Note: The National Sexual Assault Hotline, 1-800-656-4673, is available 24 hours, 7 days a week.
Rape is any form of sexual activity that you don’t agree to. It can range from being touching to being forced into sex. Rape is a serious crime. It’s a crime even if you know the attacker. This could be a spouse, parent, other family member, friend, or coworker. It’s a crime even if you are drinking, taking or given drugs, or unconscious. It’s a crime regardless of what you are wearing or saying. It’s a crime even if you don’t fight back.
Anyone can be a victim of rape. This includes women, men, children, and elderly people. Rape does not make you bad or worthless. Rape is not your fault, and you didn’t cause it to happen. It is against the law. You have the right to report this crime to the police. You have the right to feel safe and be treated fairly.
Path to safety
If you were raped, the first thing you should do is get to a safe place. Try to escape the attacker if you can. The best place to go is a hospital, or call 911 to get an ambulance. You can call the police from the hospital. Do not bathe or change your clothes before you go to the hospital. Just get there as fast as you can.
At the hospital, the doctor will do an exam. They will check for injuries and collect evidence. Evidence consists of clothing fibers, hairs, saliva, semen, or blood. These can help identify the attacker. They also will be used in court as proof. Most hospitals use rape kits to collect and store evidence. A rape kit is made up of boxes, slides, and plastic bags.
The doctor also will do a blood test. All rape victims get tested for diseases and infections that spread through sexual contact. Women also get checked for pregnancy. It can take a few days or weeks for these test results to come back. If any of the tests are positive, your doctor will talk to you about next steps.
If you take birth control or have an intrauterine device (IUD), your chance of pregnancy is small. If you don’t, you may consider pregnancy prevention treatment. This consists of taking 2 estrogen pills right away and 2 more pills 12 hours later. This treatment reduces your risk of pregnancy by 60% to 90%. It can make you feel nauseous.
The risk of getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) from rape is about 5% to 10%. Your doctor can prescribe medicine to treat chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. You should start the hepatitis B vaccine, if you haven’t had it yet. You’ll get the first vaccination at the hospital, a second in 1 month, and a third in 6 months. The doctor also will talk to you about human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Your chance of getting HIV from rape is less than 1%. If you test positive for HIV, treatment will begin right away.
At some point during your hospital stay, the police will want to talk to you. They will ask about the rape to get details. Their goal is to protect you and arrest the assaulter.
Since rape is not your fault, it can’t be completely avoided. The best way to help prevent rape is to be educated and aware. The safety tips below may help you recognize and prevent rape.
- Take a class to learn self-defense.
- Carry items to signal danger, call for help, or hurt the assaulters. These could be a whistle, a personal alarm, or Mace or pepper spray.
- Keep your home doors and windows locked.
- Keep your car doors locked and your windows up. Try to park in a visible, public area. Check your surroundings when walking to and getting in your car.
- Stay in visible, public areas when walking or running outside. Exercise during the day and with a friend, if possible.
Be careful when you are out in public.
- Stay aware of your surroundings. Look around and listen. Know where the exits are.
- Keep your cell phone with you and make sure it’s charged.
- Stick to public places and go with people you know and trust.
- Do not leave a place with someone you don’t know or trust.
- Remove yourself from a situation if you become unsafe or uncomfortable.
- Voice your mind (say “no”) and your desire to leave.
Drinking and doing drugs can alter your state of mind. Avoid these factors to help reduce your risk. If someone tries to assault you, scream or call for help. Try to get to a place with people who can help you. Attack the assaulter back if you can. It’s okay to use self-defense and protect yourself.
Things to consider
If you see someone being assaulted or who is in trouble, call 911. As a witness, it is just as important for you to act. You also can help prevent rape.
Rape can have a huge effect on your life and emotions. You may be angry. You may be afraid, anxious, shocked, or guilty. About half of all rape victims say they become depressed after their attack. It’s important to talk to your doctor about how you’re feeling. What you’re going through is natural. Tell them about any physical, emotional, or sexual problems you’re having, even if you don’t think they’re related to rape.
Remember, rape is not normal or acceptable. Even if you grew up in a family or area where rape seemed common, it does not make it right. If you’ve been assaulted, you should go to the hospital and call the police. Also remember, rape is not the answer to a problem. If you have an addiction to sex or violence, talk to a doctor right away. It is okay to ask for help.
Your doctor can provide information for other support services. Local rape crisis groups and public health offices can help. You also may need a lawyer or social worker if your rape case goes to court. You can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline for support. It is available 24 hours, 7 days a week at 1-800-656-4673. If you are a government employee, you also can call 1-877-995-5247.
Questions to ask your doctor
- Is it considered rape if sex wasn’t involved?
- What if those close to me don’t believe I’ve been raped?
- What if there are no witnesses to my rape?
- What if I don’t remember being assaulted?
- Is it ever too late to report rape?
- What are the common feelings that rape victims experience?
- What are the reasons someone would assault or rape me?
- What are the common punishments for assaulters?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.