Surviving an assault can take a lot out of you. You might not know how to react, what to do, or how to act. Here is a helpful list of things that you can do after an assault. This information can also be used to provide to someone else who has experienced an assault and may not know what to do.
1. Don’t take a shower
For most survivors, the very first thing you want to do is take a long shower. Although that might be a good idea at the time, showering can rid of evidence on the body that could be collected at the hospital.
2. Save your clothing
Another immediate response might be to throw away or even burn the clothes you were wearing. If you have time between the assault and going to the hospital to change clothing, make sure to place your clothing in a bag and take it to the hospital for examination.
3. Get to the hospital within 72 hours
There are a few things that will happen at the hospital. First, care will be administered to any areas that need help immediately. After that, paperwork may have to be completed, and a sexual assault examination kit may be done, and you may be able to report to police, and (hopefully) meet with an sexual assault advocate. You may even be provided with STD/STI medication, the morning after pill, or other medication. If you’re worried about costs of a medical visit, most states have programs that will cover the costs.
A sexual assault examination collects the following information:
- Information of the person who caused harm and the survivor
- Fingernail scrapings
- Vaginal/penile swabs
- Cheek swabs
- Buccal swabs
- A comb for hair
- Bags for collecting clothing, especially underwear
- Other swabs for things not listed (i.e. saliva that might be left over on a survivor's neck from the assault)
4. Follow up with an advocate
Advocates can become a great part of a person’s support system after an assault. They are able to provide information on things from hospital paperwork, how to receive compensation for clothing collected in the rape kit, how to deal with law enforcement if you choose to report, and any other questions you might have. They are able to accompany you to follow up appointments, law enforcement meetings and interviews, and contacting employers, landlords, and even schools to set up plans that will benefit you. They have many more services to offer, and are typically free and confidential to work with. https://centers.rainn.org can also be used to find an organization near you.
5. Build a support system/safety plan
If you feel comfortable telling people (friends, family, etc.) about your assault, tell them. A reliable support system can improve a situation. If you are in a harmful place, it might be important to build a safety plan. For example, if the person who caused harm was a significant other, or someone you live with, finding someone else to stay with may help you feel safer.
6. Take needed steps to get better
Self care after an assault is extremely important. For some survivors, it may look like taking a day off of work or school, going out with friends, staying in for a night, or anything else that makes the person feel recharged. Reaching out to someone in your support system can be helpful to vent about how you’re feeling. Advocates can help you move forward and create coping strategies if you feel like you might be out of ideas.
There are also other resources such as the National Sexual Abuse Hotline in the United States (1-800-656-4673) or RAINN’s online chat that are staffed by trained individuals 24/7. They can help answer questions you might have and provide general support.
Keep in mind that these are all just suggestions for what to do after an assault, and neither one nor all of them must be completed. You are in full control of what you want to do, and while these may help for some people, they may not work well for others. Steps can be completed in any order a survivor decides, and it is not the responsibility of anyone to tell a survivor what they should do after an assault.