ACTIONS YOU CAN TAKE
OBTAIN MEDICAL CARE
It is important for you to have a nurse or doctor check your physical well-being. This is critical because you may have injuries you are not aware of. They can also help to get you in touch with victim services staff who can offer you information, support, and assistance.
Health care providers may also be able to provide treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), as well as emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy, if you are female. With our Guided Questions, you can learn more about your options and consider getting in touch with victim services.
GET A MEDICAL FORENSIC EXAM
You have the right to a free special examination – called a medical forensic exam (or often referred to as a “rape kit”) – where a nurse or doctor will check your physical well-being and conduct evidence procedures that could be useful if you decide to report to law enforcement. You have a right to have this exam without first deciding whether to talk with police. You can make that decision later.
A medical exam should be conducted as soon as possible after a sexual assault, to increase the possibility of collecting evidence such as DNA, hairs and fibers. DNA might still be available up to five days after the assault, and sometimes even longer. But it is still important to get an exam even if you are beyond the 5-day timeframe, because you might need medical care or have injuries you don’t know about.
There are some situations where health care providers might be required to report your sexual assault to law enforcement. For example, if you are under 18 or physically injured. In some states like California, healthcare professionals are mandated to report violent crimes, including sexual assault, even if there is no injury other than the sexual assault, and some medical facilities report as a matter of policy, not law. It is important to understand your healthcare professional’s mandated reporting requirements before disclosing information about your sexual assault to them. However, even if your assault is required by law to be reported to law enforcement by the health care professional, you do not have to talk with the officer or participate in the investigation.
If you are trying to get medical care without your assault being reported to law enforcement, you can tell the health care provider that you would like treatment for unprotected sex. It is your decision whether you want to say that you were sexually assaulted. Keep in mind that to have a medical forensic exam free of charge, you will have to let the medical provider know that you were sexually assaulted. Also, if English is not your first language, or if you are hearing impaired, you can ask the hospital for an interpreter to assist you during this process. It may be helpful to discuss these options with a victim advocate by calling a sexual assault hotline (often located within a rape crisis center) or a victim services organization in your area. You do not have to provide identifying information when making these calls.
FORENSIC EXAM DETAILS
The exam is available for free, and it may include treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and possible pregnancy. A person is not required to report their assault to police in order to receive a free medical forensic exam. If you have injuries beyond the sexual assault, that testing and treatment is usually billed separately, and you may have to pay for some of the costs yourself or your insurance may be billed. However, if you report your sexual assault to police and participate in the investigation, these costs can be reimbursed by Crime Victim Compensation programs. Victim services staff can help you apply for that. You can also bring someone with you to the exam, whether it is a friend, family member, or victim services staff.
The whole process of the exam can take several hours. The specialized team of health care providers will work diligently to assure your needs are met in a timely manner. Sometimes, the exam process can be completed within a couple hours and other times it may take longer, depending on the services available in your area.
However, the most important thing is this: Nothing will happen during the exam without your consent. Only if you say it’s okay. You can give your permission for any or all parts of the exam, and you can stop the exam at any time. It’s okay to say that you no longer wish to participate in the exam.
What does the exam look like? First, the nurse or doctor will ask you questions about what happened. Your responses will be carefully documented in a written report. Then the physical exam will begin, which may include a vaginal and/or anal exam, depending on the type of assault.
PREPARING FOR AN EXAM
If you plan to have an exam, it is best not to shower, bathe, or douche before you go. However, don’t worry if you already did any of these things. The nurse or doctor will still take samples during the exam, and it’s impossible to know what evidence might still be recovered. Also, the exam is still important, because it involves much more than just collecting evidence.
If you can, you should bring the clothes you wore during or immediately after the assault, or put on immediately afterward if you changed clothes. But again, don’t worry if that’s not possible. If you decide to report to police, they can often identify other types of evidence, and the exam is still important because it involves more than just collecting evidence.
If you’re not sure what you want to do, you can keep the clothing you wore during the assault or put on immediately afterward, in case you decide to report to police later. If you have not washed your clothes, carefully place each item in a separate paper bag (not plastic). You can discuss any of these issues with victim services staff, if you choose to connect with a rape crisis center.
