Responding to Sexual Assault
If a student has been sexually assaulted, she/he should seek to respond quickly to ensure personal safety and preserve evidence of the assault. If the student feels that she/he is still in danger, 911 should be called immediately. According to MyStudentBody, a person who has been sexually assaulted can do additional things to stay safe and preserve evidence. These recommendations include:
- Get to a safe place. That could be any place where there are other people, such as a student center, library, coffee shop, or convenience store, or it could be a friend’s dorm room or home.
- Call a trusted person or a hotline. The National Sexual Assault Hotline at (800) 656-HOPE (4673) is an excellent resource that is free and confidential. Campus or local organizations may also offer help through volunteers or an advocate who can speak on behalf of the survivor.
- Seek medical care as soon as possible. Survivors need to be examined and treated for injuries they may not even know they have. They should be screened for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). To preserve forensic evidence, the hospital should conduct a rape kit exam. If the survivor suspects having been drugged, a urine sample should be collected to preserve evidence. Evidence can be collected at most emergency rooms, and the survivor can decide later whether or not to press criminal charges. A friend or a campus-based or local advocate can be with the survivor during this exam—she/he doesn’t have to be alone.
- Protect any evidence. If possible, the survivor should avoid changing clothes, bathing, drinking, eating, smoking, brushing teeth, or using the bathroom unless absolutely necessary before the exam, as these actions can destroy physical evidence. If the survivor must change clothing after the assault, it should be placed in a paper bag (plastic can destroy evidence) and brought to the emergency room. The survivor should try not to touch anything at the location of the assault—for example, furniture—so that evidence is preserved.
- Consider legal options. The National Sexual Assault Hotline can also provide legal advice. A survivor or friend could call (800) 656-HOPE (4673) or use the online hotline (https://ohl.rainn.org/online/), where a counselor can explain the criminal reporting process. Campus-based or local advocates can also assist with this, as well as explaining the options of reporting to law enforcement where formal criminal charges may be presented, bringing a case through the civil justice system (going to court), or reporting the incident through the campus judicial system.
- Create a safety plan. If the violence was perpetrated by a known person, have a safety plan to prevent any future sexual violence and tell a friend about your plan.
- Take care of oneself. Survivors need to recognize that healing from an assault may take time, but it’s never too late to get help. They can talk to a counselor or other mental health professional, and support groups are available for survivors who might find strength from sharing their experiences with others.