Saturday, September 14, 2013

Why We Need Compassionate Care (and Services) After Rape (or Sexual Assault) Part 2

This is Part 2 of Why We Need Compassionate Care (and Services) After Rape (or Sexual Assault) Part 1. Please read Part 1 first.

We need service providers who listen and emphathize, who reassure us it wasn't our fault. We need providers who ask us before they touch our bodies, telling us what they're doing and why. We need service providers who ask us how they can help us.

Three years later Sparrow was raped again. She planned on not reporting it at all because she didn't want to go through the rape exam in the same way. But when a police officer came to her door looking
Photo By: Nhoj Leunamme == Jhon Emmanuecc
for information on her rapist, who had also raped a 16-year-old girl in her neighborhood, Sparrow decided to tell the officer what happened to help the girl's case.

When she returned to the same hospital, she was pleasantly surprised to find that this exam was everything the first one wasn't. They introduced themselves. They explained what they'd be doing and why. They were gentle and treated her like a human. Then they gave her information about what she might expect emotionally afterwards. 

What happened in the three years in between? The hospital implemented a special program where the medical professionals doing the exam were trained specifically to do rape kit examinations. They're on trained on not just the technical aspects, but trained to reject rape myths, be compassionate, sensitive, and treat survivors like they're human.

Programs like the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART, consisting of a trained nurse, a trained police officer, and a trained member of the prosecuting attorney's office, along with an advocate with the survivor), Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE), and Forensic Nurse Examiner (FNE) often provide better care in medical settings. These providers are trained to reject rape myths and provide more comprehensive human care and compassion.

But the coverage can fall short. For example, according to,  only one SANE/SART program exists in the entire state of Nevada. It's in Reno. So what happens if someone is raped in Las Vegas? Also, many of the current SANE/SART programs are under the threat of closing down due to budget cuts. 

While these programs cover medical treatment for rape survivors, only the SART program includes training for police and prosecuting attorneys. Otherwise, police and prosecuting attorneys are often not trained to work with survivors of sexual assault. 

The thing is, that even in places with the SART program, the way the U.S. justice system is set up, it still allows attacks on survivors and fails to protect survivors from even some of the most basic safety measures. For example, a defense investigator can call you, send you letters, show up at your door, or even your neighbor's door to try to find a way to defam your character. This is incredibly intrusive and can feel you're being attacked again. In addition, unless you tell the police and the attorneys not to give your attacker your name, they might just do it, all the while saying, "Oh, what's the problem? You can always get a restraining order if he bothers you."

Then there's teachers, school administration, and colleges who largely have minimal training (if any at all) and have the school's reputation to protect. This includes keeping star athletes and people who are paying full price out of trouble.

So while we've made some progress in recent years bringing more compassionate care to sexual assault survivors, we still have a long way to go. The pending lawsuits by several college students is a wonderful wake-up that I'm sure will change the scope of how colleges around the country handle sexual assault. And we need to put information in the hands of the people, the students and the other survivors, so that they know exactly how they can deal with the myriad of choices they will have to make in the process of the aftermath in a way that supports them. I'm in the process of writing an e-guide to do just that. In a few days, I'll post a sample section from it. Let's bring choices and compassion to our rape survivors. They deserve nothing less.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Why We Need Compassionate Care (and Services) After Rape (or Sexual Assault) Part 1

Sparrow was just 16 when she was raped. Scared and confused, she wound up at a local Emergency Department to make sure everything was OK and to get a rape kit done for evidence against her attacker. But when the nurses and doctors came in, they just started doing procedures to her without telling her what they were doing or why, in sensitive private places where she had just been attacked. They never introduced themselves or presented themselves as humans. She was scared and she was not treated as the human she was.

A couple weeks later Sparrow had a fever and pain in her stomach. She knew these were symptoms of a Sexually-Transmitted Infection, but she would not go back to the hospital. She did not want to be
What happens in the aftermath of sexual assault can
impact what the survivor thinks of her or himself.
Picture: Pink Sherbet Photographycc
treated in the same cold and insensitive way she was before. Sparrow told me, “For five months I was in so much pain, I felt like I could fall over and die at any moment, but there was no way I was going to go back to that doctor and be touched and treated like that.”

