Information and Resources for Survivors of Sexual Assault
This article is offered as a public service. I have served as a workshop leader for The Rape Crisis Center and respect the dedicated people who spend countless hours providing the personal support and counselling that survivors can call upon. This article does not address the important role of civil suits to provide remedies and compensation for survivors. That topic is addressed in Survivors of Sexual Assault: A General Information Guide for Women, which you can find on The Consumer Law Page. This article is not copyrighted and may be re-published by anyone. Please give appropriate credit to the YWCA of the Mid-Peninsula, Palo Alto, CA and The Rape Crisis center.
Your Rights as a Survivor
As a survivor of a sexual assault, you have the following rights. If at any time you feel that your rights are being violated, you can call our Rape Crisis Hotline for more information or to ask the Rape Crisis Center to advocate on your behalf.
You have the right:
To be assured of strict confidentiality.
To be treated with dignity and respect, and in a way that does not take away your power and sense of control. You have the absolute right to determine your own needs and wants, and to decide how to meet those needs and wants.
To report or to not report the assault to the police.
To receive medical and mental health services whether or not the rape is reported to the police.
To be provided with all the information you request about your legal, medical, and mental health care options.
Law enforcement, medical, and legal personnel should:
Treat you without prejudice regarding race, age, class, occupation, sexual history and sexual orientation.
Consider your claim of sexual assault legitimate regardless of the assailant's relationship to you.
Consider you as credible as a victim of any other crime.
Ask only those questions that are relevant to your court case or medical treatment and refrain from asking questions about your prior sexual experiences.
Treat your reactions to the assault as normal and adaptive, not crazy or pathological.
Your Right to an Advocate
The California Penal Code (section 679.04) states that survivors of sexual assault have a right to have "advocates present at any evidentiary, medical, or physical examination or interview by law enforcement authorities or defense attorneys." In this case, "advocates" means a sexual assault victim counselor (from the Rape Crisis Center) and at least one other support person of your choosing. When you are at the police station, in court, or at the hospital, you can ask that these advocates be called for you.
Sexual Assault Facts
Sexual assault can happen to anyone of any age, at any time, in any place. Women, men, and children of all races, classes, backgrounds, shapes, and sizes are potential victims.
It is estimated that in about 80% of rapes that occur, the victim knows the rapist. Acquaintance rape, or date rape, as it is sometimes called, is still rape. It is a crime. Although survivors commonly feel some responsibility or guilt about their rape, it is important to remember that the responsibility for rape always lies with the attacker. What happened to you is not your fault.
Marital rape is a felony in the State of California. Forced sexual activity is against the law, regardless of the victim's relationship to the attacker.
Sexual assault, by a stranger or an acquaintance, is an act of aggression and/or violence which is motivated by anger and a desire to control and humiliate another person. It is not triggered by sexual passion.
Sex offenders can be of any age, race, class, gender, occupation, or sexual orientation; many sex offenders have a criminal record of previous sexual assaults.
There is no evidence that women who are raped behaved differently from women who are not. A woman's life situation or other circumstances may place her in a vulnerable position or a woman may act in ways that society views as "asking for it," but no one asks to be sexually assaulted. Men who rape report that they are most likely to rape when they are least likely to be caught, not because of any characteristic of the woman.
Rapists accomplish their crime by causing extreme fear in their victim, either by actual physical abuse or by threat of bodily harm. The rape survivor fears for her/his life. This fear can be so powerful that it effectively destroys the survivor's resistance and will.
If you had previous "rape fantasies", that does not mean you wished for or asked for a rape to happen to you; in your fantasy, you are in control, but in a real sexual assault, you are not.
There is no right or wrong way to interact with a rapist. Only you could have known what to do in that situation. If you are reading this brochure, you survived. Whatever you did to survive the assault was the right thing to do. Thinking about what you "should have done" will not change what has happened, and it won't make you feel better. The responsibility for the attack lies with the attacker. You did nothing wrong.
"No matter what outside messages you get, you're the only person who can tell yourself what you need to do is heal. Don't give up on yourself." - from "The Courage To Heal"
What Can You Do Now?
Take Care of Yourself.
Believe in yourself. Many survivors experience feelings of guilt, shame and self-blame after a sexual assault. It is important to remember that what happened to you is not your fault, even if you know the attacker, even if you were doing something you now consider to be foolish. No one deserves to be raped. No one asks to be sexually assaulted.
Tell someone. Rape is a very personal trauma, and many survivors are reluctant to tell anyone-even a trust friend-about what has happened to them. However, having support and help around you after a sexual assault may be the most important factor in your recovery. Try to think of someone you can trust to believe you and to be there for you. And remember that trained sexual assault counselors are available to you 24 hours a day over the hotline. Do not be afraid to ask others to help you meet your needs. Make a list of phone numbers to call when you are in crisis: friends, family, the Rape Crisis Hotline. Leave the list by your phone so you can find it easily.
