Support for Sexual Assault
Deciding to seek help after sexual assault is really tough. Since victims have so many fears about it, there are often long delays in time from when the abuse occurred to when they tell. It is often days, weeks or even years before survivors tell what happened to them. Usually the delays are because a person holds one or many of the fears beliefs listed in cultures & myths. However, whilst sharing your abuse is terrifying, it can also be empowering. Shame thrives in silence, so by telling someone, survivors of sexual assault are no longer controlled by the myths and barriers listed above. Even when it is hard, telling helps victims regain power and control.
Where to Get Help
In many jurisdictions in Australia, sexual assault services are linked to hospitals. Hospitals have specially trained staff who are able to assist survivors of abuse. If you report to a hospital, the staff of the sexual assault service will be able to provide assistance for you relating to any medical concerns you have, in addition to talking you through options you have for forensic medical reports. Staff will also ask you if you would like to report the abuse to police and can assist you with this process.
Forensic medical testing has greatly improved in recent years, but generally speaking it is most beneficial to report within 72 hours of the assault. Hospital staff will encourage you not to shower, but if you already have, keep any clothing you have from the assault separate and don’t wash it as it might be needed for forensic evidence.
If you are an adult, Sexual Assault Service Staff will talk to you about the process of reporting to police but won’t push you to report if you do not want to. You can always change your mind later, but it is always best to report as soon as possible, as it can be harder to remember everything in detail the more time passes. Outside the 72 hour window of reporting, it is still possible to gather forensic evidence, even up to a week. There is no statute of limitations on reporting sexual violence.
If you are under the age of 18, the Sexual Assault Service Staff will talk to you about child protection services becoming involved if you are at immediate risk from any adults around you. This is because all Sexual Assault Services are mandated by law to report risk of harm to children and young people.
Sexual Assault Services are also very helpful when you want to ask questions or find out more information to help a friend. Many people contact services because something does not feel right, but they are not sure or do not have the words to say how they feel or what happened. If you are in doubt, please call as these services can help you with the next steps.
For a list of services that can help you, go to our services page here.
Supporting a Friend Who Has Been Sexually Assaulted
Over the years, survivors of sexual violence have told us that they tried a number of times to tell someone about their abuse in different ways. Usually they tried to tell someone they felt safe with.
If someone tells you that they have been sexually assaulted, it is really easy to respond in a way that does not harm them more. The best response is: “I am really sorry this happened to you, it is not your fault.”
Whenever we respond to someone with this message, we are letting them know that we believe them, and they are not to blame for being sexually assaulted. While it may seem simple, it is powerful and can make seeking help easier for the victim.
For more information on how to support a friend or family member who has been sexuality assaulted, check out our toolkit.