Immediately after a sexual assault you may feel a wide range of emotions. You might be distraught or feel numb, second guess whether it really was a sexual assault, or blame yourself. You might also feel really powerless and afraid. The first thing to do is go somewhere you feel safe. Beginning to restore a sense of safety is important, and you need to know that you have the choice about if, when, and who you tell about the assault. If you decide not to report the assault to the police, you still may want to seek emotional support or medical follow-up. Most communities have sexual assault agencies or programs, many of which have crisis lines.
In London this service is provided by Sexual Assault Centre London. You can talk to someone 24 hours a day at 519-438-2272. Women and men can call this number at any time, if they need crisis intervention and emotional support from a recent sexual assault or childhood sexual abuse.
It’s important to know that it was not your fault. No one asks for, invites, or deserves to be sexually assaulted. It doesn’t matter what you wore, whether you’re in a relationship, if he bought you dinner, if you had sex before. Sexual assault of any kind is never ok.
Getting information and support will allow you to make informed decisions about your options. This can help with your emotional healing and empowerment.
Try to resist the urge to wash yourself or your clothes, until you have decided whether to seek medical help from a sexual assault centre, or to report what happened to the police. Even if you don’t want to report the assault to the police, you can still seek care from a forensic sexual assault centre, and they can store samples if you decide to report the crime in the future.
Some of your options include:
- Don’t report the assault. Don’t get medical attention This is your choice to make. However, you might want to think about the possibility of internal injuries, unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and HIV;
- Report the assault and have forensic evidence collected Collecting the sexual assault evidence kit (SAEK), and the process of reporting, is important for some people. However, this can be a lengthy process, especially at a time when you’re likely feeling very vulnerable;
- Receive medical attention without reporting Depending on the circumstances, receiving medical attention can be really important to prevent disease and treat injuries. On the one hand you don’t have to deal with the police procedures and interviews. On the other hand your abuser won’t be held accountable.;
- Receive medical attention without the sexual assault evidence kit and report the assault at a later date You don’t need to have forensic evidence collected to access a regional sexual assault centre and receive care and medical treatment to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. The downside of this is that if you decide to report later, the evidence will be lost and there may be less chance of conviction.
- Have the SAEK collected and have it stored for up to 6 months Most regional sexual assault centres that collect forensic evidence allow you to have the SAEK collected and have the kit stored for up to 6 months before reporting the crime. At any time during the 6 months you can decide to report the assault and release the kit to the police, or have the kit destroyed. This gives you time to think about whether to report or not.
Should you report?
You might feel embarrassed, ashamed, or worried that nobody will believe you. Or, you might think it was your fault. There is no right decision, just what’s right for you. For some people:
- Reporting can be empowering and help with emotional healing;
- Reporting can help to hold your abuser accountable for what he or she did, and help prevent it from happening to another person;
- Physical evidence can play an important role in a criminal trial.
When you call 911
Victims can report recent or historical sexual abuse by calling the police. Most police have officers who are specially trained in sexual assault, and you have the right to have someone of the same gender interview you if you are more comfortable that way. After interviewing you and any witnesses, police will investigate and work closely with the Crown Attorney, who is responsible for prosecuting crimes.
If the police and Crown Attorney think they have enough evidence to go forward, then the offender may be charged. It’s important to note that in many cases, even if you want charges to be laid, they may not be. Sexual assault cases are often very difficult to prove in court because there are usually no other witnesses. If the police or Crown don’t lay charges, it doesn’t mean that they don’t believe you. It may be that there isn’t enough physical evidence for a good chance at getting a conviction. In Canada, the majority of sexual assaults are never reported to the police. If you do report the assault to police, the details of the crime will be entered on a national violent crime database that helps police track sex offenders.
If the sexual assault happened within the last few days, the emergency call operator may encourage you to go to an emergency department or to a regional sexual assault centre to receive medical care and have forensic evidence collected, if you choose.
In the London area, this is:
Regional Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Treatment Centre
St. Joseph’s Healthcare London
Room B0-644 (Enter up the ramp through the Emergency Entrance)
268 Grosvenor Street
London, Ontario N6A 4V2
Program administration (Monday to Friday: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.) 519 646-6100 ext. 64224
After hours: 519 646-6100, press “0” and ask switchboard to page the nurse-on-call for sexual assault and domestic violence
Going to the Regional Centre provides support and options for survivors of violence. Forensic evidence collection (sexual assault evidence kit or SAEK) can be done anonymously, and held for several months at London Police Service while you decide if you want to involve police. There is no obligation on your part to involve the police. It’s your choice.
In addition to forensic evidence collection, the Centre also offers short-term counseling, as well as sexually transmitted infection testing, provision of prophylactic medication (i.e. Hepatitis B, HIV, Chlamydia, and Gonorrhea), treatment for the assault, physical and emotional support, and documentation of injuries. They can also refer victims to local organizations for ongoing support. Certain medications are time sensitive, so it’s important for you to be seen as soon as you are able.
You can choose to participate in all, some, or none, of the forensic evidence collection, testing or treatment. Women, men, and children, can all access the services of the Regional Centre anytime up to one year after the sexual assault.
However, if you want forensic evidence collected, it is time sensitive. Adults need to be seen within 7 days of the assault and children (0-11 years of age) need to be seen within 72 hours of the assault.
Victims must be medically cleared by a family or walk-in clinic doctor, emergency room physician, or nurse practitioner, before going to the Regional Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Treatment Centre:
- If under 72 hours from the time of assault;
- If the victim is under 12 years of age; or
- If there are any medical concerns.
In London, medical clearance can also be provided by Urgent Care Centres during regular hours.
You can change your mind about wanting police involvement at any time. The only exception is if the sexual assault took place within the context of a domestic violence situation. In that case, if there are reasonable grounds to believe that an assault has taken place, the police will lay charges.
In addition to the 24 hour crisis line, women who have experienced recent or historical childhood sexual abuse can access the services of Sexual Assault Centre London, including individual and group counselling (519-439-0844).
Male survivors of recent or historical childhood sexual abuse have access to a number of specialized services to help them deal with the abuse, including individual and group counselling, telephone and online counselling, and referrals to community organizations.
Survivors can call the Sexual Assault Centre of London 24/7 crisis line at 519-438-2272. Men can also call a multilingual line 24 hours a day for immediate crisis and referral services at 1-866-887-0015.
In London and Area, Daya Counselling (519- 434-0077) and Family Service Thames Valley (519-433-0183) both offer services to male survivors of recent or historical childhood sexual abuse.