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What can I do if I have been assaulted?

Sexual assault affects every survivor differently, and each person's response may be impacted by the nature of the assault, your individual and family history, or other life circumstances. There is no right way to react after a sexual assault, and you know best what choices are right for you. As you decide which options you may want to pursue, remember that what happened to you is not your fault. The perpetrator alone is responsible for their actions.

Take Care of Yourself

Find a safe location and consider calling someone you trust for support. Remember that you are not alone, and there are many people who want to support you. Family and friends can be invaluable sources of comfort and strength.

Find Help 

A community sexual assault program can help you navigate the emotions, choices, and systems that you may encounter following a sexual assault. Specifically, they can answer questions about your options and rights and accompany you to medical or legal appointments. Many programs also provide counseling services. If you have a need that they cannot meet, they can also provide you with referrals to other services close to you.

Medical Options 

You may have medical concerns following an assault, even if it was a long time ago. Some immediate concerns commonly include pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Advocates are available to discuss these concerns and connect you to resources that can offer help and additional support.

Seeking medical care can be beneficial for several reasons. First and foremost, a medical provider can address any immediate health concerns following a sexual assault and in most cases, reassure you that your body is okay. As part of an exam, you will also be offered emergency contraception and antibiotics that can prevent certain sexually transmitted infections.

Secondly, the documentation and samples collected during a sexual assault forensic exam may be helpful evidence if you choose to report the assault to law enforcement. If this is a consideration for you, it is recommended that you have the exam within 120 hours of the assault and that you do not shower, douche, use the bathroom or change your clothes prior. However, you are still encouraged to seek medical attention even if you are past this time-frame or have done some of these activities. You can decline any portion of the exam or evidence collection, and you have the right to have a support person (family, friend, advocate) present with you. The costs of the initial sexual assault forensic exam are covered by Washington State's Crime Victim Compensation program whether or not your choose to report to law enforcement. However, you would need to make a report if you wish to submit the costs of other medical treatment to Crime Victim Compensation.

Legal Options 

If you are over the age of 18, it is your decision whether or not you want to make a report to your local law enforcement agency and participate in the criminal justice system. If you are under the age of 18, mandated reporters, such as medical professionals, counselors, and teachers, are required to report the assault to CPS or law enforcement. Making a report does not guarantee that the perpetrator will be arrested, prosecuted, or convicted but it does ensure that there is formal documentation of the assault. Following the report, your case may be assigned to a detective for investigation and eventually referred to a prosecutor who determines if charges will be filed against the perpetrator. Filing a report will also help you access Crime Victim Compensation.

There are also civil options that are separate from the criminal justice system. You can file a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator or a third party who has some responsibility for the sexual assault. If you are successful, the court can order the perpetrator or third party to pay you monetary damages. You may also seek a sexual assault or domestic violence protection order in civil court that can prohibit the perpetrator from contacting you or coming within a certain distance of you, your home, and your workplace.

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Reviewed: December 6th, 2016