Seeking Medical Attention
It is highly recommended that you have a thorough medical examination as soon as possible after a sexual assault, even if you do not have any apparent injuries. You may be in shock, and you may have internal injuries of which you are not yet aware. You should also take this opportunity to discuss with a health care provider the risks of sexually transmitted infections ( STI's ) and pregnancy. Fast medical intervention provides you with some options that may improve your short and long-term physical health and wellbeing.
Clark University is fortunate to have an amazing Health Services Office located at 501 Park Avenue. If you are more comfortable seeking initial medical attention at Health Services during their posted hours, please do so. They can also be very helpful in deciding how best to proceed. All information about your visit will be kept confidential.
A medical examination is also critical to document and collect any physical evidence of the assault. Certain evidence will disappear as time passes, and for this reason, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.
The University Police can assist you with transportation to and from the hospital. If you are hurt or alone, please call “911” or campus police (x7575) to receive immediate medical attention.
It is important to remember that it is always YOUR decision about whether you will pursue the assault with the police and file a criminal complaint and/or file a report with the Dean of Students Office. Seeking medical attention is about YOUR health. A nurse or doctor will collect evidence in the event that you someday decide to press charges. Evidence – once collected – can be kept until you make a decision.
Please feel free to bring a loved one, friend, family member or rape crisis counselor with you to the hospital or Health Services. It is important to feel safe and to have someone who can provide support.
Sexual Assault Examinations
The doctor or Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) will most likely begin the exam by asking general health related questions. If you are female, you will be asked about your menstrual history and your current use of contraception. You may also be asked specific questions about the assault so that medical professionals can determine how best to help you. The information is not meant to be intrusive, but rather to help them conduct a thorough physical evaluation. For females, this usually means a pelvic exam. The doctor or SANE nurse will look for injuries or signs of force. If you have visible physical injuries (bruising, cuts, etc.) you may be asked to consent to having photographs taken. Photographing injuries may be uncomfortable, but it is important to preserve evidence that will disappear over time.
In addition to checking your body for injuries and treating those injuries as appropriate, the doctor or SANE nurse can collect other forms of evidence. Depending on the types of sexual contact that may have occurred, the examination may include taking samples from the vagina, rectum, and/or mouth to test for sperm cells and semen. Other evidence may be collected from under fingernails, on clothing and underwear, and from other areas of your body that may have come in contact with your assailant.
You may also be asked to take pregnancy and/or other tests to determine the presence of transmittable infections (blood and/or urine tests). These tests will determine what type of treatment you may need.
After the examination is completed, the doctor or SANE nurse will document the findings in a medical record. This written record can later be subpoenaed to assist in the legal process.
The Risk of STI's from a Sexual Assault
The risk of contracting an STI as a result of sexual assault depends on a number of factors, including the nature of sexual contact, the number of assailants, and whether the assailant(s) was/were infected with an STI at the time of the assault.
A number of STI's can be contracted during sexual contact, including hepatitis B, gonorrhea, herpes, chlamydia , syphilis, HPV (genital warts), and vaginitis . Immediate and effective treatment options are available for some of these infections.
Most medical providers will offer sexual assault victims two choices for addressing the risks of STI's . The victim may choose to reduce her/his risk of contracting an STI by taking preventative medication(s) immediately. This may or may not prove to be necessary. The victim may also elect to wait and see if s/he tests positive for an STI before taking medication. Whatever your decision, you should be reexamined and tested within a specific period of time to ensure that you have not contracted an STI. Discuss with your doctor or SANE nurse when you should be retested.
The probability of contracting HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) through sexual assault is very low. For the victim to be at risk, the assailant would have had to be infected with the virus. You should discuss with your doctor or SANE nurse ways to cope with the unlikely event of contracting HIV as a result of sexual assault and when to be tested.
A criminal court judge can often order a sexual assault suspect to be tested for HIV and other communicable diseases in order to inform the victim of those results. We suggest that you consult with a rape crisis center, law enforcement professional, or an attorney regarding how best to proceed.
The Risk of Pregnancy Resulting from a Sexual Assault
Your individual risk of becoming pregnant as a result of a sexual assault depends on many factors, including your menstrual cycle, your use of contraceptives, your fertility, the fertility of the assailant, and whether the assailant ejaculated in or around your vagina. A doctor or SANE nurse will help you evaluate your personal risk of pregnancy while at the hospital. They will also review your options.
If you are at risk for pregnancy, a medical care provider will detail the various options available to you. If you choose to seek immediate treatment (emergency contraception), please be aware that this option is most effective within the first 72 hours following the assault. Emergency contraception is not an abortifacient (i.e. it does not cause an abortion). Emergency contraception prevents pregnancy by stopping ovulation, fertilization, or implantation of a fertilized egg. It is safe and effective.
You may also decide to wait and see if you become pregnant. If you do become pregnant as a result of the assault, a health care provider can discuss your options with you at that time.
Some information taken from the University of Virginia's Handbook for Survivors (2004)