Sexual Assault Awareness Month: What you should know about seeking treatment

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

If you are a victim of sexual assault, remember it is NOT your fault. If you do not feel safe, call 911 immediately.

It’s extremely important to receive appropriate and timely medical care to start the healing process if you or someone you know is sexually assaulted. WVU Medicine sexual assault nurse examiner Emma Carver Mason, RN, discusses sexual assault and the process of seeking treatment.

Sexual assault is physical contact without consent.
The term sexual assault refers to any unwanted sexual contact. Sexual assault may include:

  • Unwelcome sexual touching
  • Being forced to perform oral sex or sexual intercourse
  • Forced penetration of the victim’s body, also known as rape
  • Attempted rape

Go to the Emergency Department for treatment.
If you’ve experienced a sexual assault, have someone you trust take you to the Emergency Department (ED). Do not shower, change your clothes, eat, or drink. This helps preserve any evidence that may be collected during a forensic exam. If you do change clothes, bring the clothes worn at the time of the assault with you to the ED. The time frame for evidence collection is 96 hours from the time of the assault. If it has been longer than 96 hours, we can provide counseling services and sexually transmitted infection treatment. Emergency contraception is only effective if taken within 72 hours after the assault.

You’re checked in, so now what?
Tell the triage nurse that you have been sexually assaulted. You do not need to give a detailed description of what happened. While you may feel embarrassed to tell the triage nurse about the sexual assault, it is imperative that he or she knows in order to prioritize your care while you’re in the ED.

The triage nurse may ask you if you would like to complete a sexual assault forensic exam (SAFE). This exam is only performed if the patient consents. It’s performed by a highly-trained registered nurse to collect and preserve any evidence from the assault. You have the right to decline this option. If you choose to complete the exam, you also have the right to decline any portion of the exam.

Once you’re in an exam room, the doctor will ask you again if you would like to have a forensic exam. It’s okay if you decide not to have an exam. You can still be treated for any sexually transmitted infections you may have encountered and discuss emergency contraception options. At WVU Medicine, it is our policy to provide advocate services to victims of sexual assault. An advocate from the Rape and Domestic Violence Information Center (RDVIC) will be contacted to provide you with information about their support services. These advocates are highly trained in helping victims of sexual assault navigate this traumatic incident from being seen in the ED through prosecution of the perpetrator.

Who finds out about this?
The only people who will know about the sexual assault are the people you choose to tell and the WVU Medicine care team treating you in the ED. There are two options when it comes to sexual assault forensic exams – a report and a non-report. A report means you would like a formal investigation to commence with the appropriate law enforcement agency. A non-report means that you would like to have the evidence collected but decline to have law enforcement investigate at this time. A non-report kit is mailed to the forensic crime lab at Marshall University and stored indefinitely. Even if you sign a form indicating that you do not wish to file criminal charges, you still have the right to file criminal charges at a later time.

If you are a WVU student, you have a third option for reporting the sexual assault. Students are encouraged to report sexual assault to the West Virginia University Title IX office. Students may report via a 24-hour anonymous hotline at 304-906-9930 or choose to disclose their identity if they would like to participate in an internal investigation. The Well WVU website contains more information pertaining to sexual assault victims who are WVU students. 

What happens next?
As with any medical evaluation, it’s important to follow the discharge instructions provided. Make sure you take any and all doses of medications prescribed appropriately. If you have a follow-up appointment, make sure to go. If no follow-up appointments were made, continue to communicate with you primary care physician about any health issues you might experience. Surviving a sexual assault is very difficult. Every patient heals differently. If you’re suffering from emotional trauma, it’s important to seek counseling to ensure healthy coping habits. WVU Medicine providers are available to help you through this traumatic experience and begin to heal.

If you have questions about seeking treatment for sexual assault, call 855-WVU-CARE or the 24/7 National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4653.