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?


Post a Comment