CW: Violence and Abuse
In addition to other sources consulted, we’d like to thank our friends at Room Redux in the USA for sharing a list of resources for survivors in the States. Find out more about them at https://roomredux.org/
As per RAINN, an American is assaulted every 68 seconds, every 9 minutes, a child becomes a victim of assault, but only 25 in 1,000 perpetrators will ever end up in prison.
“The term sexual assault refers to sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim” (RAINN, 2023). A form of sexual assault includes rape, and as per the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, the definition of rape in the USA is as follows: “Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim. Attempts or assaults to commit rape are also included; however, statutory rape and incest are excluded.”
Say someone is assaulted, or experiencing harassment or abuse. We’re going to share some available options for seeking support. When someone is assaulted, their choice is taken away from them. When deciding what kind of police action or medical support to seek, the choice is in the survivor’s hands, every step of the way.
If someone’s life is in danger, call 911 and ask for the police, fire, or ambulance depending on the situation.
If someone has been sexually assaulted, it was not their fault. They may not remember what exactly happened, and that is normal.
If a victim is hurt with life-threatening injuries, ask for an ambulance by calling 911. Even if they don’t have any apparent injuries, it is a good idea to go to the hospital and ask for a rape kit to be performed- this is a sexual assault examination performed to collect evidence after a rape. If they think they may be pregnant, they can also ask the medical professional for options. They can also test the survivor for any sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
As per the State of California Department of Justice (the following points are quoted directly):
A sexual assault forensic medical exam is intended to collect forensic evidence for use in the criminal prosecution of the person who perpetrated the sexual assault.
The medical exam is performed by healthcare professionals with specialized training in working with survivors and collecting samples.
The collected samples go to a crime lab within 20 days of collection and must be processed by the lab within 120 days.
In addition to swabbing parts the body to obtain samples, examiners will take photographs and look for injuries.
You should be offered emergency contraception or medication to prevent STIs.
If possible, try not to shower, bathe, eat/drink, or brush your teeth until you have had the opportunity to discuss possible options immediately after the assault. These activities have the potential to eliminate any DNA evidence that could potentially be found through the medical exam process.
Mental health support:
Survivors may feel vulnerable, angry, confused, depressed, or another way after a sexual assault. There are mental health professionals who can help with the healing process, but more immediately, survivors may find comfort in your ‘Safe Buddies’. These can be trusted friends or family members.
Mental Health America has a helpful article on mental health and sexual assault here: https://mhanational.org/sexual-assault-and-mental-health. The article includes a mental health screen, and explains some of the ways in which sexual assault impacts mental health.
The National Institute of Mental Health has a helpful article on mental health resources in the USA here: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/find-help.
SAMHSA’s National Helpline
“SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.”
Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: 988
“The 988 Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals in the United States.”
Survivors have the choice to decide whether they want a police report filed and press charges against their assaulter(s). More information on filing a police report in the USA can be found on the USA Government website here: https://www.usa.gov/report-crime
More Hotlines and Support Services:
RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline
RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline gives access to a range of free services including the following (quoted from their website):
Confidential support from a trained staff member
Support finding a local health facility that is trained to care for survivors of sexual assault and offers services like sexual assault forensic exams
Someone to help you talk through what happened
Local resources that can assist with your next steps toward healing and recovery
Referrals for long term support in your area
Information about the laws in your community
Basic information about medical concerns
National Sexual Violence Resource Center
“NSVRC maintains a directory of organizations that lists state and territory sexual assault coalitions, victim/survivor support organizations, and local communities of color sexual assault organizations. You can contact your state or territory’s coalition to find local resources that provide services to survivors.”
Directory of Rape Crisis Centers in the USA
Victim Connect Resource Center
“VictimConnect Resource Center (VCRC) is a weekday phone, chat, and text-based referral helpline operated by the National Center for Victims of Crime. Services are available for all victims of crime in the United States and its territories. Visitors to the hotline receive strength-based and trauma-informed services and referrals in over 200 languages. The Victim Assistance Specialists receive extensive training and mentoring to provide emotional support, information, and referrals that empower visitors as they navigate the physical, emotional, legal, and financial consequences of crime. Referrals are tailored to individual needs and can be made to local, state, and national organizations.”
If someone is in an abusive relationship, there is help available. First of all, if anyone’s life is in immediate danger, call 911.
There are many forms of abuse. Specifically, domestic abuse, or intimate partner violence, is a form of abuse used by the abuser to maintain power in a relationship through verbal, emotional, mental, sexual, reproductive, financial, or physical abuse and coercion.
The survivor can find a ‘Safe Buddy’ to help them, and check-in on them regularly- be it, friends or family. This person can help alert authorities if they don’t respond to a check-in text, call, or email within a reasonable amount of time. They can also come up with a code word if there are concerns of their abuser reading their messages.
If the survivor is looking for support services online, and is concerned their abuser will see them, they can use ‘incognito’ web browser features, which ensure that searches and web activity cannot be tracked on that device.
Survivors can also reach out to local women’s shelters.
If you’re worried about the safety of a loved one, how can you help?
If their life is in danger, call 911.
Otherwise, you can share resources and information, like this article. Be kind, understanding, and above all else, non-judgemental. Victims are often unaware they’re in an abusive relationship, or they depend on their abuser for things like a home, an allowance, or they are being gaslighted. Gaslighting is when the abuser denies ever being abusive when confronted about their actions and behaviour, and is a form of mental and emotional abuse.
For the person you are trying to help, even though they may not immediately leave their relationship, you showing belief in their experience validates it, and may give them the strength and assurance needed to leave.
As an ally, you can also offer to go with them to the police, the hospital, to court, or be with them when they call a crisis line or shelter. When victims are isolated from their support networks, it, unfortunately, gives their abuser more power over them.
Believe them. Stand with them, no matter what they decide. Be an ally.
Sources for further reading: