what to do if…
You have been sexually assaulted.
First Things First…
Sexual assault and sexual abuse are serious, violent crimes. These are crimes that could happen to anyone. No matter what the circumstances were; it was not your fault. Your safety is very important. If you are not in a safe place, call 911.
If you have been sexually assaulted, you may feel alone and confused. You can find support, assistance, and information from a rape crisis center.
Rape Crisis Centers provide the following services for survivors of sexual assault and abuse:
• 24-hour Support Line
• 24-hour Medical & Police Advocacy
• Legal Advocacy
These services are confidential and at ZCenter, we provide these services for free.
These services can help clarify information and explore the feelings that may surface after the assault or abuse. If you choose to report the sexual assault, you do not need to go through any of the procedures alone. A friend, relative or rape crisis center counselor/advocate can accompany you and give you support. If, at any point during the medical or legal procedures, you do not understand what is happening, you have the right to ask questions. The nurse, doctor, police officer, State’s Attorney, and rape crisis center advocate are available to explain things to you.
Remember, you do not have to go through this alone. You can always reach out through our 24/7 support line at 847-872-7799. We are here to support you and provide information on the resources available to you in the community.
You have decided to go to the hospital following a sexual assault.
Seeking medical care is important, regardless of whether you choose to report to the police. Medical attention can provide you with any or all of the following: physical exam, treatment, and collection of any evidence of the assault.
The Emergency Room Exam
A local hospital emergency room can provide immediate medical attention. The emergency room responds to both the physical trauma of the assault and the process of collecting evidence if you wish to report to law enforcement. The nurse will explain the exam procedures to you and will be present throughout the exam. It is not required that guardians be present with individuals who are 13-17 years of age. In the emergency room, individuals thirteen years of age and older seeking care for sexual assault or sexual abuse have the rights to consent to evidence collection, releasing the evidence collection kit to law enforcement, and medication. You also have the right to have a rape crisis advocate with you throughout your time in the emergency room. If an advocate is not present, you can ask the nurse to call for an advocate.
After a sexual assault, the primary medical concerns are physical health, sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy. At the time of the examination, testing can also be done to collect evidence that can be used to prosecute the person who assaulted you if you are considering reporting to law enforcement.
The hospital exam is designed for thorough and complete evidence collection. Evidence collection will be done only with your consent. Any evidence found during this exam can strengthen the court case. The Sexual Assault Evidence Kit can be done within seven days of the most recent incident of assault or abuse.
If you are unsure about reporting to the police, evidence can still be collected. You will have two weeks from the date evidence was collected to choose to release the kit to law enforcement. Hospitals in Illinois are required to notify the local police department that treatment has been given to a sexual assault victim, but you are not required to talk with the police.
The Sexual Assault Survivor’s Emergency Treatment Act will cover all emergency room costs. The hospital should not bill you for the treatment. Instead, they will be reimbursed by the Illinois Department of Public Aid.
Under the Illinois Crime Victim’s Compensation Act (CVCA), victims of violent crimes can be reimbursed for out-of-pocket medical expenses, loss of earnings, psychological counseling and loss of support income due to the crime.
You have decided to report a sexual assault to law enforcement.
Criminal Justice Procedures
Sexual assault and sexual abuse are violent crimes. Like all other violent crimes, it is the responsibility of the state to prosecute the offender on your behalf. Seeking police assistance and court action may involve you in a long, complex process, but your determination can reduce the chance that you or other people will be assaulted in the future by the same person.
When you are discussing the attack with the police, detective or State’s Attorney, you have the right to ask questions about any words or procedures that are unclear to you. You may want to take notes and write down the names and phone numbers of those you are working with. It is okay to call them if you have further questions.
Reporting To Police
In the initial report, the officer who answers your call will want a brief summary of the crime, including when and where it happened. A description of the assailant may be dispatched to patrol officers.
The sooner you report to police, the more likely the case will move forward. Reporting does not mean you are committed to participating in a prosecution. Without your participation it can be more difficult for a State’s Attorney to prosecute your case.
The detective assigned to your case will conduct an in-depth interview in private with you. Since this is one of the most important phases of the investigation, it will be detailed and thorough. Remember, you have the right to ask for a break at any time.
If you have bruises or other signs of attack that were not visible at the hospital, photographs may be taken at the police station. You also may be asked to write a report. This will include your description of the assault and what happened before and after the assault.
The place where the incident took place may be searched and examined for fingerprints, stains, weapons and other evidence. Do not touch or remove anything from the scene of the crime until this is done. Your fingerprints will be taken at the police station to distinguish them from other prints found at the scene of the crime.
