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.orgIt 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 SituationsPlanned 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.orgConsent cannot be given by individuals who are underage, intoxicated or incapacitated by drugs or alcohol, or asleep or unconscious.
Rights for Sexual Assault SurvivorsThe 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
Taking Legal Action Against Sexual AssaultPursuing 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.
ConfidentialityAny 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 LimitationsFrom 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 attorneyIf 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?