MEDICAL CARE ALTERNATIVES
To obtain medical care, you can go to a health care facility or provider of your choice (e.g., your personal doctor). Just keep in mind that your own doctor is probably not trained to collect or document evidence in case you decide to report the assault to law enforcement. Be sure to talk to your medical provider if you have questions about this. For more information about your options, including health care facilities that may offer services for free or allow you to pay on a sliding scale based on your income, you can talk with victim services.
REPORT TO POLICE
You have the option of reporting what happened to police. This is the only way to hold someone responsible in the criminal justice system. Reporting to police is an individual decision and we recognize that might not be what is best for everyone. The decision to report your assault to the police is yours alone. You will not get into trouble if you choose not to report the crime to police. If you do wish to report the crime and need an interpreter, let the police officer know. An interpreter can be made available to you.
If you plan to report, it is best to do it as soon as possible. That way, police have a better chance at gathering information and evidence. During the reporting process, you have the right to ask questions, and you can bring someone with you, whether it is a friend, family member, or victim services staff.
Keep in mind that making a police report about your assault is not the same as pressing charges. Once you report the crime to police, and the assault is investigated, the suspect may or may not be arrested. After a thorough investigation, the report may be referred to the prosecutor’s office, who will decide whether to charge the suspect with a crime (sometimes called “pressing charges.”) If the suspect is charged with a crime, the information you provided in your report will be shared with others in the criminal justice system, including the judge and defense attorney.
You can report the assault to police at any time, even if it has been weeks, months, or years since the assault occurred. In some jurisdictions, there is a statute of limitations which may prevent the prosecutor from filing charges. However, even if the assault is beyond the statute of limitations, it can be helpful to report because many perpetrators offend more than once and information about your sexual assault may be helpful to investigators working other cases.
If you are under 18, there are certain people who might have to tell the police if they believe you were sexually assaulted. This includes teachers, coaches, legal guardians, doctors, nurses, and others. If a report is made, you may be contacted by a police officer, but you can choose whether you want to participate in an investigation. Depending on the circumstances, an investigation can take place without your participation, but it usually doesn’t happen this way. This is more likely if there are significant injuries, if the perpetrator poses an ongoing threat to the community, or if the perpetrator has committed more than one sexual assault. If you want to talk with someone without a report being made, you can talk with victim services staff and not tell them your name or how old you are.
Our Guided Questions provide you with an opportunity to learn more about what an investigation might look like. You can also explore your rights and options, and consider reporting to police .
OTHER WAYS TO CONNECT WITH POLICE
You can contact police by calling 911, or you can go to the police department.
This could be:
- a city police department
- a county sheriff’s office
- school campus police
- military police
The local police department can assist you even if you were assaulted in another city or state.
THE INVESTIGATIVE PROCESS
After the police receive your initial report, the typical next step is for them to contact you for a more detailed interview and to begin the process of a thorough investigation.
You have the right to ask any questions about what is happening during an investigation, and to bring someone with you when you meet with police, whether it is victim services staff, a friend, or a loved one. In some states, victims have the right to have an advocate or support person of their choice present during any follow-up interviews. Even if state law doesn’t provide this right, you have the right to ask for an advocate or support person to be present during the interview.
What does an investigation look like? Typically, an investigator will talk with you, any witnesses, anyone you told about the assault, and the person who did this to you. The investigation may also include collecting other items, such as physical objects (clothing, bedding, etc.) and digital information (security videos, cell phone records, text messages, etc.). Your cell phone might be needed temporarily, to gather information before returning the phone to you. You don’t have to hand over these items, but they might be important evidence. Victim services staff can help you make decisions that are best for you. The investigator will review the medical forensic exam report if one is available, including photographs of any injuries that may have been taken and are available, and they will run criminal history checks on parties related to the sexual assault. As the investigator learns more about the sexual assault as the investigation unfolds, you may be contacted for additional information or to clarify something learned during the ongoing investigation.
OPTIONS FOR STUDENTS
Additional options exist if you are a student or employee at a school, college or university that received federal funding, or if the person who did this to you is a student or employee, or if the incident happened on campus or at school. With our Guided Questions you can learn more about your rights under federal law and options for campus services and reporting.
Title IX civil rights law prohibits sexual discrimination in education and requires schools that receive federal funding to be proactive in prevention and responsive to sexual assault survivors.
