Immediate Steps After a Sexual Assault
You Have Been Assaulted. What Do You Do?
After a sexual assault, victims often sense a loss of control. This is normal. Know that there are people on and off campus who will offer free, confidential support and can help you make the decisions that are right for you to take care of yourself. You may want to report the assault immediately to authorities. You may not. The decision is yours to make. If you choose to report the sexual assault, you don’t need to go through any of the procedures alone. A friend, relative, or rape crisis center counselor/advocate can accompany you and support you.
If, at any point during the medical or legal procedures, you don’t understand what is happening – ask. The nurse, doctor, police officer, Commonwealth’s Attorney, and rape crisis center advocate are available to explain things to you.
Remember that sexual assault and sexual violence are serious, inexcusable crimes. They are crimes that could happen to anyone. No matter what the circumstances were; the assault was not your fault.
Seeking Medical Care
Seeking medical care is important, regardless of whether you choose to report to the police. Medical attention will provide for physical exam, treatment and collection of any evidence of the assault. It is important to remember:
- Sexual assault can result in injury or illness that you may not immediately see or feel. It is important that you seek appropriate medical care promptly.
- Resist the urge to change clothes, bathe, douche, eat, drink or brush your teeth.
- Bring a change of clothes with you when you go to the emergency room. Your clothing will be kept as evidence.
- Do not go to the bathroom, if possible. This is so that physical evidence can be collected and preserved.
You do not need to decide at this time whether you want to pursue legal action but if you save the evidence, it offers you more options in the future when you are better able to decide. The Forensic Nurse staff at Lynchburg General Hospital are trained to collect and save this type of evidence for you, should you decide to use it in pursuing legal action in the future.
Lynchburg General Hospital is located just 6 miles from Liberty University’s campus. The Forensic Nurse Examiner there can address all issues including crisis counseling, injuries, STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection) testing and treatment, pregnancy and the gathering of physical evidence, as well as referrals for further care. The Forensic Nurse will provide information on your reporting options. All contact with Lynchburg General’s staff is confidential. Lynchburg General can be accessed in person or by phone at (434) 200-3000, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Liberty University’s Student Health Center on campus can also provide evaluation and treatment for injuries and STIs, as well as pregnancy testing. The Student Health Center does not collect evidence or preform Forensic exams.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis, gonorrhea, herpes simplex II and HIV can be transmitted during a sexual assault. You may not know that you have a sexually transmitted disease until several weeks or months after it has been transmitted.
If you are concerned about having a sexually transmitted disease, discuss this with the doctor. He or she can give you preventive medicine at the time of the exam. You should receive information on any medication given to you. Make sure you know the name, dosage, purpose and possible side effects of the drug.
Even if you receive preventive treatment, it is important to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases two weeks after the attack, and again in six weeks. The Virginia Department of Public Health supplies testing and treatment for sexually transmitted disease.
You can receive these services at:
There is a chance that pregnancy will result from a sexual assault. While the chances are lessened if you are using birth control, a test for pregnancy is recommended for all women of childbearing age who are sexually assaulted.
You may request a pregnancy test at the time of the exam. However, an accurate pregnancy test cannot be given until six weeks after your last period. A test at the time of the sexual assault will not show if you are pregnant from the assault.
Having a late period does not necessarily mean you are pregnant. Stress, tension and worry can cause you to have a late period; this happens to many sexual assault victims. Follow-up testing is the most reliable way to determine whether you are pregnant.
If you do not have a private physician, the hospital emergency room or sexual assault crisis center can refer you to a doctor or health clinic.
The hospital exam is designed for thorough and complete evidence collection. The entire evidence collection process will be done only with your consent. Any evidence found during this exam will strengthen the court case. Some physical evidence (such as the presence of sperm) can only be obtained during a medical exam within 72 hours of the attack.
Evidence may be collected even if you do not plan to report the attack to the police. If you decide, at a later date, that you would like to prosecute, this evidence will be available.
Evidence collection includes taking samples of substances from the vagina, rectum, and mouth; combings of head and pubic hair; and collecting material from beneath your fingernails. These samples will be used to detect the assailant’s sperm, hair and skin cells and can help to identify the attacker.
The clothes you were wearing also may be sent to the crime lab, and may be kept as evidence until your case is closed. Photographs may be taken of bruises, cuts and other injuries that occurred during the assault. The photographs may be kept as evidence until your case is closed.
Other Evidence Victims Should Preserve:
- Any clothing, sheets, or other materials (Items containing bodily fluids should be stored in cardboard boxes or paper bags.)
- Electronic exchanges (e.g., text messages, emails, and Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or other social media posts, to the extent that they can be captured or preserved)
- Photographs (including photographs stored on smartphones and other devices)
- Voicemail messages and other physical, documentary, and/or electronic data that might be helpful or relevant in an investigation
In Virginia, victims of rape or sexual assault have the right to seek evidence collection at no cost; and have the right to have evidence collected through a Physical Evidence Recovery Kit (PERK) without filing a police report. Costs associated with evidence collection may include:
- Emergency room physician fees
- Hospital and forensic examiner fees
- Testing for sexually transmitted infections and/or pregnancy
- Medications to prevent sexually transmitted infections and/or pregnancy
- Ambulance fees for the patient to be transported by ambulance to a medical facility for the forensic examination
- Follow-up medical forensic examinations
Healthcare providers should bill the SAFE Payment Program directly. Victims should only receive a bill if they decided not to have evidence collected, or they received care or treatment not included in the list above. For questions about billing or eligibility, please call 1-800-552-4007.
(Information from https://virginiavictimsfund.org/content/safe-payment-program 12/7/22)