If the assailant was not known to you, you may be asked to look at photographs of sex offenders. You may also be asked to work on a composite sketch with the police artist.
The investigator will be trying to apprehend the suspect. If an arrest is made and the suspect was not personally known to you, you may be asked to view a line-up. You will be asked to identify the attacker from a group of five or six people. They will not be able to see you during the line-up.
Whenever sexual assault or sexual abuse is committed, the State of Illinois considers the crime an act against all the people of the state. Therefore, criminal cases are tried by the State’s Attorney’s office instead of private lawyers. You do not have to pay a fee for the assistance of the State’s Attorney. You are considered a witness to the crime.
You may need to sign a complaint at the State’s Attorney’s office, usually located at your county court building. The police report will be sent to the State’s Attorney’s office along with the medical report. If the State’s Attorney’s office decides there is enough evidence, the case will be sent to an Assistant State’s Attorney. In Lake County, after you talk to the police, the case will go to the Felony Review Unit in the State’s Attorney’s office to determine if your case will go to Felony Court.
The Assistant State’s Attorney will interview you concerning the case, asking some of the same questions asked by the detective. He or she will also explain the trial process and what you may be able to expect if the case goes to trial.
If any representative of the defendant contacts you, call the Assistant State’s Attorney who is handling your case. You are not required to talk to the defense attorney if he or she calls you.
It is possible that the prosecutor or the Felony Review Unit will decide not to file charges. This may mean the prosecutors or Felony Review Unit do not believe there is enough evidence for the case to go through the court system successfully. Sexual assault cases are difficult to prove in court. If a sexual assault or sexual abuse charge is not filed, you should be given a reason by the State’s Attorney. Likewise, if you disagree with the Felony Review Unit decision, you have the right to ask to speak with a supervisor for case reconsideration.
It is possible for you to sue for damages that are a result of a sexual assault. You can sue regardless of whether a criminal prosecution occurred or if the defendant was found not guilty. To initiate a civil suit, you must hire a private attorney. The attorney may be paid a percentage of a successful award.
Sexual assault is a trauma, and everyone handles trauma in different ways. The emotional reaction to sexual assault is complex and often confusing. Remember that your feelings and experiences are not unusual. You are not alone.
The trauma may disrupt your life for a while. Sleeping and eating patterns may change. You may experience dramatic mood swings, find yourself becoming irritable and short-tempered, or have difficulty making decisions. Crying spells can be another response to the trauma, along with feeling numb and overwhelmed.
Talking with someone who understands can help you sort out the emotional aftermath of a sexual assault. A rape crisis center counselor can support you. Counseling from rape crisis centers is confidential and at ZCenter, our services are offered free of charge. Coping with sexual assault and abuse can be very difficult— and we are here to support you throughout your journey of healing.
You don’t remember the abuse/assault.
It can feel confusing and disorienting if you are unable to remember exactly what happened during trauma. Some survivors will remember a detailed description of what happened, and many others might not be able to remember anything. This does not mean that your story is not true, or that an assault did not occur. Memories might come back to you in the form of flashbacks or nightmares. Our 24/7 support line is always here to listen if you need to talk through these difficult moments, and our counselors have experience working with survivors who experience memory loss after an assault.
You are supporting an adult who has been assaulted.
Remember that the two most important things you can do for a survivor are believe them and remind them that what happened was not their fault. As a supporter, you may feel an urge to make decisions for the survivor with the intention of ‘helping.’ For example, you may feel the need to bring the survivor to the hospital, contact the police, or even schedule counseling. These instincts are completely normal and well-meaning. However, it is important for a survivor to make their own decisions at this difficult time. Sexual violence is a crime of power and control. To be supportive of a survivor try your best to give back that power and control by providing them with options of what they can do, and ultimately letting them choose which path to take.
Do not forget to take care of yourself. Supporting a friend or loved one who has survived sexual violence takes energy. Additionally, feeling overwhelmed or having your loved one choose a different path than you may prefer can also be challenging. Remember that you cannot help anyone unless you are feeling grounded and supported yourself. Take time to process your own emotions surrounding the assault/abuse and feel free to reach out to our support line or counseling services for help and guidance.
You suspect a child has been sexually assaulted.
Talk to the child
If you suspect a child has been sexually abused, talk to the child. It is important to create a safe, non-judgmental space when approaching the child. This may result in a higher likelihood of the child opening up. Remember to use a non-threatening tone, ask open-ended questions and use the language that the child uses. It is also important to reassure the child they are not in trouble and to be patient during this conversation. Many times perpetrators use a great amount of threats against the child to keep them from disclosing.
If a child in your life does disclose, there are three key actions to keep in mind:
Believe. Validate. Empower.
