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Recent Sexual Assault: A Guide for Survivors

THIS RESOURCE PROVIDES INFORMATION AND ANSWERS SOME COMMON QUESTIONS ABOUT MEDICAL CARE & SUPPORT OPTIONS FOLLOWING A SEXUAL ASSAULT.

If you have come across this booklet after having experienced sexual assault, know that you are not alone. There are dedicated and caring people who are here to help and support you. Be kind and understanding to yourself. Know that the sexual assault was not your fault.

 

You are not alone. You are not responsible. You are not to blame. You are worthy. You are strong.

Things you should know

Seeking medical attention after a sexual assault can be intimidating and overwhelming. This guide answers some common questions and provides general information.

  • If you are in immediate danger or an emergency situation, call 911.
  • A healthcare facility in Newfoundland and Labrador is required to call the police if a patient has been sexually assaulted and is under the age of 18, is a vulnerable adult in need of protection, or if a patient has sustained a gunshot or stab wound . There may be other circumstances in which hospital staff are required to report to the police. Please contact your hospital’s emergency room for further information.
  • Depending on where you live in Newfoundland and Labrador, the process for seeking medical care for sexual assault may look different.

Getting Medical Attention

You always have a right to access medical attention, regardless of when an assault happens.

If you have experienced a sexual assault you may choose to see a health care professional to address medical concerns, injuries, or questions you have. There are several medical concerns you should be aware of including the possibility of physical injury, sexually transmitted infections, and pregnancy. Physical injuries may be internal or not visible immediately after an assault.

When seeking medical care, your informed consent is required. To make an informed decision there are a few things that should be explained to you. This includes the type of service being provided; the limits to confidentiality clearly outlined; explanation of risks/benefits of participating; explanation of risk/benefits of not participating; being told how patient/client information is recorded, and who can see it or access it.

Every decision is yours to make.

Common Feelings

There is no right or wrong way to feel after a sexual assault. There is a wide range of emotions and feelings you may experience. However you are feeling is valid.

Some common feelings may include anger, confusion, fear, guilt, self-blame, lack of trust, powerlessness, or hopelessness. You may feel calm or you may feel overwhelmed. You may feel confused or alert. You might feel numb. You might experience all of these things or none of these things. It is in no way an indicator of the degree of harm you experienced.

Absolutely nothing you did caused the assault. What happened to you is not your fault.

When a response is not helpful

If you decide you want to tell someone about the assault, how they respond can impact your healing and experience. We know that many survivors experience what is called ‘secondary wounding’. Secondary wounding is any response to a disclosure that blames, shames, or in any way harms the survivor. This response might make you feel like what happened was your fault or something you should be ashamed of – it’s not.

It does not matter what you were wearing, it does not matter if you were consuming drugs or alcohol, and it does not matter if you had an intimate relationship with the person who assaulted you. No one has the right to sexually assault you – ever.

You deserve to be listened to, believed, and supported.

Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner

Depending on where you live in the province, some hospitals may have a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Program. A sexual assault nurse examiner, or forensic nurse, is a registered nurse who is specially trained in performing comprehensive, objective assessments on patients who have been sexually assaulted.

Some hospitals in Newfoundland and Labrador may have staff who have received advanced training, or there may be staff with no advanced training. If this is the case, some hospitals may have the ability to transport you to the nearest hospital to be seen by a trained nurse.

St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital in St. John’s operates a SANE program through Eastern Health. It is available for people age 18 and over who have experienced a sexual assault. Even if you do not live in St. John’s, individuals from anywhere in the province can go to the St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital SANE site and be seen. Western Regional Memorial Hospital also has SANE trained nurses available.

When you arrive at the hospital you will be triaged for any emergency medical needs or traumatic injuries. You may be waiting at the hospital for some time, so you might want to bring a support person or comfort item(s).

St. Clare's Mercy Hospital

154 Lemarchant Rd,
St. John’S NL
A1C 5B8

Emergency Department: 709-777-5502
SANE Direct Line: 709-777-5865 (available during office hours)

Western Regional Memorial Hospital

1 Brookfield Avenue
Corner Brook, NL
A2H 6J7

Emergency Department: 709-784-5524

Volunteer Support

A volunteer from the NLSACPC can accompany you to the SANE Program at St. Clare’s Hospital 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can ask questions about the SANE program, request an accompaniment, and discuss your transportation or accessibility needs by connecting with an NLSACPC volunteer. You do not need to go through this process alone.

