According to the United States Department of Justice, sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior (physical, verbal or visual) that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.
Each year, thousands of women, men and children face some type of sexual assault and, on average, only five percent report their experience and seek care. Survivors of sexual assault frequently have many questions about what to do, how to feel or what to think.
“You may be feeling afraid, confused, vulnerable and/or to blame,” Patti Kenyon, manager at Sarah’s Place, says. ”Please know that you are not alone and what happened was not your fault.”
Information in this article aims to help you know what resources and care options are available if you or someone you know has experienced a sexual assault.
Following a sexual assault, your safety is the most important thing. If you can:
• Go to a safe location away from the perpetrator. If you are in immediate danger or seriously injured, call 911.
• Reach out to a family member or friend you trust for support.
• If you want to reach out for help immediately after an assault, the National Sexual Assault hotline, 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), provides 24/7, confidential help for survivors and can connect you with a local resource.
If you have been physically assaulted or raped and think you might want to have forensic evidence collected, there are important steps you can take right away:
• Try your best to not change or wash yourself off; this may cause evidence or DNA of the perpetrator to be lost.
• Go to your nearest hospital emergency department (ED) as soon as possible. All EDs can provide medical assistance for survivors of sexual violence.
Some facilities, like Sarah’s Place* at Samaritan Albany General Hospital, have specially trained sexual assault nurse examiners (SANE) that can provide forensic tests and additional care and resources.
“The first thing we do at Sarah’s Place is ensure the survivor’s safety,” Kenyon says. “We want to provide a safe and secure environment for anyone needing immediate medical treatment from sexual trauma.”
When submitting a sexual assault forensic exam or visiting the emergency department, it is important to remember you are not required to make a decision about legal actions. The decision to report to law enforcement is entirely yours. If you decide to report, please contact your local law enforcement or inform the medical staff of your decision.
“There are many reasons why a person may decide to not initially report a sexual assault,” Kenyon said. “If you have questions or concerns about reporting, you’re not alone.”
The recovery process is different for everyone. It may take you or someone you know weeks, months and even years. Always remember that you are not alone and there are many resources and people here for you.
*Sarah’s Place opened at Samaritan Albany General Hospital in 2016 and is the first SANE center in Oregon to provide a setting where sexual assault nurse examiners can work with survivors in a secure, private facility. The center was designed with input from SANE specialists to include exam rooms, private shower accommodations and consultation rooms for patients and families. If you or someone you know would like more information about Sarah’s Place or receiving an exam, call 541-812-4420 or visit samhealth.org/SarahsPlace.