I have just been sexually assaulted. What should I do?

1) There are some immediate decisions to make. If you need medical help, get that help right away. Call 911 or your physician NOW to get the help you need.

2) Resist the urge to shower and change clothes until you have decided if you are going to report what happened. Don't drink anything yet. Try to breathe and calm down. You have just been through a traumatic event. Call your family or a trusted friend if you need to talk this through with someone, and for their emotional support.

3) Sexual assault is a crime and should be reported to the police as soon as possible. It can help to have a family member or friend with you while you do. If there is no one you can call, often the police can provide the contact information for a local rape crisis line who may have a counselor available to support you through this process. You can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1.800.656.HOPE (4673) which will re-route the call to a local sexual assault service provider. Not sure if it was sexual assault? The local service provider can often talk with you over the phone to help sort that out. 

4) Your body is the crime scene. Just like you may have seen on police programs on television, the police will want evidence collected from your body and from the clothes you were wearing at the time of the assault. Usually, that means going to the hospital or a local medical facility. You need to do this as soon as possible. Waiting even a few hours can mean evidence will be lost. If the assault happened on your bed, the police will likely also want the sheets and other bedding. Take a change of clothes with you to the hospital if you can. If you are having memory issues and think you might have been drugged, as with a date rape drug, tell people right away. 

5) If you are in school or attending a college/university, they may also offer the opportunity to report the crime to campus authorities. However, different schools have different policies about reporting to the police. So it is good to report the crime to the police AND to campus authorities. If you have had evidence collected by the police, that may help bolster the case with your school.

6) Not sure if you want to report what happened? If you report it to the police now, then you are keeping that option open. If you don't report it, the evidence will be lost and you won't have that option again. Reports made without evidence usually do not hold as much weight as reports with evidence.

7) Be honest with the police. Provide as much detail as you can. Write down what happened -- as accurately as possible, as detailed as possible -- as soon as you can, for your own records. As time passes, some people find it is easy to forget small details that may be important. so write down everything you can. If your phone has the ability to record, you can also tell the detailed story of what happened and record it on your phone. But writing it down is usually more thorough, as people often pay more attention to what they are putting on paper. You can ask people at the hospital or the police for paper and pen.

8) After you have reported the crime to the police and had evidence taken, you need to take care of yourself. Be extra kind to yourself. Figure out where you need to go to feel safe. Have someone you trust with you if you can. If you can eat and sleep, that is usually a good way to help begin the process of integrating what just happened.

9) You need to remember that these are your decisions to make. Many people feel helpless during the actual assault. You need to assert your power now and reclaim control of your body. If you need the medical professional to slow down while evidence is taken, tell them that. If you need a break while you are talking to the police, tell them that. Most people will recognize that you have been through a traumatic event. But they have things going on in their own lives and they may not always be as sensitive as we would hope. Take care of yourself. You are your first priority.

I have been told that once you've been sexually assaulted, you are never the same again. Your life is changed forever. Is that true? 

Imagine that you fell and broke your arm. Your arm can heal. It can never be unbroken. But the broken place on the arm can heal to be even stronger than it was before.

Many people who are sexually assaulted feel a loss -- a loss of innocence, of trusting others, of thinking the world was safe, of feeling safe. Even though recovery can take a while, it is important to remember that you can heal. You can recover. You will laugh again. You will feel safe again. Don't rush yourself to try to act "normal" if you're not feeling that way. Your new normal will be different. But you can become even stronger than you were before. So have hope. Expect good things to return in your life. Be kind to yourself. Take care of yourself. You matter. You went through a traumatic event but you survived. You will learn how to live with this trauma in your past. Your future can be just as bright as ever. If you need help along the way -- and many people do -- get it. If you broke your arm, you would get help and not think there was anything wrong in asking for it. There's nothing wrong with having company and support on your journey of healing. It doesn't mean you're not strong. You are. You're still here. Life can and will get better for you. You have to want it to.

I was drinking alcohol before I was assaulted, and I am under 21. Should I tell the police that? Will I get in trouble?

Usually, if you have been sexually assaulted and you were drinking, it is important for the police to know that. In most jurisdictions, you won't be charged with underage drinking. However, you can also ask the police officer first: If I was drinking and I tell you that, will I be charged with a crime myself? If you were drinking and there is an investigation into the assault, it will probably come out that you were drinking. Drinking doesn't mean you were asking for it, or that you deserved to be assaulted. But the police will want to know that. It's also possible that someone might have slipped something into your drink or they might have tried to get you drunk, which is something the police will probably consider.