A Lesser Known Option for Victims of Sexual Assault

Recent news has been filled with reports of high-profile sexual assaults, and while no two stories are ever exactly alike, there is something strikingly similar about them.  The victims in these cases often did not disclose their assault for many years – not an uncommon response.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center reports that approximately 63% of sexual assaults are not reported to police, making it one of the most underreported crimes. The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) explains that victims often don’t report because, “Sexual assault can cause intense feelings of humiliation. Denial, shame and self-doubt are all typical psychological byproducts of being abused by someone you trusted.  Victims often struggle with fears that other people will judge, blame and disbelieve them, and fear how gossip about what has been done to them can further inflict feelings of isolation, shame and humiliation.”

One option following a sexual assault that has not been readily discussed by the media is the medical-forensic exam. In Bucks County, this exam, often referred to as a rape exam, is conducted in emergency rooms by highly trained sexual assault nurse examiners (SANEs) contracted with NOVA.  Their approach is non-judgmental, compassionate and gender-sensitive. The SANEs first responsibility is to the emotional and medical needs of the patient, while also addressing the forensic requirements of the criminal justice system. The exam is usually conducted within five days after an assault and includes a discussion of risk factors for sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy with prevention options offered. A victim advocate is available to all patients to provide emotional support and information on counseling and advocacy. A patient’s right to decline any part of the exam or discontinue it at any time is always fully respected.

The emotional, physical and psychological stresses a victim experiences after a sexual assault can be overwhelming. PCAR confirms that, “Victims sometimes need decades to even admit to themselves that what happened to them was abuse, let alone muster the courage to file a report about what is perhaps the most traumatic physical and psychological betrayal that one can experience.”  Participating in a medical-forensic exam can provide victims with much needed support in the aftermath of an assault while also affording a great deal of time (up to the 12-year statute of limitations) to determine their best course of action while addressing immediate healthcare needs and preserving evidence that would otherwise be lost.

In Pennsylvania, the medical-forensic exam is conducted free of charge and adults age 18 or older can choose whether or not to involve law enforcement.

Please call the 24-hour NOVA hotline at 1-800-675-6900 for additional information.

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