Take time to recover. Be patient with yourself - recovery may be difficult and takes time. Take time to re-establish your sense of balance and security before resuming your normal schedule. Consider taking a few days off work or dropping some activities so that you have more time for rest and recuperation. Try using the coping skills that you have used to get through other tough times in your life. If they don't work anymore, try to establish some new ones-in other words, do whatever you can do to stay health and feel better. Make sure you are eating and sleeping enough to stay healthy.
Thinking about whether rape can happen again can be terrifying. Try to create a sense of safety in your life after the attack. If you need to have friends stay with you for a few days, don't be afraid to ask for their help. There are some ways to actively work toward keeping yourself safe in various situations. These are not things you "should have done", but things that may help you feel safer in the future.
I. Believe in your right to make decisions about what happens to your body.
2. Trust your own feelings and instincts. Listen to the "little voice" in your head that tells you when something isn't quite right.
3. Alcohol and drugs affect you. If you will be using these substances, do so in a setting where you know you are safe. Don't drink or use drugs in order to relax in an uncomfortable situation. Always stay sober enough to get yourself home.
4. When you are ready, take a self-defense class. Having the skills to defend yourself gives you power, and can make you feel more secure. Many survivors have found these classes to be a therapeutic way to release anger and feelings of fear. The Rape Crisis Center offers self-defense classes for adult and teenage women.
Decide Whether or Not to Report
Unfortunately, deciding whether or not to report a sexual assault crime to the police or other authorities is one of the first decisions you need to make. Reporting may be the last thing you want to think about in the hours after the assault, but it is important to know your options.
First of all, reporting or not reporting is a decision only you can make. If you are not sure what to think, it may help to talk to a crisis counselor on the hotline. They can explain the process in detail and support you while you work out a decision.
If you are considering reporting, be aware that the police and medical examiners can do their best investigative work in the first 72 hours after an assault occurs. If you haven't already, do not shower, bathe, or brush your teeth until you have been seen by a medical provider. If you want to change your clothes, take each item off and put it into a separate paper bag. Even if you have showered or changed your clothes or more than 72 hours has passed, you can still report the assault to the police.
A sexual assault counselor from the Rape Crisis Center can accompany you to the police station and the hospital if you so desire. You can ask the law enforcement officer or nurse examiner involved in your case to call us, or you can call us yourself by dialing the hotline. We will be there just for you - to support you and to make sure you are treated with respect and care.
Allow Yourself to React.
The emotional trauma caused by sexual assault nearly always outlasts the physical problems. Common reactions to sexual assault can include shock, confusion, fear, anxiety, feelings of powerlessness, depression, and/or anger.
Many survivors report having intense physical and emotional reactions following an attack. Some of them are listed below. You may have a different experience from other survivors; for example, some people visibly express how upset they are, and some people remain very calm and controlled. Each person's reaction is a valid response.
Physical reactions you may have:
I. sleep disturbances (nightmares, insomnia, fear of falling asleep)
II. eating pattern changes
III. physical soreness, especially gynecological pain (even after injuries are "healed")
IV. muscle tension, headaches, nausea
Emotional reactions you may have:
I. heightened fear, related or unrelated to the attack
II. mood swings, irritability
III. anxiety, confusion
IV. attempting to block thoughts or memories of the assault
V. feelings of powerlessness and dependence
VI. anger, hostility (towards rapist, the legal system, or friends and loved ones)
Explore your Support Network.
Try to use the friends and loved ones around you to get through the tough times you will have after the assault. Talking about the experience with someone you can trust can be very healing. Even if you don't feel ready to talk about the attack, it is okay to ask friends and family to spend time with you and be there for you. If you feel that you have no one to talk to, you cal always call the Rape Crisis Hotline (650-493-7273 or 408-245-3414) for confidential, anonymous counseling, support, and information. If your significant others want more information about how to help you or how to deal with their own feelings about what has happened, they too are welcome to call the Rape Crisis Hotline, or to use the counseling services described below. We also have publications aimed at helping significant others deal with this situation. They can obtain these publications by calling the hotline or the office.
Even after the initial shock has worn off and you have begun to regain control of your life, you may still be affected by the attack. You may experience feelings of isolation, guilt, shame, fear, and denial. You may have problems rebuilding your intimate or sexual relationships. You may experience disturbing flashbacks or other mental or physical symptoms. This is a normal pattern for survivors of sexual assault. This emotional aftermath is sometimes called Rape Trauma Syndrome.
A therapist or counselor trained in sexual assault treatment can help you move through your reactions to the rape, listen to your fears and anxieties, and offer you support as you regain strength and healing and put the pieces of your life back together.
