Sexual Assault and Rape

What are sexual assault and rape?

Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual contact. It can be verbal, visual, or physical. Rape is sexual intercourse done without consent. Rape is one kind of sexual assault.

Sexual assault and rape may be done by a stranger but may also be done by someone you know, as in the case of date rape or domestic violence.

All forms of sexual assault and rape are crimes. Sexual assault is a crime even if you were drinking, taking drugs, given drugs, or unconscious when it happened. Homosexual rape, incest, and other sex offenses are also sexual assault. Statutory rape is sex with someone who is not yet old enough to legally consent. An example of this is a 25-year-old man having sex with a 15 year-old girl.

What are the effects?

The effects of rape are physical, mental, and emotional.

Physical effects may include:

  • Injuries
  • Sexually transmitted diseases, such as herpes, gonorrhea, AIDS, and syphilis
  • Pregnancy

Mental and emotional effects may include:

  • Severe anxiety or fearfulness
  • Depression
  • Trouble concentrating or sleeping
  • Bad dreams
  • Flashbacks
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Emotional numbness or irritability

How is it treated?

If you have been sexually assaulted, call the police and then go to the hospital. You may need to be treated to prevent sexually transmitted infections. You should have an exam within a few hours of the assault (and before showering or bathing) even if you don’t want to press charges. To help provide evidence of the assault:

  • Do not bathe, comb your hair, or clean any part of your body. Don’t even brush your teeth.
  • Do not change clothes if possible.
  • Do not urinate before being examined if you think that you were given a date rape drug.
  • Do not touch or change anything at the scene of the assault.
  • Write down all the details you can about the attack and the attacker.

There may be a rape victim support service in your area. These services are usually available 24 hours a day. They will usually send someone to go with you to the police or emergency room and help you find counseling afterward.

Child victims need to be evaluated by a provider right away. It is best for the child to see a counselor trained to work with abused children. Children who are sexually assaulted need special counseling and care.

At the hospital you will be given a thorough exam, including a pelvic exam for women, to check for injuries. To collect evidence to use against the attacker, the healthcare provider will test your clothing and look for blood and strands of hair from the attacker. This evidence can be tested against body fluid or skin samples from suspects.

After your exam the healthcare provider may recommend that you:

  • Take antibiotics or other medicine for sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Seek professional crisis counseling.
  • Join a support group for rape victims.

Women may be offered medicines to prevent pregnancy.

You may be prescribed medicine to help with anxiety, depression, or trouble sleeping.

How can I take care of myself?

The physical effects of sexual assault can last from a day to a few months, depending on your injuries. Schedule follow-up visits so that your healthcare provider can make sure that your injuries are healing properly.

It may take much longer to recover from mental and emotional effects after sexual assault. Contact a hospital, social worker, or rape crisis center. Counseling can help you cope with feelings of guilt, helplessness, depression, or anxiety. You may benefit from a rape support group where you can share your feelings with others who have had a similar experience. Remember, if you were raped, it is not your fault.

Let friends and family members give you support. It is possible that friends and family may push you to “get over it” before you’re ready. It takes time, and that’s normal. There are family counseling programs to help them deal with their concerns.

What can be done to help prevent rape?

  • Avoid alleys and other places where there aren’t other people around.
  • Do not carry large, bulky bags or backpacks, or packages. They make it hard for you to keep your balance or move quickly.
  • Don’t wear high-heeled shoes and clogs that could slow you down if you have to get away quickly.
  • Keep your home and car locked and secured.
  • Be alert to strangers around you.
  • Choose your companions wisely.
  • Take a self-defense course.
  • Carry a loud whistle and use it to attract attention when in danger.
  • Carry a self-defense spray such as pepper spray if it is legal in your area.

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Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-08-01
Last reviewed: 2014-06-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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