What to do after a sexual assault

Today, people are sexually assaulted at horrifyingly high rates, yet sexual assault is often swept under the rug and rarely discussed. This trend is slowly changing as international movements against sexual assault and harassment spread, but most people remain uneducated, especially about what to do following an assault.

What is sexual assault?

In Illinois, criminal sexual assault is defined as “an act of sexual penetration and: (1) uses force or threat of force; (2) knows that the victim is unable to understand the nature of the act or is unable to give knowing consent; (3) is a family member of the victim, and the victim is under 18 years of age; or (4) is 17 years of age or over and holds a position of trust, authority, or supervision in relation to the victim, and the victim is at least 13 years of age but under 18 years of age.”

If you are unsure about whether you’ve been assaulted, you can still seek out counseling or call a hotline for advice and support. However, police likely won’t get involved unless it fits the criminal assault criteria.   

If your offender attempted to assault you, you can still report the assault and seek counseling.

What should I do right after a sexual assault?

After a sexual assault, you should do whatever you’re most comfortable with. This may be going to the hospital, reporting the assault to the police, calling a sexual assault hotline, or anything else.

According to Adelaide Aime, executive director of the local organization Rape Advocacy, Counseling & Education Services (RACES), the post-assault process generally begins in the emergency room. There, you will be treated medically for any injuries and educated about sexually transmitted diseases. Most STDs won’t show up in tests yet. Doctors will discuss contraceptives with you; however, you don’t have to take them if you don’t want to.

If you’d like, you can have a sexual assault forensic exam, better known as a rape kit. This collects any DNA evidence left on you or your clothes. According to Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), DNA evidence increases the likelihood of your perpetrator being identified. If you already know who your perpetrator is, DNA evidence will further your case against them in court. It’s important to remember that bathing, cleaning your fingernails and urinating can erase DNA evidence; however, you are not obligated to submit to this exam, and if you want to clean yourself right afterwards, you can. If you want to remain anonymous, or you don’t want to report the assault to law enforcement, you can still receive the exam and have the evidence submitted.

Do I have to take legal action?

You don’t have to take any legal action against your perpetrator. According to Aime, the hospital must notify the police when you’re admitted after a sexual assault, but this is done anonymously. While you’re in the hospital, a police officer will interview you, but this will be short because there’s already a lot going on. A few days later, a detective will ask more in-depth questions.

There are several reasons why you may not want to report your assault. If you were doing something illegal, like underage drinking or drugs, when you were assaulted, you might be afraid that you’ll get in trouble. However, according to Aime, the police are generally unconcerned with these smaller crimes.

You may also worry that your perpetrator will come after you. This is a genuine concern. Many survivors are assaulted by people they know, such as bosses, coworkers, classmates, family members, and significant others. If you’re worried about coming in contact with the perpetrator, Aime suggests filing for a civil no contact order, which will legally require that person to stay away.

If the perpetrator is a family member, Aime recommends reporting the assault, despite the sensitivity of the situation. She says, “Sometimes I end up talking to [survivors] in the middle of the night on the hotline who were sexually abused as children or teens who didn’t report it and it still haunts them”.

When people are assaulted by their bosses, Aime says there are laws put in place to protect them, but, as the #MeToo movement has shown us, they’re not always effective. Many perpetrators take advantage of their position of power and remain unpunished.  

Aime says that survivors whose perpetrator is a classmate are typically protected by Title IX. Title IX is a federal civil rights laws that prevents discrimination in education on the basis of sex. In Davis v. Monroe, the supreme court ruled that sexual harassment that “is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively bars the victim’s access to an educational opportunity or benefit” is also prohibited under Title IX. Most sexual assault cases have fit that criterion.

According to Ms. Bandy, if you are sexually assaulted or harassed by another Uni student and you want to report it, you can tell any teacher you want, but the teachers designated for those reports are Dr. Majerus and Mr. Rayburn. If you tell a teacher, they must report it to the Title IX coordinator at the University of Illinois, and they will likely launch an investigation. If you don’t want to officially report it but still want counseling, both SSO counselors are required to report sexual assaults between Uni students. RACES and other resources offer confidential counseling.

What if I want to take legal action?

If you choose to report the assault, you can do so at the emergency room or later to the police department, either at the station or by calling the department’s direct line. According to RAINN, many police departments have specially trained Sexual Assault Response Teams to organize and help carry out the investigation.

You don’t have to decide whether you will proceed legally right away. According to Aime, law enforcement will give you time to consider your options. However, there is a limit to how long you can wait before reporting. According to the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault (ICASA), if you’re an adult, you must report the assault to law enforcement within three years of the offense and have a prosecutor file formal charges within ten years.

If you were a minor when the assault occurred, you can wait twenty years after you turn eighteen to report to law enforcement. The statute of limitations may also differ depending on whether or not the offender was a family member. A more detailed statute of limitations chart concerning sex crimes against minors in Illinois can be found on the ICASA website.

Your state may also choose to not proceed with your case due to lack of evidence. This is extremely common among sexual assault cases. If this happens, you still may be able to receive monetary compensation by filing a civil suit.

What support can I have?

It’s important to remember that you don’t have to go through any part of this process alone. When you first report the assault or go to the hospital, you can bring a friend or family member for support. RACES offers trained advocates to counsel you and whoever is with you at the hospital.

RACES also offers counseling for you and, aside from the offender, anyone else affected by your assault. They provide services to people of all genders, including men, non-binary, and transgender people. If you’re a minor over thirteen, they offer eight free counseling sessions before they have to notify your parents.

There are also several hotlines you can call for counseling, information, and advice. The RACES hotline is (217)-384-4444. RAINN’s hotline is 800-656-4673, and they will connect you with a trained sexual assault service provider in your area.

If you choose to proceed legally, RACES offers trained people to accompany you to court and support you through the process.

More information is available at www.rainn.org, www.nsvrc.org, www.cu-races.org, and at https://oiir.illinois.edu/womens-center.