If you are a sexual assault survivor, you deserve to have your voice heard. Sexual assault or abuse is traumatic, devastating, and wrong. You have rights and deserve justice. Unfortunately, myths, misconceptions, and challenges around the reporting process keep many survivors silent.
In this article, Phelan Petty’s injury lawyers clarify common issues and misconceptions surrounding sexual assault claims. Keep reading to learn more about how you can regain control and accountability.
Common Misconceptions About Sexual Abuse and Assault
While perceptions are shifting about sexual assault, many survivors struggle with stigma and sometimes get misguided advice. Do not let these myths about sexual assault and abuse keep you from sharing your story or seeking help.
Myth: People You Love and Trust Will Not Harm You
Unfortunately, according to RAINN, 80% of all abusers are intimate partners, family members, and friends. Others are trusted community members, like teachers, the clergy, and church employees. Even someone with whom you have had consensual sexual encounters can harm you.
When someone you know hurts you, it can make it even harder to recover and report what has happened to you. Rather than stay quiet, you should protect yourself and report the incident. You may be surprised to find that you have a strong network of emotional support that includes friends, family, counselors, law enforcement authorities, and attorneys.
Myth: You Are to Blame for the Assault
Survivors of assault are never to blame for what happens to them. Drug or alcohol use and your outfit never invite an assault. If you do not enthusiastically agree to the contact, it was assault.
Myth: No One Will Believe You
After an assault, you have the right to report what happened to you. You do not have to tolerate disrespect from medical professionals or others.
Most importantly, know your feelings are valid. Do not let anyone tell you should not feel what you are feeling, or that you should feel something else. Take everything one day at a time, and find a team of supportive medical and legal professionals that have your back.
After an Assault, Take Care of Yourself
Taking care of yourself is the best thing you can do for yourself after a traumatic incident. Immediately after an assault, that includes emergency medical care. While the last thing you may want is another stranger looking at or touching your body, getting examined is the best way to make sure that the physical effects of the assault are as limited as possible.
A doctor can help clean wounds, make sure you get antibiotics to avoid infection, and help address any issues caused by STIs or other sexually transferred conditions.
In the months after the assault, you should practice generous self-care. This does not have to mean bubble baths and pedicures. Sometimes self-care is going to therapy, spending time with loved ones, eating healthy, or saying “no” to activities that remind you of the assault. For many survivors, the road to recovery is long, and you are allowed to do what you need to do to be your best self. We recommend finding support in groups and networks for other survivors.
There Is a Difference Between a Personal Injury Claim and a Criminal Prosecution
After you have talked to the police and prosecutors, you may think that you have fully protected yourself and the community. Many survivors do not know that they may have two types of court cases against the assailant: civil and criminal. A criminal case is meant to punish the wrongdoer; if convicted, your abuser will face jail time and other penalties. A prosecutor will handle the criminal case, representing the Commonwealth of Virginia.
A civil case compensates you for the pain, suffering, and other damages you experienced. The government will not handle your civil claims. Instead, you need to consult with an injury lawyer who understands the unique needs and legal claims of sexual assault survivors.
It is important to note that while you have to prove your criminal case beyond a reasonable doubt, civil cases involve a less rigorous standard. Instead, you must provide enough evidence to convince a jury that you are more likely than not a survivor of assault. This more lenient burden of proof is sometimes referred to as a “preponderance of the evidence.”
At Phelan Petty, we know that civil lawsuits can help people recover from incredibly traumatic events in their lives. The process helps grant closure, and the financial compensation means survivors do not have to worry about the cost of their recovery.
Ways Survivors Can Take Control of Their Story and Get the Help They Need
Sometimes, survivors choose to file a civil suit to regain control of their life and retake their narrative. In this case, here is what you should do to give yourself the best chance possible:
File a Police Report
It can be tempting to retreat inward after a sexual assault. However, as difficult as it is to talk about, filing a formal police report is in your best interest. This process will initiate a criminal investigation and can help preserve valuable evidence that may otherwise be destroyed.
Go to the Doctor
Going to the doctor after an incident is one of the most important things you can do. Ideally, you should go within 24 hours, but physical evidence can be present in the body for up to 120 hours, or five days.
However, do not stop seeing the doctor once your physical wounds heal. If you are struggling with your mental health after an assault, talk to your doctors about your symptoms. They can help you find the care you need and document the severity of your injuries.
Preserve the Evidence
No matter how painful the reminders of your assault are, it is important to preserve any evidence you might have. Do not wash the clothes you were wearing or take a shower until a doctor examine you and you talk to the police. Take photos of any wounds and the scene of the event before cleaning your space.
If you know that someone witnessed the assault or its aftermath, collect their contact information.
Talk to an Empathetic Sexual Assault Lawyer
An experienced, empathetic sexual assault attorney can help you move forward filing a civil suit, collect and preserve your evidence, and help you focus on your recovery.
Phelan Petty: Fighting for Virginia Abuse Survivors
At Phelan Petty, we understand how challenging it is for survivors to not only come forward and share their stories, but to share them over and over again. That is why we fight to protect our clients, work to hold dangerous people accountable for their actions, and demand fair compensation for survivors’ injuries.
Our sexual assault lawyers will listen to your story, help you assess your situation, and present legal options that allow you to make the best choice for you and your future. If you want to talk to one of our empathetic attorneys, please do not hesitate to request your free case evaluation. You can contact us today by calling (804) 980-7100 or completing this brief form.
Perpetrators of sexual violence: Statistics. RAINN. Retrieved from https://www.rainn.org/statistics/perpetrators-sexual-violence
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.