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OPINION

How To Act Immediately After Sexual Assault

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When sexual assault (child sexual abuse, rape, other forms of sexual molestation) occurs, victims feel a sense of loss of control and power. There is nothing that disrupts a person’s sense of identity or grip on reality like sexual assault. Most victims go into hiding, withdrawing from friends and family and instead of seeking treatment, reporting the assault or asking for help, choose the path of silence and secrecy out of misplaced self-blame and shame. If you have been sexually assaulted, you may be both physically and emotionally affected. Only you can decide what you feel up to doing in the hours, days or weeks that follow.
This article provides information and advice to help you make the right decisions and get the support you need.

Safety Comes First
The first thing to do is for the victim to go somewhere you feel safe, such as the home of a close friend or family member. It may be the last thing you would feel like doing, but you should consider telling someone you trust about what happened. You shouldn’t feel ashamed or blame yourself for what happened to you. Contacting a healing-based organisation for help is highly important, they will give you the support you need and advise you on what your next step should be. A Victim Support volunteer can also visit you at home if you would prefer to talk to someone face-to-face.
Try to resist the urge to wash yourself or your clothes until you have decided whether to seek medical help or report what happened to the police. Should you decide to report to the police, not washing your cloth or taking a bath would help preserve the DNA evidence that would give the police a better chance of identifying the attacker and successfully prosecuting the crime in the law court.

Treatment
Even if you are unsure whether to report the crime to the police, it is advisable to get some medical support after a rape incident or sexual assault. You may have injuries that need to be treated. It is also advisable to get guidance about emergency contraception and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). If you are a female survivor, emergency contraception, if used in time, can prevent a pregnancy occurring.
There are two methods of emergency contraception:
The emergency pill (also known as the morning after pill)
The copper intrauterine device (IUD)

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)
Even if you don’t have any symptoms, it’s best to have a check-up for STIs. After supporting you in the immediate period following a sexual assault or rape, the trauma centre may also provide STI testing and HIV prophylaxis. If you don’t want to go to a trauma centre, you can go directly to a normal hospital for further testing. You may choose to have an HIV test. If you decide to have an HIV test, you will be offered counselling first.

Reporting Sexual Assault Or Rape To The Police
Only you can decide whether to report sexual assault or rape to the police. Sexual assault is a crime. You can report a sex offence to the police at any time – for example, immediately after the incident or days later. However, it’s important to know that if you report the crime immediately after it happened, the chances of the police collecting evidence and effectively investigating the crime are increased.

Support And Advice
Being raped or sexually assaulted can be an extremely distressing experience. Everyone reacts differently, and feelings tend to change over time or even day to day. You are likely to go through a range of emotions, such as fear, anxiety, shock, guilt and anger. However, what’s important to remember is that if you’ve been the victim of sexual assault, it was not your fault. You might need some help getting over what happened, even if it’s just someone to talk to. A trusted friend or family member may be a starting point. Assault and abuse may feel insurmountable, but help is available. Send us an email if you need help dealing with your experience (hello@shareanonymous.org)
Remember, you can seek help either immediately after the assault happened or in the following days, months or years, but the earlier, the better.

– Ndukwe wrote in from Lagos and can be reached at www.shareanonymous.org



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