Say that words, “I believe you”. One incredibly important factor that is within your ability to control – that is also critical to your traumatized child – is to share that you believe the child. Try to be mindful of your body language and facial expressions, but allow yourself to be human. Keep in mind that you too have support - there are trained professionals that can support you, your child and family throughout the next steps. One very important thing you can do in this moment is to believe your child.
Disclosing sexual abuse can be a scary thing for many child survivors to attempt. We now know that the vast majority of perpetrators are known, not only by the child, but also by the child’s caregivers. As such, well-meaning caregivers and loved ones can be caught off guard when hearing that somebody they know and thought they could trust has hurt their child. Validate your child’s feelings by telling them “You did the right thing by telling me,” and, “I am so sorry this has happened. It is not your fault.”
Another thing that can be important to do is empower the child. Ask the child, “How can I help you right now?”; “What do you need?” With sexual abuse, as with all forms of abuse, power and control has been taken away from the survivor. Therefore by asking these questions you can give the child more power and more control back in the wake of their trauma. The smallest choices really make the biggest difference.
Hearing a disclosure from a child in your life is an emotionally overwhelming experience. Remember that you are not alone, and that you too deserve and can receive support. Remember also that you have the capacity to provide relationship, compassion, and support – which are all critically important to the child’s healing at this time. In order to be all that you can for the child, be sure to take care of your own emotional needs. While the child’s healing journey may be long and difficult to imagine, it begins with feeling believed and cared about, and you have the opportunity to provide this support starting today.
Report the Abuse
Reporting a crime like sexual abuse can be emotionally tolling. Keep in mind that by doing this, you are showing that child that you are not just listening but you hear them- you are protecting a child. If you have any suspicion that a child is being sexually abused, report this to The Illinois Child Abuse Hotline at 800-25-ABUSE (22873). For deaf and speech-impaired communication over the telephone, dial Illinois Relay at 711. You also have the option to contact the local police department. Remember it is not your job to decide whether abuse has occurred or not but rather to keep children safe and report any suspicions. When a child discloses regarding sexual abuse, they need a supportive, caring response in order to reestablish their trust in adults.
What to do as a parent of someone who has been sexually assaulted/abused?
The survivor is not the only one who is affected by sexual violence. It is very common to be extremely overwhelmed when someone you care about has gone through something traumatic. The most important thing is to support the survivor no matter what. Reassure them that what happened to them was not their fault, and that you believe them. In addition to supporting their bravery for disclosing, it is also important to support them in the decisions they make moving forward. These decisions may include whether or not to press charges, whether to report the attack, etc. It is okay if you do not know what to say; unconditional love and listening can go a long way.
In addition to this, it is very important to take care of yourself. It can be helpful to recognize the shock you may also be experiencing. It may be helpful to seek professional support, to help yourself, while also maintaining the privacy of your child or loved one. It is important to develop your own support system and practice self-care. Helping yourself allows you to better support the survivor.
How old do I have to be to receive services?
At Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center, we proudly serve survivors of all ages. In addition, if you are over the age of twelve, we are able to provide 5 crisis counseling sessions without parental consent. From our support line to our advocacy and counseling services, survivors can find the type of support that fits best for them at ZCenter, at no cost at all.
What are some common symptoms for a survivor of sexual assault or abuse?
Everyone experiences trauma differently and no two experiences are the same. However, there are some common reactions and emotions survivors may feel. Common symptoms may include: self-blame, lowered self-esteem, sleep irregularity, increased use of alcohol and other drugs, fear, anger, trust issues, intimacy issues, social isolation, or a number of other varied responses. A survivor may experience a few, several, or none of these reactions. Although some of these effects can be very challenging, survivors are not broken and there is healing after trauma.
What counseling approaches does ZCenter use when supporting survivors?
It is very important to note that our counselors use a client-centered approach. This creates an empathic relationship between the client and the counselor. Our goal is to provide a safe space for healing, where the client can connect and explore their feelings within the therapeutic relationship. Our trained clinicians empower the client to lead sessions and determine their own goals for the therapeutic process. We attempt to remove as many barriers as possible so that survivors can have the autonomy and control to follow their own healing journey without constraints such as payment or time limits to interfere.
Is what happened to me considered sexual assault and/or abuse?
In Illinois, sexual assault is legally defined as sexual penetration by force, threat of force, or without knowing consent of the victim. Here sexual penetration applies to the insertion, however slight, of the penis, fingers, or other object, into the vagina, anus, or mouth.
Sexual abuse is defined as any unwanted sexual touching, either directly or through clothing, which does not involve penetration and is done through force or threat of force.