December 6, 2023 Dec 06, 2023 10 min read
In Canada, sexual assault is the only violent crime not in decline. Statistics for both Canada and the US estimate that at least 30% of all women over the age of 15 have been sexually assaulted, not including those who experience sexual abuse within their intimate partnerships. Needless to say, sexual assault and rape are extremely prevalent, and women are especially likely to be victimized.
If you’ve been sexually assaulted or raped, figuring out what to do in the immediate aftermath can feel completely overwhelming. The list below will provide you with definitive steps to ensure that your physical, mental, and emotional health are cared for during what can be an extremely painful and scary time. Above all, remember that what happened to you was not your fault, you’re not broken or damaged, and healing and recovery are possible.
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If you are in need of serious immediate medical attention, call 911 before tending to any of the other steps on this list.
As you follow the first five steps on this list, remember that acting fast is very important. Things like emergency contraception, evidence collection, and urgent medical care all need to happen within the first few days of an assault. Even though your body needs rest and time to process what you’ve been through, it’s important to prioritize your immediate medical needs first. Once those are addressed, have patience with yourself as you move through the rest of your healing process.
First, make sure you’re in a safe place where you’re not at risk of experiencing further harm. This could mean going home or to the house of a trusted friend. Everyone’s “safe place” will look a little different.
If you were assaulted in your home or don’t have anywhere safe to go, consider calling a shelter or crisis centre to inquire about temporary safe spaces. You can find crisis centres and shelters near you using the Go Thrive Go search tool.
Once you get somewhere safe, decide whether or not you’d like to call 911 to report your assault immediately. If not, that’s okay. You do not have to report your assault right away (or ever, if you don’t want to).
Reaching out for help can also look like calling a trusted friend or family member who can offer support. Having someone there with you while you navigate this process can help you feel more comfortable during a scary time. You can also try calling a rape crisis line for support if you’d rather not open up to the people in your life quite yet.
In the US, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673, or call the Assaulted Women’s Helpline at 1-866-863-0511 if you’re in Canada. Unfortunately, Canada does not have a national crisis line designed to serve people of all genders experiencing sexual abuse, but you can try looking up relevant services in your area. Using the Go Thrive Go search tool, you can find dozens of crisis lines serving people all across Canada.
Although you might not be in need of emergency medical care, you may still require medical assistance. Try to carefully assess your physical state and determine what type of medical care you might need. This could include needing emergency contraception if you fear you could become pregnant as a result of your assault.
You may also be interested in emergency medications such as Doxy-PEP (doxycycline post-exposure prophylaxis) which can help reduce the chances of contracting certain sexually transmitted infections (STIs) if taken within 72 hours of an assault or unprotected sex. To find a hospital, emergency room, or clinic near you, use the Go Thrive Go search tool or any other search engine.
After assessing your medical needs, get yourself to a hospital or clinic as soon as possible to receive care. Consider having a friend or trusted family member drive you there and back if possible.
Even if you don’t need medical assistance, going to the hospital is a necessary step if you want to have a rape kit exam. A rape kit, otherwise known as a sexual assault evidence kit, is a forensic evidence-collection kit administered during a sexual assault forensic exam. These exams are designed to collect critical DNA evidence that can be used to identify and/or prosecute sex crime perpetrators. In most cases, rape kit exams should be conducted within 72 hours of an assault (the sooner the better), and victims are generally not required to report their assault to have a rape kit done.
Unfortunately, not all hospitals administer rape kits, so you will need to do some research to find out where to go for this type of exam. You can learn more by reading our article “Where to Go for a Rape Kit Exam.”
Depending on the nature of your assault, taking emergency contraception might not be necessary. However, if you fear that you may become pregnant as a result of your assault, emergency contraception is an excellent way to prevent unwanted pregnancy.
In most places, emergency contraception is available at the hospital when you seek medical care as an assault victim. If not, you may be able to get a prescription from the doctor or purchase emergency contraception over the counter at your local pharmacy. Other places where emergency contraception may be available include crisis centres and Planned Parenthood clinics.
Other medications available at hospitals and clinics can help reduce the risk of contracting certain STIs, including HIV. These medications should be taken as soon after an assault as possible. You can speak to your medical care provider or pharmacist for more information.
After you’re done attending to your immediate medical needs, you’ll likely want to shower or bathe, wash your clothes, and spend some time taking care of yourself. During this time, you’ll probably be dealing with some complicated and difficult emotions, so it’s important to prioritize being as gentle and caring with yourself as possible. Give yourself time to rest and recover, spend time with people you love and trust, and do things that bring you comfort or joy.
If you don’t feel capable of experiencing comfort, joy, love, or trust in the wake of an assault, that’s okay, too. Meet yourself where you’re at and practice self compassion.
Although pursuing legal action against your perpetrator(s) is not required, some sexual assault victims will decide to report their experiences to the authorities. You can do this by calling 911 in the US and Canada or equivalent emergency numbers elsewhere. For information on other ways to report, check out our article “Where, When, and How to Report Rape or Sexual Assault.”
If you aren’t interested in pressing charges but fear your abuser may still pose a threat to you, consider filing for a protection order (commonly referred to as a “restraining order”). This process also happens through the court system, but criminal prosecution is not a requirement for a protection order to be granted. To pursue a protection order, you can either contact your local court system directly or reach out to a local advocacy organization for assistance with the process. To learn more about protection orders, check out our article “What is a Protection Order?”
As you move forward with your life, prioritize your healing. Experiences of assault and abuse can have severe impacts on our mental and emotional health, and many survivors find that forging a trusted relationship with a therapist can be a big help in the recovery process. Support groups are also available for sexual assault survivors, as well as many credible written resources, podcasts, and more.
Most importantly, remember to be patient with yourself as you move through your recovery process, as finding your “new normal” can sometimes feel like a long and confusing road. However, healing from sexual trauma is absolutely possible and you do not have to be defined by what has happened to you.
If you’d like to find a therapist to support you in your recovery journey, check out the following articles and guides through Go Thrive Go:
If you’ve been raped or sexually assaulted, addressing your immediate medical needs first should be your top priority. Throughout this process, having the help and support of trusted friends and family members can make a huge difference and help you feel less alone. Regardless of what steps you take after an assault, remember that you are not broken and that healing and recovery are possible.
If you’ve been raped or sexually assaulted, the most important thing to do is determine whether you need serious immediate medical attention. If so, call 911. Otherwise, get yourself somewhere safe where you can assess your other needs. Calling a trusted friend or family member can also be a great way to receive extra support as you navigate the immediate fallout of your experience. Even if you don’t need serious medical assistance, going to the hospital is still advisable, especially if you plan to pursue legal action against your perpetrator(s). At some hospitals, you can undergo a sexual assault forensic exam (rape kit exam), which is an important part of building a strong case. Hospitals can also
distribute emergency contraception and other relevant medications to sexual assault victims. Once your immediate medical needs have been met, focus on taking care of yourself in whatever ways feel best for you. Healing from sexual trauma can feel like a long and overwhelming process, but it is absolutely possible, especially with the help of a therapist or support group. Finally, some survivors may decide to report their assault to the authorities by calling 911 or filing for a protection order with the courts if they fear further harm.
Dana Anastasia (they/them) is an independent writer, editor, podcaster, and artist. With a degree in interdisciplinary sociology and a background in domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy, Dana brings a keen awareness of victim and survivor needs and experiences to their work. Learn more at www.danaanastasia.com.