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NYT: Supportive Steps After a Sexual Assault

Posted Dec 22 2011 8:00am
Do you know what to do if you or someone close to you becomes the victim of a sexual assault? A national survey released last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that sexual assaults are far more common than previously believed, with  nearly one woman in five reporting that she had been the victim  of  rape  or attempted rape. supportive step NYT: Supportive Steps After a Sexual Assault

Ideally, at a hospital emergency room where a specially trained team provides medical care and counseling, collects high-quality forensic evidence and supports often terrified victims who may or may not choose to pursue legal action.

Unless you already know the best place to go, call a rape crisis hot line, regardless of the nature of the assault and even if the attack occurred days or weeks earlier. according to Dr. Judith A. Linden, an emergency physician at Boston University School of Medicine, who have been sexually assaulted.

You can find the by contacting the National Sexual Assault Hotline at (800) 656-HOPE (4673), or online at , the Web site of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.

Throughout the United States, mainly in metropolitan areas, provides services that not only offer proper care of victims but also increase the “likelihood that charges are filed and successfully prosecuted,” Dr. Linden  wrote recently in The New England Journal of Medicine .

Her article was intended to help doctors who may not have received specialized training perform a proper examination that can minimize trauma for victims of sexual assault and increase the likelihood that perpetrators will be apprehended.

Whether the assailant was a stranger or, as occurs On average, Dr. Linden said in an interview, sexual predators commit seven offenses before they are caught and imprisoned.

Preserving Evidence

e, which can happen only if good forensic examinations are done and victims decide to file charges.

“Unfortunately, it can take two years for a case to move through the legal process,” said Rebecca Campbell, a psychologist at Michigan State University who studies sexual assault. During that time, victims may have to tell their stories over and over again, which can prevent them from putting the trauma behind them and getting on with their lives.

It is entirely up to the victim of a sexual assault whether to report it to the police, which can be done weeks or even months after the attack. Even if she thinks at the time that she wants only medical help and time to heal, she might change her mind later. Should that happen, the National Center for the Victims of Crime urges a course of action that

The center advises that before evidence collection by a trained professional,

But, Dr. Linden said, “there’s the ideal, and there’s reality.”

In one case, she said, even after a woman who was orally assaulted had vomited, brushed her teeth and drunk something, “good  DNA evidence  that led to the perpetrator was obtained by swabbing behind her ears.”

In another case, the doctor obtained DNA from a woman’s breast, where the attacker had licked her.

As soon as possible after an attack, the circumstances under which it occurred; the appearance, special odor or other characteristics of the assailant (like a limp or a lisp, evidence of intoxication or words spoken); and the nature of the attack and whether the assailant used a weapon or verbal threat.

, Dr. Linden said that injuries occur in fewer than half of attacks. A woman is unlikely to fight if the assailant has a weapon. Even with no weapon, “the risk of injury is greater if the victim fights back,” she said. “There’s no right answer.”

Help From an Advocate

Many emergency rooms now have whose job is “to protect a victim’s health and well-being and make sure her rights are respected,” Dr. Campbell said.

The advocate stays with the victim in the emergency room and, if needed, through the legal process. At each step, the advocate explains what is going to happen and why, what information is confidential and what is not, and which questions the victim does not have to answer.

If legal action is pursued, “the advocate may be able to intercede so the victim won’t have to repeat the same story 20 different times,” Dr. Campbell said.

The advocate must remain neutral, however, and support the victim’s decision whether to file a police report.

Advocates come from all walks of life. Some are college students; others never graduated from high school. Some are survivors of sexual assaults or know someone who was a victim. Others just want to do something good for their communities.

Among the latter is Samantha Reiser, a 22-year-old graduate of Harvard University now working as a paralegal in Manhattan. Ms. Reiser said she had taken a course in violence against women and spent a summer teaching in Namibia, where one of her students had been raped. Recognizing a need back home, she decided to become trained as a sexual assault advocate.

The 40-hour course at Bellevue Hospital includes firsthand information from a wide range of perspectives, including

Once she is certified, her commitment is to be on call a minimum of twice a month for a minimum of 18 months.

“It’s heavy stuff to deal with, but what I learn and do really matters to women, and everyone involved values what we’re doing,” Ms. Reiser said.

Anyone interested in becoming an advocate can contact the national hot line, (800) 656-HOPE (4673), or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center at (877) 739-3895 or [email protected] .

Via NYT: Supportive Steps After a Sexual Assault

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