To connect with a volunteer, reach out to the NLSACPC Support & Information Line:

Sexual Assault Response & Advocacy (SARA) operates a 24-hour telephone response line offering support and information to people in Corner Brook and surrounding areas who have experienced sexual assault. Volunteers with SARA provide inclusive and essential services to local individuals aged 16 and up. Volunteers can provide accompaniment to the hospital and police station. The anticipated launch date of this program is February 2022.

SEXUAL ASSAULT EVIDENCE KIT (SAEK)

You may want to have a Sexual Assault Evidence Kit (SAEK) done. A SAEK is used by health care professionals to collect forensic evidence after a sexual assault. Not every hospital in Newfoundland and Labrador has a SAEK on site. However, a hospital should be able to obtain one from the nearest RCMP or RNC detachment.

If there is something you are unsure of or not comfortable with, you have the right to ask questions, take a break, or say no. The health care professional should explain every step along the way, pause or take a break when you need it, and answer any questions you may have. You may choose to have some parts of the exam completed but not others. You are in charge of which parts of the exam you consent to.

Evidence Collection

Forensic evidence collection may include different approaches to look for injury or collect specimens that could be used for evidence. How evidence is collected may also depend on what equipment is available at the hospital, and what level of training the health care professional has received.

Evidence collection may include collecting the clothes you were wearing during the assault, collecting debris and foreign material, taking photographs, swabs, blood and urine samples, etc. You may want to bring a change of clothes with you, in case the clothes you are wearing are collected for evidence.

The health care professional may ask if you are comfortable with the following exams: physical, pelvic, genital, or anal. You may choose to have one, some or none of these exams performed. If available, the health care professional may use a special light called an Alternate Light Source (ALS) that can look for bodily fluids or bruising.

Evidence is best collected within five days of an assault. You may be provided with medications to prevent pregnancy and common sexually transmitted infections (e.g., gonorrhea and chlamydia).

For evidence collection, it is recommended that you do not do any of the following:

  • Shower or bathe
  • Change or throw away your clothes
  • Eat or drink
  • Brush your teeth
  • Wash your hands
  • Comb your hair
  • Disturb the scene of the assault

However, it is ok if you have done any of these things – you didn’t do anything wrong. Many survivors often want to shower, change, and brush their teeth after an assault has occurred and it does not mean that an examination and evidence collection cannot take place.

Common questions

That depends. Some hospitals may have the ability to store SAEKs on site, while others will send the SAEK to the nearest RNC or RCMP detachment for storage.

The RCMP can store SAEKs indefinitely. However, the RCMP must attach a name to the SAEK in order to store it. You aren’t required to provide a statement, but the SAEK belongs to the police, and a file is now created.

In St. John’s, the RNC can store SAEKs indefinitely. Your kit is stored anonymously; a file number is attached to your kit, but none of your identifying information is given to the police.

No. There is no time limit on when you can report a sexual assault to the police. If you change your mind at a later date you can still report.

Absolutely. The Journey Project is available to anyone who has experienced sexual assault and is navigating a legal process or wondering about their legal options. This can absolutely include the SAEK process and any ongoing support you might need.

If you are supporting someone who experienced a recent sexual assault

Ensure the person you are supporting is safe and not in immediate danger or requiring emergency medical care.

Whether you are a friend, family member, or service provider who is supporting someone who has experienced sexual assault, there are tools and resources available to you. Our staff are available to answer any questions you may have, provide information and supportive resources.

If someone you know tells you they have been sexually assaulted, supportive responses may include:

  • Thank-you for telling me and trusting me with your story.
  • I’m here to listen and support you in any way I can.
  • I believe you; this was not your fault.
  • How can I support you in this moment?

How you respond may have a great impact on the person you are supporting. They have trusted you with their experience and story; it is a privilege to provide care and empathy. Take a deep breath, remain calm, and know that this person has trusted you for a reason.

Take care of yourself. 

If you are in need of immediate support, you can speak with a volunteer on the NLSACPC’s Support and Information Line at 1-800-726-2743

To reach a Legal Support Navigator at the Journey Project, Monday to Friday 9:00 am – 4:00 pm

TEL 1-709-722-2805
TOLL-FREE/VRS 1-833-722-2805
support@journeyprojectnl.com

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A SAEK is used to collect forensic evidence after a sexual assault. A healthcare professional may collect samples from anywhere on your body that the offender may have touched during the assault. Clothing and undergarments may be collected as evidence. SAEKs can be completed at many different points in time, however there is a greater chance of collecting physical evidence within 72 hours of the assault.