The Rape Crisis Center offers individual counseling for you and your significant others in a confidential, safe setting. We also offer support groups for survivors of rape and for adults molested as children.
Occasionally, we also offer workshops for significant others. Our services are low-cost or free. For counseling information or to make an appointment, call our office at 650-494-0993.
The Rape Crisis Center can also provide referrals to private therapists, victim/witness assistance programs, and other relevant social agencies.
Sexual Assault and the Law.
If you are thinking about reporting your sexual assault, you may find you have questions about the law and legal processes. For more details, or to request an advocate to accompany you through the court process, call the Rape Crisis Hotline.
Rape is a serious crime. Under California law, rape is sexual intercourse accomplished under any of the following circumstances:
When it is accomplished against a person's will by means of force, violence, duress, menace, fear of immediate and unlawful bodily injury, or fear of future retaliation on that person or another person.
When a person is incapable of giving legal consent because of a mental disorder or developmental or physical disability.
When a person is prevented from resisting by any intoxicating or anesthetic substance, or any controlled substance, and the attacker knows this.
When a person is unconscious of the nature of the act (asleep, unconscious or otherwise unaware) and the attacker knows this.
When a person submits under the belief that the attacker is their spouse, and the attacker has used some method of concealment to induce that belief.
When the act is accomplished under the victim's will by threatening to use the authority of a public official to incarcerate, arrest, or deport the victim or another person, and there is reason to believe the threat.
All sexual activities accomplished against your will and meeting at least one of the above conditions, including vaginal or anal penetration with a penis, finger, or object, and oral sex, are against the law.
Any degree of penetration, however slight, is enough to complete the crime of rape. Whether the attacker ejaculated or not is irrelevant to the legal definition of rape. Resistance by the victim is not a requirement.
There are many situations in which people are pressured into having sex when they don't want to. Although some of these situations may not fit the legal definition of sexual assault, being pressured into having sex is harmful to your emotional health, and sometimes to your physical health. Please make use of the Rape Crisis Center resources even if you feel you cannot call your experience a rape or sexual assault.
Once a rape suspect has been identified by the survivor and the police feel that sufficient evidence exists to proceed, the case is taken to the District Attorney's office. The D.A. will determine whether the case could be successfully prosecuted in court. If the D.A. fees that there is a good chance of convicting the suspected rapist, then the case will be continued. Otherwise, the case will be dropped. Once you have reported a rape to the police, you are no longer in charge of the direction of your case. You can refuse to cooperate with the police or the D.A., but you cannot "drop the charges" against your attacker; you are considered a witness in the case.
RESOURCES FOR SURVIVORS AND THEIR SIGNIFICANT OTHERS
YWCA of the Mid-Peninsula Rape Crisis Center. The Rape Crisis Center, located at 4161 Alma Street in Palo Alto, offers the following services to survivors and their significant others:
24-Hour Rape Crisis Hotline: 650-493-7273 or 408-245-3414. Call anytime for confidential crisis counseling with a trained sexual assault victim counselor. Our counselors will listen and support you as you try to work through your crisis, make decisions, or plan your healing process. Our counselors can also give you detailed information about reporting to the police, and about hospital and legal procedures.
Accompaniment: Our counselor-advocates would be happy to accompany you to the police station, the hospital, or the court. Call the hotline or the office number.
Individual Counseling: Confidential, low-cost counseling with a trained sexual assault victim counselor.
Support Groups: Meet with other survivors to share your story, be empowered by others who have had an experience like yours, and create a support network.
Information and Referrals: Call the hotline or the office to ask any questions yo may have. Our sexual assault victim counselors can provide referrals for other social service agencies and private therapists and psychiatrists.
Lending Library/Publications: The Rape Crisis Center has a collection of resource, self-help and informational books and magazines, as well as brochures for survivors of rape, childhood molest, and their significant others. Under certain circumstances, materials can be loaned out.
San Jose YWCA Rape Crisis Center
24-Hour Hotline: 408-287-3000
San Mateo Rape Trauma Services
24-Hour Hotline: 650-692-7273
National Rape Crisis Hotline (RAINN)
Domestic Violence Shelters/Hotlines
Support Network for Battered Women Hotline: 650-940-7855
Next Door/Solutions to Domestic Violence Hotline: 408-279-2962
Asian Americans for Community Involvement Domestic Violence Hotline:
Child Abuse Reports: Child Protective Services in Santa Clara County
650-493-1186 (North County) 408-299-2071 (South/Central County)
National Child Abuse Reporting Hotline:
Santa Clara County Victim/Witness Assistance
Questions About the Legal System
Victims of Crime Resource Center Hotline: 1-800-VICTIMS