There may be a range of services available to you on campus, including health care, counseling, a campus ombudsperson, and a student judicial system. You may choose to utilize the services that are available on campus, or in the community, or both.
If the person who did this to you is a student or employee, you have the option of reporting the incident to the judicial system at that college or university. If the incident took place on campus, it may fall under the jurisdiction of the university police department. If you decide to report the assault to law enforcement or a campus Title IX office, depending on the situation, the information may be discoverable, and thus, shared with the suspect’s lawyer and certain other administration officials.
If you are in the military, or you are a dependent of a military service member, there are services available to you, including health care, counseling, and victim services. You may utilize services inside the military system, outside the system, or both.
Department of Defense (DOD) policy gives service members two reporting options: a Restricted Report or an Unrestricted Report. The military also offers the Safe Help Line, as an anonymous and confidential resource. This can be used by service members as well as their dependents and can help you learn more about Unrestricted and Restricted Reporting options.
Military victims have several confidential resources where they can seek assistance, including the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Victim Advocate (SAPR VA), Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC), Victims Legal Counsel (VLC), Healthcare Personnel, or a Chaplain.
A Restricted Report allows you to obtain services within the military, without triggering an investigation. You can get medical care, a forensic medical exam, victim services, and counseling. However, there are some things you cannot get, like a military protective order or an expedited transfer, although a safety assessment will be conducted.
A Restricted Report is initiated through the completion of a DD Form 2901, and can only be taken by the following personnel: Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Victim Advocate (SAPR VA), Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC), or a Health Care Provider (who must immediately notify a SARC or SAPR VA to initiate the report).These personnel have strict confidentiality rules, so they are prohibited from sharing your information unless a specific exception applies.
In some states like California, healthcare professionals are mandated to report violent crimes, including sexual assault, even if there is no injury other than the sexual assault, and some medical facilities report as a matter of policy, not law. It is important to understand your healthcare professional’s mandated reporting requirements before disclosing information about your sexual assault to them. A mandated report by a health care professional can create a conflict with military policy allowing for restricted reporting for victims in the military.
You may also speak confidentially with a Chaplain or Special Victims’ Counsel (specially trained attorneys) about the sexual assault without triggering a report, command notification or an investigation. However, Chaplains and Special Victims Counsel are not authorized to accept Restricted Reports. Communications with Chaplains and Attorneys may be protected to the extent authorized by law. If you have any questions or concerns about whether your communications will be confidential, make sure to discuss them with your Chaplain or Special Victims’ Counsel.
If you tell anyone else about your sexual assault, it may result in an Unrestricted Report and an investigation.
Even with a Restricted Report, some non-identifiable personal information will be provided to the installation (base) commander. This includes your age, gender, grade, component, status, location, and the type of assault. It does not include your name or the identity of the offender. The purpose is to provide your installation commander with information about what is happening in the unit, to help create a safer environment for everyone. You can change a Restricted Report to an Unrestricted Report at any time, and an investigation will begin. However, once a report is Unrestricted, it can never go back to being Restricted.
An Unrestricted Report starts the investigative process, which is the only way to potentially prosecute an offender. It is also the only way for a victim to obtain a military protective order. You can make an Unrestricted Report through any standard reporting channel, including: a Commander, SAPR Victim Advocate (VA), Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC), Health Care Provider, Law Enforcement / Military Criminal Investigation Organization (MCIO).
You can file an Unrestricted report and simply not choose to participate in the investigation. In these situations, you may still be eligible for an expedited transfer from your assigned command or installation, or to a different location within your assigned command or installation.
Filing an unrestricted report also provides leadership with an opportunity to understand that you are going through a difficult time and that it may directly impact your job performance.
If the assault occurred off base, you can report it to a civilian law enforcement agency. However, the military might still find out about the investigation. For example, the civilian law enforcement agency or investigator may reach out to the military for assistance during their investigation. Please keep in mind that in some states, health care providers must report to law enforcement if they believe their patient was sexually assaulted. This report could be made to military police, which will then be Unrestricted. You can discuss these options confidentially with victim services staff in a civilian rape crisis center.
There are many steps a survivor must take on the road to moving forward. Some people find that connecting with victim services or police can help to give them a sense of control and start the healing process. But taking those first steps to speak up can be hard. That’s okay! We understand. By guiding you through a series of questions, we can help you gather information to figure out what options are right for you.