Rape and Sexual Assault

  • Medical Author:
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

What do I do if someone I know or I have been sexually assaulted or raped?

The primary consideration for caring for victims of rape whom has been raped or otherwise sexually assaulted is to focus on the needs of the victim during this crisis. Any intervention tends to be more effective when sensitively administered in a timely way so that the survivor of a rape or other sexual assault will not have to be subjected to more questioning or other interactions than are necessary. The primary issues addressed include medical treatment of any injuries, collection of evidence, preventing unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, and providing psychosocial support. In addition to preventing the pain or other symptoms of injuries or a sexual transmitted disease, appropriate medical interventions include preventing the additional stress of unwanted pregnancy that can lead to potentially considering abortion. Psychosocially, it is important to reassure the victim of this trauma that their victimization is in no way their fault. This is true no matter how old they are, what they do for a living, or whether or not they have ever had a rape dream or fantasy. All that matters is that unwanted sexual contact was inflicted upon them. It is noteworthy that both male and female rape victims tend to prefer being evaluated by a woman.

The sooner a victim of rape or other sexual assault gets medical and mental-health assessment and treatment, the better their recovery from the trauma. Therefore, if you or someone you know has been sexually violated in any way, you should seek care from your nearest emergency room or rape crisis center as soon as possible. In either setting, victims of sexual assault or rape are medically and mentally assessed by a doctor or nurse examiner. The medical evaluation usually includes a full physical examination, including a pelvic exam. It also typically involves lab tests, including testing for sexually transmitted diseases. While a physical examination, particularly a pelvic examination, can be disturbing to you if you have been sexually assaulted or raped, trained professionals are usually able to help survivors feel more comfortable through reassurance and skilled assessment. Specifically, the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) has specially trained professionals in how to help victims of rape or sexual assault go through this process at their own pace and to participate in the attempted prosecution of the perpetrator if and when the victim feels he or she is able. In fact, survivors of such violence have been found to report their victimization to the authorities more often when provided with SANE-trained professionals.

As the number of times as well as the number of perpetrators of rape, sexual assault, and sexual abuse has a significant impact on the victim, examiners will usually inquire about whether the victim was raped, abused, or assaulted by their mother, father, sister, brother, or other family member. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is a federal statute that allows survivors of sexual victimization to receive a medical exam either free of charge or to be fully reimbursed for the assessment and does not require that the assault be reported to the police, charges be filed against the perpetrator, or other cooperation with the criminal justice system unless the victim so chooses. Therefore, cost or fears about reporting the crime should not deter a victim of rape or other sexual assault from getting care. In addition to attempting to provide a comprehensive response to rape and other sexual assault, the VAWA supports such a response to domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking by enhancing victim services and the criminal justice system's ability to hold sexual offenders accountable. In addition, knowing that rape shield laws prevent the identity of survivors of this trauma from being revealed may be some comfort to victims of rape or sexual assault.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/23/2015

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