And she didn't until she collapsed at a Thanksgiving dinner and was rushed to the Emergency Department. When I interviewed her eight years later for a documentary, she still had health problems from the massive scar tissue that the Pelvic Inflammatory Disease had left behind. Among the long list she gave me were fertility problems in her early twenties and ending up in Emergency Department three or four times a year.

Doctors, nurses, police, teachers, and other service providers are often among the first people survivors tell their stories to. When we tell our stories to others after such a traumatic event, what happens next shapes us. We are in a place of intense vulnerability. It can affect how we think of ourselves and the meaning of what happened for us. For many survivors the fear of what they say or how they react prevents them from reporting it or seeking the help they need. For some people this fear becomes a reality when they actually do what they need to take care of themselves. A nurse told me I was "acting like you enjoyed it" when I sought medical help after a rape. It was the last straw for me.

Service providers are acting as authority figure, denying or confirming the shame, the blame, the aloneness, or emotions a survivor might be toying with. They have the power to drive home empowerment, choices, and  a sense of control in the survivor's life. Or they can tell them why they are unworthy and why it's their fault. That kind of power is not to be taken lightly. We shouldn't be trusting our survivors with just anyone. And sometimes we don't.

To Be Continued...

What are your experiences good and bad with service providers following sexual assault? What did doctors, nurses, police, college officials, teachers, rape crisis hotline operators do (or not do) that worked well for you? What did they do (or not do) that did not work? What were the consequences? Send your stories to Please indicate if you give me permission to publish some or all of it. If so, would your name included and do you want to remain anonymous?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Are You Having Consensual Sex? (A Checklist)

If you're in doubt as to whether you're about to have consensual sex, gather some more information.

(The following is written as if you have one sex partner involved. If you have multiple sex partners involved, you need to make sure you answer the questions for every partner involved.)

1. Is your potential sex partner indicating they want to have sex with you?

Inviting you into their apartment, going to your place, and being married or in a relationship with them is not clear indication in itself.

The best indication would the other person telling you they want to. You could also ask them, but make you're not pressuring them in the process. Sometimes looks or physical signals or responses will give you an indication as well, but this far less accurate than asking.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Myth of the Perfect Rape Victim

Let me tell you a fairy tale. It goes a little something like this.

Once upon time there was a young, white, straight, and happily married (or maybe a virgin or maybe both) woman. One day she went for a jog along with her husband (or maybe it was a group of friends) in a completely safe, upper class neighborhood in broad daylight. (Not by herself because women going
We can fight the web of lies being told about rape.
places by their selves would just be asking for it, according to rape myths.) She was wearing baggy sweats with athletic shoes, nothing that remotely revealed her body in the slightest. She was completely sober. And she didn't pass any bushes or hiding places for a rapist to lurk.

But all of the sudden a big gang of seven foot musclar black thugs who recently escaped death row appeared out of nowhere and tackled her onto the ground as she fought hard against them. They beat her and her friends unconscious, and then raped them for hours without condoms while also holding them at gun point and transmitting an STD. The men left them, still unconscious, for dead on the side of the road until a group of good samaritans came by and called 911.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

7 Ways to Legally Fight Back After Rape

If you've reached a point where you want fight back after your rape, here are seven ways to legally do so....

7. Report It to the Police

Being raped is a horrible thing. Most rapists rape over and over and over again. You have the power to stop one rapist. You have the power to prevent other people from living the pain you may be in now.
Fight Back Against Rape
Photo by rogamuffin (Creative Commons)

Now I'm not saying it's all rainbows and unicorns. Getting through the system it takes to convict or get a plea deal with your rapist is no picnic. It can be long, brutal, emotional, and hard to move on during a long drawn out process. And the jury might find your attacker not guilty after all of that. Or there may not even be enough evidence to make it to the Distrist Attorney's office. But for some survivors this can be a great way to fight back and ensure that the rapist is in prison for a while, far from where he or she can rape ordinary citizens. The sooner you report it, the better chances you have at a conviction. I'll be posting more tips for reporting it to the police later. For now, you can check out RAINN's police reporting information.

6. Tell Your Story

When you open up and tell your full story to supportive people, you begin taking any shame off yourself and putting it on your rapist where it belongs. Rape is about control and when you get to control the story, you're fighting back. I don't recommend telling complete strangers before you get to know them (in most cases) or people who you don't think can handle the situation. Tell trusted friends, family, a survivor's group, a therapist or counselor, an online support