For Survivors: To Report Or Not Report

Survivors rarely report sexual assault. The question of whether to report or not is a serious one to consider, in fact, sexual assault remains the most drastically under-reported crime ever. Reporting rates are low for a variety of reasons. A survivor may be uncertain whether what happened was actually an assault. Sexual assaults that are committed by acquaintances are often trivialized as “not so bad” because it does not fit the common social understanding of the crime, which is basically that the victim is tied up, given the beaten of her or his life, and assaulted till they pass out and then wake up in the hospital – it hardly happens this way. Survivors may also think they won’t be believed or may even be blamed by the police, the court, family, and friends.

Many survivors find an immediate coping strategy in indulging in the denial that the assault ever occurred in the first place. Without acknowledging the sexual assault, they find temporary relief from their experiences. However, this relief does not last and will most likely affect their healing in the future. Also, if the assailant was an intimate partner or close friend, survivors may feel torn between their personal violation from the experience and their love for the assailant. They do not want to get their loved ones in trouble. Especially in cases such as this, survivors may feel that they are to blame for the assault and therefore do not feel validated or entitled to make a report.

Decide if you want to make a police report. If there is even a chance that you might want to report, you need to preserve all evidence. Do not shower, urinate, change clothes (including undergarments), brush teeth, bathe, douche, or straighten up the area until the medical and legal evidence has been collected. If you choose to change clothes, place the clothes you were wearing in a paper bag (to preserve evidence) and bring it with you to the nearest hospital or law enforcement agency. If you chose to urinate, do so into a clean glass jar, and bring it with you to the hospital or law enforcement agency. If you do choose to report, call 112 and go to the hospital to have medical evidence collected. It is best to have the medical exam within 72 hours of the assault. Even if you choose not to report, you should still go to the nearest hospital or clinic. You may feel OK, but it is still a good idea to talk with a medical care provider about tests for pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections/diseases, and support services.

Special Concerns

Are you in the same class as the person that sexually assaulted you?

It can be very scary and distracting for many survivors to attend class with the person who assaulted them. Your academic career is important and you should feel safe attending class so that you may be successful both academically and in your healing process. Talk to the dean/HOD, seek out the school counselor or if you are seeing a psychologist for Counselling, you can talk to them about what you need and how to do it.

If the person who assaulted you is a student, you have the option of making a report to the Dean’s Office on campus. Sexual assault is a serious crime. It should or could result in suspension or expulsion for the perpetrator.

Are you worried about seeing the person that sexually assaulted you on campus or on the street?

It can be very distressing and traumatic to see the person who assaulted you. If you feel unsafe, talk to the dean of students on your campus about your options. If you decide to report to the law enforcement agency, then talk to a trusted friend or family who can be supportive through the process.

Are other parts of your life suffering because of the sexual assault experience?

It will take some time to adjust after the assault and it is very common to have difficulties concentrating on studying, focusing on coursework, your career, business, or family. You may find it helpful to communicate directly with your instructor, boss, or partner in order to limit any possible misunderstanding about expectations and requirements. If you decide to take an incomplete or arrange for alternate requirements, it may be useful to have a contract in writing in order to protect yourself in case of confusion at a later time. You may need to talk with someone to help you consider the options that will allow you to successfully continue your work or academic career. Sometimes survivors decide that they need to reduce their course or workload or withdraw in order to be successful in the future.

Do you live in the same residence as the person who assaulted you?

You have the right to feel safe in your home. If the person who sexually assaulted you lives in the same residence as you or you feel unsafe in your home, contact the police or a lawyer to discuss your options.

Do you have concerns about the incident because you were drinking at the time?

No one deserves to be assaulted, no matter the situation. For many reasons, survivors may hesitate to come forward if they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the assault. Many worry about reporting because they may not remember everything or may blame themselves for being intoxicated. Don’t let this get in the way of reporting a sexual assault. The focus should be on the behavior of the one who committed the crime, not the survivor. An individual who is physically incapacitated cannot legally consent to sexual contact. It is also important to make sure that you receive appropriate medical attention. No matter what you decide to do, remember that it was not your fault.

Are you worried about making a police report?

Making a police report after a sexual assault can be a very difficult decision for survivors. Uncertainty about reporting the assault is common, especially if you know the person who assaulted you. Filing a police report is the first step in beginning the criminal justice process; however, to make the process smoother and easier, consult a lawyer and counselor before you go to the police. In addition, don’t forget how helpful and comforting it can be to have someone who cares about you in your corner in difficult times… please talk to someone you trust and who has your best interest at heart.

Are you concerned about telling your parents what happened?

If you tell your parents will it be more or less helpful to you? This is a very difficult question for survivors. Many people find it hard to disclose to their parents, but ultimately finding parents’ love and support helps their healing process. Some survivors may be concerned about hurting their parents or fear that their families may blame them for the assault. Only you can decide if and when to tell your family.

What if you have mutual friends or belong to the same group as the person who assaulted you?

This is a common situation since most assaults occur between acquaintances. People will likely take sides and you may find yourself distrusting friends and colleagues. Surround yourself with people who support, respect, and believe you. Trust your instincts, and take steps to ensure your personal safety and well-being.

Do you worry about dating again?

Surviving a sexual assault involves having your power and control taken away from you, and it may be difficult to regain trust. Go at your own pace. It may be helpful to start in larger social situations or go on double dates. At first, you may want to avoid situations where you feel isolated or lack control and agency. Try to work through the trauma first before you start dating again so you can take better care of yourself. When you are ready to date, don’t hesitate to be clear about your sexual limits.

Adapted from College of Saint Benedict + Saint John’s University – Sexual Survivor’s Guide

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