What to Do When Nightmares Become Reality
Originally Published: March 6, 2006
Revised: August 31, 2012
Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, a fictional legal show about sexual assaults, is a popular television show among young adults. But what happens when the drama of this television show steps into the reality of a teen’s life? According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), approximately 44 percent of rape victims are under age 18. And 90 percent of these rapes are committed by people the victim knows. These statistics only reflect those sexual assaults that are reported. Unfortunately, many sexual assaults among America ‘s teens today go unreported.
What Should I Do?
Rape happens when someone uses force or the threat of force to engage in sexual intercourse with another person. Erin Michael, Educator and Coordinator of Teen Educators Against Rape and Sexual Violence (T.E.A.R.S.) at Call Rape, Inc. in Tulsa, OK, recommends going through the following procedure if you have been the victim of a rape or sexual assault. Please note that these are only recommendations. Ultimately, how you choose to handle the situation is your decision.
- Immediately notify someone you are close to, i.e., a relative, teacher or a very close friend.
- Preserve evidence of the attack—don’t bathe or brush your teeth. Write down all the details you can recall about the attack and the attacker.
- Contact a rape crisis center near you for advice. Search your phone book under “sexual assault” or “rape” to find a crisis center near you. You can also call the National Sexual Assault Hotline run by RAINN 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-656-HOPE. Calls are free and totally confidential.
- Decide whether you are going to report the rape to the police. If you decide to report it, call 911.
- Get medical treatment. Even if you don’t have physical injuries, it is important to determine the risks of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and pregnancy. Some rape crisis centers offer exams, or they will provide an “advocate” to go with you to the hospital and support you. An advocate can help you find a hospital that performs a rape kit exam, since not every hospital performs them. If you want to preserve forensic evidence of the attack, you need to have an exam in the first 72 hours.
- “Get counseling!” urges Michael. “Even if you do not report [the rape] to the police you will [still] need to talk about it,” Michael says. You can find a counselor either in your phone book under “psychologist,” or through the guidance counselor at your school. Ongoing therapy is important, and will help reinforce the idea that it was NOT your fault.
If I Do Report It, What Will Happen?
“If you report a rape to the police, they will send an officer to your house or to the hospital to gather information and write a report. Once all the evidence has been collected, it is turned over to a detective in the Sex Crimes Unit. Then the detective will interview the victim, alleged perpetrator and any witnesses. If there is enough evidence, the case will be forwarded to the District Attorney’s office,” says Michael.
“The most important thing is honesty,” stresses Michael. Not only is falsely reporting a rape a felony, but not including everything in an actual rape can mess up the trial (if there is one). She emphasizes the importance of telling the whole truth, even if that means admitting that you snuck out, were drinking, using drugs or doing something you weren’t supposed to. If the case goes to trial, a defense attorney can use the fact that you weren’t completely honest to his or her advantage.
What Actually Happens During a Rape Exam?
The Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE), who has been trained to treat rape victims with the utmost care and sensitivity, will interview you regarding what happened so he or she will know where to look for evidence. You will give the SANE the clothing you were wearing during the attack. If there is any physical bruising, damage or cuts, photos will be taken for evidence.
The SANE will swab your cheek to get your DNA sample. Then the genital area will be swabbed as well to collect samples. “For a female this is much like a Pap smear, and is over quickly,” says Michael. If you believe rape drugs were used, the SANE will take a blood sample. Also, a urine sample will be taken for pregnancy, and you’ll be asked if you want antibiotics to “ward off” certain STDs.
You should ask for emergency contraception (EC), which comes in the form of pills that prevent pregnancy after unprotected intercourse. Some states like New York and California require attendants in the emergency room to give you information about EC and to even give EC to you, if you ask for it. Other states like North Carolina and Kansas are not required. If you want EC and the hospital will not give it to you, the National Sexual Assault Hotline can connect you to EC providers near you.
Finally, the SANE will offer you a shower and a pair of fresh clothes, and you’re on your way. Usually this process takes between two-and-a-half to three hours, and every part of the exam is completely optional. Michael reassures us that you can say no to anything!
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