What to Do if You're Raped

The American Academy of Family Physicians

What is rape?

Rape is any form of sexual activity that you don't agree to, ranging from touching to penetration. Rape is a crime even if you already know the person who attacked you -- if the person is a spouse, another family member, or a friend or someone you work with. It's a crime even if you didn't fight back. It's a crime even if you were drinking, taking drugs, given drugs or unconscious. Anyone can be raped -- men and women, children and elderly people.

What should I do if I've been raped?

If you're raped, you should first get to a safe place, away from your attacker. Then you should go to a hospital emergency room to be checked. You can call the police from the hospital. Don't bathe or change your clothes before you go to the hospital. Just get there as fast as you can.

What happens in the emergency room?

The doctor in the emergency room will examine your body for injuries and collect evidence. The attacker may have left behind pieces of evidence such as clothing fibers, hairs, saliva or semen that may help identify him. In most hospitals, a "rape kit" is used to help collect evidence. A rape kit is a standard kit with little boxes, microscope slides and plastic bags for collecting and storing evidence. Samples of evidence may be used in court.

Next, the doctor will need to do a blood test. Women will be checked for pregnancy and all rape victims are tested for diseases that can be passed through sex. Cultures of the cervix may be sent to a lab to check for disease, too. The results of these tests will come back in several days or a few weeks. It's important for you to see your own doctor in 1 or 2 weeks to review the results of these tests. If any of the tests are positive, you'll need to talk with your doctor about treatment.

What kind of treatment might I need?

The emergency room doctor can tell you about different treatments. If you take the birth control pill or have an intrauterine device (IUD), your chance of pregnancy is small. If you don't take the pill, you may consider pregnancy prevention treatment. Pregnancy prevention consists of taking 2 estrogen pills when you first get to the hospital and 2 more pills 12 hours later. This treatment reduces the risk of pregnancy by 60% to 90%. (The treatment may make you feel sick to your stomach.)

The risk of getting a sexually transmitted disease during a rape is about 5% to 10%. Your doctor can prescribe medicine for chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis when you first get to the hospital. If you haven't already been vaccinated for hepatitis B, you should get that vaccination when you first see the emergency room doctor. Then you'll get another vaccination in 1 month and a third in 6 months. The doctor will also tell you about human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. Your chance of getting HIV from a rape is less than 1%, but if you want preventive treatment, you can take 2 medicines-- zidovudine (brand name: Retrovir) and lamivudine (brand name: Epivir) -- for 4 weeks.

What else should I know?

Being raped can have a huge effect on your life. You may be upset, and you may feel disbelief, fear, anxiety and guilt. You may have an upset stomach or feel nervous. About half of all people who are raped say they are depressed the first year after the attack. It's important that you keep appointments with your doctor. Be sure to tell him or her about any physical, emotional or sexual problems you have during this time, even if you don't think they're related to the rape.

Where can I get more information?

Be sure to visit your doctor 1 or 2 weeks after the rape to review the results of the tests done in the emergency room. Your doctor will give you information and tell you more about other support services, too. Some of these services include hospital social workers, local rape crisis services, your local public health department and the state attorney general's office.

Remember, sexual assault is a terrible crime. But it's not your fault, and you didn't cause it to happen. Rape is against the law. You have the right to report this crime to the police, and you have the right to be treated fairly during the justice process.

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