If you only know one thing about sexual assault – know this!

At one point or another, most of us will be affected by sexual assault in some way. Some will become momentary “victims” who move into becoming a “survivor” with the grace of time, love, and support. Others will have a friend, family member, or romantic partner who has been victimized – these people are known as “secondary survivors.” Many sexual assault crisis centers across the United States provide free counseling and advocacy services to primary survivors and some also provide services to these secondary survivors who have their own unique issues and needs separate from that of the primary survivor.

While this is all valuable information to support survivors and their loved ones in the weeks and months after an assault, there is one critical step that can save lives if taken within days after an attack – a rape examination.

The first time I experienced sexual assault, I was not aware of all the services provided to survivors and so I want to share them with you now. A rape examination is not just about collecting evidence of a crime. A rape examination also gets survivors access to healthcare that can prevent them from contracting an unwanted pregnancy as well as protection from a sexually-transmitted infection that could affect them for a lifetime. Survivors are given access to emergency contraception. Survivors are given antibiotics to prevent bacterial sexually-transmitted diseases. Survivors are given advice on when to get screened for viral STDs and how to get those screenings at no cost to them.

These medications are optional and survivors of sexual assault will not be pressured to take them. Any Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) has been specially trained to understand that the most important thing a person needs after sexual assault is help restoring their own sense of agency and control. Taking these medications is strictly at the discretion of the survivor. This medical care is provided at no cost to the survivor. Their health insurance company will not be billed for this care. For many young people, this is important because they may not be ready to tell their parents about what happened. For survivors facing economic challenges, it removes the barrier of accessing critical health care due to cost.

Survivors of sexual assault will be given the option of making a report to the police. Like the medication, this is not a mandatory part of the examination. In fact – nothing about the rape examination is mandatory. Survivors are free to take a break or stop the exam altogether if they feel they cannot complete the process.

Finally, survivors of sexual assault will also be connected with their local crisis center. This is important because many survivors (myself included) struggle alone in isolation for months or even years before finding the professional help they need to heal.

So to sum up, there are three key points to a rape examination that benefit a survivor:

  • Access to healthcare
  • The option of a police report
  • Connection with a crisis center

If you or someone you know is affected by sexual assault, you can access these services by going to an emergency room and make the request to see a “SANE” or a “SART.” The person at the registration desk should know what that means. Using this coded languages empowers survivors to ask for help without having to explain what happened to them just hours before. For these medical interventions to be effective, it is best to get to and ER as soon as possible after the assault. However, even if a day or two have passed, survivors can still have access to the medical care they both need and deserve.

You were a victim for a moment, but you become a survivor for a lifetime.

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