may be available to meet you at the hospital.
If you suspect you may have been drugged, report it immediately to hospital staff. The window period to collect evidence of drugs (either through a urine sample or blood) is extremely short. The sample will be analyzed at a forensic lab.
In order to preserve any forensic evidence, ask the nurse, doctor and/or advocate to explain the rape kit—what it is, how it is performed, what the process is once it is completed and the pros and cons of the procedure. If there was no penetration, you may still have the kit completed to obtain evidence elsewhere on your body. Know that you can have evidence collected without choosing to file a police report—immediately or ever. Federal law requires jurisdictions to offer survivors access to a medical forensic examination free of charge and regardless of whether or not they decide to participate in the criminal justice process.
If you do decide to move forward with a criminal prosecution, a member of law enforcement will take possession of the rape kit to maintain the chain of custody. If you are undecided about reporting the assault to law enforcement, state laws meant to protect victims' rights will dictate how long your kit is to be stored, either at a police station or crime lab—or in some cases, at the hospital—depending on the state's procedures. While testing a rape kit before the survivor has filed a police report is not always prohibited by law, it is certainly a best practice to honor the survivor's choice and refrain from testing until she or he has decided to participate in the criminal justice process.
Recognize that healing from sexual assault or any trauma takes time. Allow yourself the time you will need to recover emotionally, mentally and physically. There is no set time frame for your healing process. To learn more and for more resources, visit joyfulheartfoundation.org.