What is sexual assault?
RAINN, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, defines sexual assault as sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of a victim. There are different types of sexual assault, some being: rape, incest, molestation, and domestic violence.
It can take days, weeks, months, or even years for a sexual assault survivor to process and realize that they were a victim of sexual assault. The aftermath of sexual assault can leave the victim feeling isolated, fearful and guilty.
Survivors of both stranger rape and acquaintance rape often blame themselves for behaving in a way that encouraged the perpetrator. It’s important to remember that the victim is never to blame for the actions of a perpetrator. rainn.org
It is imperative to make sure that a survivor receives immediate care and support.
Community Safety Network, a local Jackson organization, says people who have been sexually assaulted can take the following steps:
- Go to a safe location and call a friend or community resource to discuss options.
- Seek medical attention. Victim advocates can accompany the survivor during their hospital visit. As an adult, medical care does not require filing a police report. The visit may be fully covered by the government, depending on the state.
- The victim should not shower, bathe or douche. The only way to collect evidence of the assault, is to keep one’s physical state intact.
- If drugging is suspected, the victim should wait to urinate at the hospital or collect it in a clean container with a lid to take to the ER or police station. Also, the victim should share any concerns of possible drugging with ER personnel, so they can run appropriate tests.
- Survivors who decide to report the assault should call 911. A victim advocate may also be available to walk a victim through this process.
Understanding Consent in Sexual Assault Situations
Planned Parenthood says that consent is actively agreeing to be sexual with someone. The legal definitions of consent will vary depending on the state and circumstance of the assault.
Since consent is an ongoing conversation, it means that an individual can change their mind at any moment.
Consent is a voluntary, enthusiastic, and clear agreement between the participants to engage in specific sexual activity.
If clear, voluntary, coherent, and ongoing consent is not given by all participants, it’s sexual assault. There’s no room for ambiguity or assumptions when it comes to consent, and the rules don’t change for people who have engaged in sexual activity before. nomore.org
Consent cannot be given by individuals who are underage, intoxicated or incapacitated by drugs or alcohol, or asleep or unconscious.
Rights for Sexual Assault Survivors
The rights of a sexual assault survivor will also vary depending on the laws of the state where the crime took place. RAINN offers a database of state laws surrounding sexual assault on their website.
RAINN lists some of the typical laws that may apply to a sexual assault situation:
- Availability of a no cost forensic exam for the survivor
- Confidential access to victim advocates
- Time limits on certain legal actions, also known as Statute of Limitations
- Mandated reporting by an adult if the victim is a vulnerable person, which usually means the victim is a child or elder
- Confidential communication with service providers
- Financial compensation for harm done
A victim can also place a restraining or protective order against their abuser to prevent them from physically coming near them. This can reduce the immediate risk of the abuser assaulting the victim again.
Taking Legal Action Against Sexual Assault
Pursuing legal action after sexual assault will allow you to discuss your situation with an attorney and understand your options to pursue justice.
Victims may be intimidated to begin the search for an attorney. The content below will provide several factors to think about when considering taking legal action.
Any information you tell an attorney is privileged information. This means that any information a victim shares with an attorney is just between the two of you and no one else. In sexual assault cases, some victims may fear their assaulter finding out that they are seeking legal help. This confidentiality law, among others, has been put in place to help keep the victim safe.
Statute of Limitations
From the date a victim is assaulted, they have a specific time frame they can bring the case to Court. This amount of time is determined by the state where the assault took place and the victim’s age.
A victim may not be ready to go to an attorney immediately, but knowing how long they have to access legal rights is important.
What to look for in an attorney
If a victim, or a relative or friend of the victim, is looking for a lawyer to help with the situation. The first thing to do is to find out what identities the victim would prefer their attorney to have. This can include gender, age, race, etc. These traits can help the victim feel safe and supported throughout the legal process.
The local State Bar’s Office can provide a list of attorneys who practice within personal injury, and specially, sexual assault. Once you have a list of a few attorneys, you will want to call around to get a sense for who you would like to take your case and compare their rates. You can also look for reviews online to see if the firm and attorney come recommended.
Questions to ask the attorney when you’re figuring out who to go with:
- How many sexual assault claims have you worked on?
- What will working with you look like?
- What are the steps of this process?
- Do you have an estimated time of how long it can take?
Information to gather to help an attorney understand the situation
Before starting your search for an attorney, make sure you know the facts of your case.
Know the facts.
It may take time for a victim to process everything that has happened. To the best of your ability, know the date(s), time(s), name(s) of the perpetrator(s), as well as the location and details of the situation. This will help give the attorneys a brief overview of what happened.
Understand your goal.
Justice can look very different from victim to victim. Have an idea of what your desired outcome is. Are you seeking financial compensation for injuries and harm? Are you hoping to prevent the perpetrator from doing this again? If you’re not sure what you want, ask the attorneys you speak with what are your options? The legal process can be long
Save any evidence.
If a victim decides to pursue legal recourse, they will need evidence. Evidence is any type of documentation that can prove what you are saying is true. This can include text messages, photos, social media posts or anything similar. It’s crucial that a victim saves all of this information. Take screenshots of all evidence surrounding the assault time period and create a folder where you can save everything. Sometimes even an innocent text message can be used to disprove a lie. Don’t sell or get rid of any phones or computers that have evidence on them.
If a victim is not ready to seek legal representation themselves, there are other places to start seeking legal assistance.
Consider a victim’s advocate
Many communities have victim advocates for sexual assault cases. Typically, a victim’s advocate program has folks with special training in helping people with sexual assault. You can talk with an advocate, and they won’t go to law enforcement unless you give them permission. If you do decide to go to law enforcement, the advocate will know the detectives and can help you find the right one to work with. The advocate may be able to go with you and give you moral support. They are there to help you, and they will follow what you tell them. If you’re under 18, they may have special rules about what they’re required to report. If you’re worried about that, ask them upfront.
Filing a law enforcement report
Law enforcement’s job is to investigate and prosecute crime. They will act on what they learn from you. They will likely ask for medical records and to interview you and potentially the abuser, and any witnesses.
Support for Survivors
The National Sexual Assault 24/7 Hotline number is 1-800-656-4673.
Additional Resources for those who have been sexually assaulted in Wyoming and Idaho:
Community Safety Network (Jackson)
SAFE Project (Laramie)
Family Safety Network (Driggs)
Call me. My cell is (307) 217-8000, and my law firm number is (307) 200-9720. I get a ton of calls and can’t always pick up. But I hope I pick up when you call. Text me if that’s a better first step. You can talk to me even if you decide later not to proceed. That’s fine. No judgment.
I’ve helped people who were sexually assaulted achieve justice and helped prevent the offender from repeating assault. It is the best thing I’ve done as an attorney and as a human.