Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Steps You Can Take to Receive Good Medical Care Following Sexual Assault

"Syringe Glove 01" by Armin Kübelbeck (Wikimedia Commons)

I'm so sorry you were sexually assaulted. It is not your fault. You did nothing to cause it, no matter what anyone says, what you were wearing, where you were walkings, or any other factor. 

One of the first things you need to do after you're sure you're safe, is to seek immediate medical care. These experiences can be shocking and your body may be numbing the pain of a serious of life-threatening injury. Don't panic. If you're reading this, you're probably not going to pass out right now, but you don't want to gamble with your life.

This is also the time to get the HIV prevention prophylaxis treatment if that's something available and what you choose. Every hour that goes by without using it decreases your chance that it will be effective.

Unfortunately, not every medical professional is well-trained and equipped to handle a sexual assault. Getting compassionate and competent medical care is crucial to your health and healing. 

Here are some simple steps you can take to increase your chances of receiving good medical care:

* Seek medical help as quickly as possible for your safety. You may have serious or life-threatening injuries you're unaware of.

* Always remember that under no circumstances was the rape or sexual assault your fault and you did nothing to provoke it no matter what anyone else says. Likewise, if you are treated poorly during the medical examination, it also not your fault.

* Your county hospital is more likely to be equipped to handle a sexual assault than other hospitals. They will have rape kits available and some counties are part of a program like the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART), which has a whole team of medical professionals, police, and prosecuting attorneys trained to give you comprehensive, compassionate care. The Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program is a similar program, except in this case, there will only be the specially trained nurse.

* You can find out about areas with SART or SANE programs here http://www.sane-sart.com/staticpages/index.php?page=20031023141144274.

* If there are no SART/SANE hospitals in your area or if you cannot access the information, call your local rape crisis center or RAINN 1-800-656-HOPE (4673). They may be able to direct you to a SART/SANE hospital or send an advocate to meet you at a hospital who can help you navigate through the system

* Some hospitals will be required by law to report a sexual assault to the police. If you do not want to report it to the police, you can call the hospital and ask, "Hypothetically, if someone came in and said they were sexually assaulted, would you have to report it to the police?"If the answer is yes, you can tell the hospital workers you had rough sex. The injuries they look for should be very similar. However, in this case, you will most likely be sent a bill or charged a co-pay with your insurance company.

* An alternative to this would be telling the hospital workers you were sexually assaulted, but refusing to talk to the police when they arrive. That way you can tell them the whole truth about what happened and they can examine you exactly in the manner you need. Most county hospitals will not charge sexual assault victims a bill for their services. They can also collect evidence in case you change your mind later. 

* Whether or not you want to report it to the police is a complex decision, which I will be addressing in my e-guide coming soon.

* Do not shower, eat, drink, or use the bathroom if possible.

* If possible, change your clothes and place your clothes in a paper bag. It's very important that's it's a paper bag. Plastic may impede the evidence collection. If it's not possible to put them in a paper bag, do not change, but bring a change of clothes with you if you can.

* Bring something to do or something to distract you in case you have a long wait. Hospitals often do not allow internet or phone use in certain parts of it, so don't count on being able to use it there.

*  If it feels better to you, go to the facility with a trusted friend or family member.

* If you want or need something, don't be afraid to ask for it. Sometimes a doctor or nurse will not think of something that is important to you. Even if it's as simple as asking them to introduce themselves, please do so.

* If you don't like something going on, consider speaking up. It doesn't matter if you have an advocate and a specially trained medical professional who both think it's fine. It's your body and your mind. It is you who has to live with it.

* If you don't understand your options or a procedure, ask about it. It is important to be informed about what is going on. If you are too dazed to remember what the information presented to you, ask for it in writing.

* If there is anything you don't want or don't like, you can have the doctor or nurse stop doing it. Just tell them to stop.

* If a doctor or nurse does something inappropriate like blaming you for the attack, judging your body, or anything along those lines, consider leaving and/or reporting them to the hospital and possibly the medical board of your state. This is not acceptable behavior and if they're doing it to you, they're probably doing it to other survivors too.

* Remember that unless you have severe physical injuries, you can always leave and go somewhere else, but please be absolutely sure you don’t have an unknown serious physical injury.

* Please get medical treatment somewhere else if you leave. Not getting medical treatment can result in serious and/or potential long-term health problems.   

It is very important for your health that you seek medical care following a sexual assault or rape. These are only guidelines. A survivor could follow all of these tips and still be revictimized by the system. And some tips may not be right for every survivor. Survivors should do what they need to do to get through the exam.


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