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Sexual Assault

When it happens
Sexual assault - it can happen to anyone, man or woman, at any age, at any time. It may be hard to think of yourself as a victim or survivor of sexual assault, but should it happen, you will want to know what to do and what to expect.

Fortunately there are many resources and services within the University and the Charlottesville community that can help a survivor of sexual assault, most notably www.virginia.edu/sexualviolence.  If you are that person, this site can begin to answer the many medical questions you might have. If you are a friend, relative, or someone who wants to be well-informed, it should provide you with information that can help you be more sensitive to the survivor's needs and concerns.  A SURVIVOR DOES NOT NEED TO FORMALLY REPORT THE INCIDENT TO SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION OR RECEIVE SUPPORT SERVICES FROM THE UNIVERSITY.

Medical issues

Why do I need medical help if I'm not hurt?
You may be in shock after a sexual assault and not be aware of any physical injuries. Internal injuries may not be apparent. Sexual assault may expose you to risk of pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections. Medical assistance will insure that you are tested and treated for these conditions.

If I choose to go to the emergency room, should I shower before going?
As uncomfortable as you may feel, don't wash yourself or your clothes. Valuable evidence would be destroyed. Do not douche, wipe yourself after urinating, smoke, eat, brush your teeth, comb your hair or put on make-up. Take an extra change of clothes with you to the hospital to wear home. The clothing you wore at the time of the assault will be kept.

I don't want to report the assault. Why should I bother with evidence collecting?
Collecting evidence gives you the option of pressing charges later. Reporting the crime may be the last thing on your mind right now but an avenue you may wish to pursue later. The physical evidence improves the possibility of conviction. Evidence is lost with time. Collecting evidence is best done within 12 to 18 hours after the assault, but can be collected up to 72 hours after the assault and some evidence even later.

What kind of evidence is collected, and how is it done?
A PERK (Physical Evidence Recovery Kit) is used to assist the examining clinician in the collection of evidence. Swabs will be taken from the vaginal and/or rectal areas and from your mouth. Samples of hair from your head and pubic area will be collected as well as material from under your fingernails. Procedures will be explained to you, step by step.

What about sexually transmitted infections?
Medication will be offered to you to protect against the risk of gonorrhea and chlamydia. It is very important to have medical follow-up through Student Health or another health care provider in order to have STI screening tests if needed.

I'm afraid I may be pregnant as a result of the sexual assault. How can I find out?
If you are at risk for pregnancy, options will be discussed with you. You may choose emergency contraception to prevent possible pregnancy, or you can have a pregnancy test done at the appropriate time interval.

How can I pay for the hospital exam and other related expenses?
There is no charge for evidence collection after an assault, sexually transmitted infection prevention, or emergency contraception. The Commonwealth of Virginia covers these charges. In some cases there may be additional charges related to your emergency room visit. The staff in the emergency room can explain any charges.

Emotional issues

Do I have to talk about the assault?
You will most likely find that you have changing emotional needs in the hours to months following the incident. At first you may feel numbness and shock; eventually strong feelings will surface, and you will have to deal with them in order for you to work through the experience.

Do I have to talk with a professional?
What is most important is that you find someone you feel you can trust and who respects all your needs. Family and friends often have their own personal reactions to the sexual assault; as much as they want to help you, they may not know how. Trained individuals, on the other hand, can be both understanding and objective. They can accept that you are likely to experience different emotional stages over time.

What are these "emotional stages"?
Following a sexual assault, you will probably wish to regain control in order to feel that your life is "back to normal." At the same time, you may feel very afraid of another assault and worry about your personal safety.  Feelings of fear, anger, confusion, guilt, or powerlessness are normal.

Usually these feelings subside, and you may think you have put it all behind you. Then months to years later, upsetting memories return, arousing such feelings as depression, guilt, loss and hopelessness. Your anger and wishes for revenge may surface.

You may be most aware that you are unable to relate intimately or feel that you can trust others. Hopefully, as you work through the meanings of the assault, a new understanding of yourself and others will emerge. This can bring about new hopefulness and energy in your life.

Will I ever have a healthy sex life again?
Yes, but at first you may not feel comfortable with any sexual activity. You may not trust your partner or feel personally dirty or "spoiled." Your sexual desires may diminish. You will find that, as the impact of the sexual assault is worked through, your sexual feelings and functioning will be less strained.

If I have been a victim of acquaintance or "date rape," will my experience be different from what you described?
You may have more problems with feeling guilty and blaming yourself, thinking that "It's all my fault" or "I asked for it." Others around you may also imply that you were "bad," making it hard for you to trust your own judgment in the future. Feeling betrayed by someone you know -- if only casually -- may prompt you to distrust other relationships. Again, this is a good reason for seeking help to deal with your feelings.

Getting help

The following can help you, or someone you know, in the event of a sexual assault:

  • Police: 911
  • Rescue Squad: 911
  • U.Va. Emergency Room: 924-2231
  • Student Health:
    - Gynecology Clinic: 924-2773
    - Counseling and Psycological Services: 924-5556
    - General Medicine: 924-5362
  • Office of the Dean of Students: 924-7133
  • U.Va. Women's Center: 982-2774
  • Rape Crime Hotline: 977-RAPE (977-7273)
  • Commonwealth's Attorney:
    - Albemarle County: 977-2897
    - Charlottesville: 971-3176
  • www.virginia.edu/sexualviolence