If you have been sexually assaulted, there is no right or wrong way to feel or to heal, but it is important that you take care of yourself and get support from others. There are many organizations and individuals available to help with your physical and emotional needs, obtaining medical attention, and learning about and pursuing options for college disciplinary and/or legal action. You are the only person who can decide which options are going to be right for you.
- Immediate safety and support:
- First, get to a safe place: Your room, a friend’s room, your UGA’s room, Dick’s House, wherever you feel safe. Consider calling Dartmouth Safety & Security (603-646-3333) or Hanover Police (911) but also be aware that these actions can begin a process over which you may not have control.
- Call someone you trust: A friend, a relative, the SAAP coordinator, a SAPA, a WISE advocate, anyone who can provide you with support. WISE offers trained advocates who respond to hotline calls and will meet with you in person to provide immediate support at the hospital or police station. WISE advocates are the ONLY truly confidential option. No matter what time it is, you do not have to be alone: there are people who want to help and support you.
- Medical care: After a sexual assault, you may choose to go to a hospital emergency room for medical care and/or a sexual trauma exam. The sooner you are able to go to the hospital after an assault, the more options you might have in terms of treatment and criminal legal processes.
- Seek immediate medical care: Whether or not you are planning to have evidence collected, we strongly encourage you to seek medical attention. There can be many benefits to seeing a health care provider. You may have injuries, even if you are not in pain, and health care providers can provide overall care, emergency contraception, and protection against sexually transmitted infections. Dick’s House or Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) can provide medical care, screening and treatment for STIs, and emergency contraception. Please consider seeking care even if your sexual assault occurred a long time ago, as it is important that you be tested and treated for diseases that can be asymptomatic.
- Consider a sexual trauma exam: If you are considering reporting your assault, you can request a sexual trauma exam at DHMC within 5 days of the assault. While evidence can be lost if you shower, go to the bathroom, brush your teeth or eat or drink, it can still be highly worthwhile to have evidence collected. In addition, if possible, do not wash the clothing you wore at the time of the assault. Even if you are not sure about reporting the assault, this evidence can be a powerful tool for law enforcement if you report later: evidence can be collected anonymously and will be kept in storage for at least 60 days from the date of the exam. We encourage you to have the exam as soon as possible, as some forms of evidence collection, including drug testing, are time sensitive. You can find more information on what to expect during a sexual trauma exam here.
The next few days
- Talk to someone: There are many resources, both on campus and in the community, that can provide information and help you figure out what you need. Remember that there’s no right way to address your experience of sexual assault and that you can choose what will work best for you. Listed below are some possible issues that you may be facing and the best resources to help you address them. While there are many people available to support you, only advocates from WISE (866-348-9473) are completely confidential.
- Personal safety: Safety & Security can provide you with a security escort and/or a No Contact Order that restricts communication and contact between you and your assailant on campus. WISE can help you with safety planning and the possibility of obtaining a “restraining order.” Restraining orders are issued through the court and are effective beyond the campus. In fact, they cover the entire United States, and if the perpetrator violates them, it is a criminal charge.
- Housing options: If you feel unsafe in your current housing situation, there are several rooms around campus for students who need somewhere to stay in an emergency. The locations of these rooms are kept secret to protect your privacy. In order to gain access to one of these Dean’s Beds, you can contact your Undergraduate Dean, Safety & Security, or a SAAP Coordinator. Your Undergraduate Dean can also provide other longer-term housing options.
- Academic extensions: Your Undergraduate Dean can provide excuses from missed classes and can arrange extensions on assignments. Deans can also help if you decide to change your course-load.
Reporting and disciplinary / legal options
- Reporting the assault: Reporting an incident of sexual violence does not necessarily require you to pursue charges.
- Anonymous reporting: Incidents of sexual violence can be reported anonymously to one of the SAAP Coordinators or to any of the SAPAs on campus.
- Safety & Security (603-646-3333): Reporting to Safety & Security is separate from any reports that you may file with the Hanover Police Department. Safety & Security can provide you with a security escort and/or a No Contact Order that restricts communication between you and your assailant. They may put out a campus alert based on your report.
- Hanover Police Department (603-643-2222): Reporting to the Hanover Police Department is separate from any reports that you may file with Safety & Security. This is how you would begin a criminal investigation. While the Hanover Police wants to be supportive and helpful and welcome informational meetings, they can pursue a criminal case based on a report even if the victim does not want them to. If this is a concern, contact WISE to have an advocate go with you and/or let the police know that it is a “hypothetical” report. The Hanover Police Department and WISE may be able to help you obtain an emergency restraining order when court is not open.
- Pursuing disciplinary charges: If you decide to pursue disciplinary charges, you can file an official report through either Safety & Security or the Undergraduate Judicial Affairs Office (UJAO). You can pursue both disciplinary and criminal charges. Dartmouth has published a detailed handbook that provides a description of the disciplinary process for students involved in cases of sexual misconduct, and this process is currently under review by the administration.
- Statement: To file a formal complaint, you will have to provide either a written statement to UJAO or a verbal account to Safety & Security. S&S sergeant Rebel Roberts, a former SAAP Coordinator, is the Special Investigator within S&S for cases of sexual misconduct.
- UJAO investigation: After you have filed the report, the Director of UJAO will determine whether or not there is sufficient evidence to move forward with the case. If sufficient evidence is found, the accused student will receive a packet from the UJAO that includes the allegations filed, information that was gathered during the UJAO investigation, and potential outcomes of the case.
- COS hearing: If the accused student admits responsibility, the student can have a Committee on Standards (COS) hearing or a one-on-one dean’s hearing to determine the appropriate disciplinary outcome. If the accused student does not admit responsibility, there will be a COS hearing in which five Dartmouth community members (two students, two faculty members and one administrator) will hear the case. COS hearings are based on the assumption of innocence, and accused students will be found “responsible” or “not responsible” by a majority of the panel based on a “preponderance of evidence.”
- Sanctions: If the accused student is found responsible, the student will be informed of the sanctions the next day, and these sanctions will begin immediately.
- Pursuing criminal charges: If you decide to pursue criminal charges, you can file an official report through the police department where the assault occurred. If it was on campus, it would be the Hanover Police Department (HPD). You can pursue both criminal and college disciplinary charges. HPD is usually open to speaking to survivors in “hypothetical” terms, so you can determine whether or not you would like to proceed with the criminal legal system.
- Statement: The police officer will bring you to a private room and will ask you to give a statement that includes all of the details that you remember from the assault. The interview is generally recorded, and you may be asked to write a statement. This can be very difficult, and it may help to have someone you trust with you. WISE advocates are available to go with you. The statement will serve as evidence and will help the police in their investigation. Reporting a sexual assault can be very stressful, and you may not remember everything when you give your statement. If you remember any additional details after you have given your statement, you can call the police to let them know.
- Police investigation: Based on your statement, the police will begin an investigation. They will likely investigate the location where the assault took place and may take items (e.g., bedsheets) as evidence. They will also want to talk to individuals who may have been witnesses either during the assault, or who saw you before or after you were assaulted.
- Arrest: Following the investigation, the police will present their findings to a grand jury or prosecuting attorney, who will decide whether or not there is sufficient evidence to move forward with the case. If there is, a warrant for arrest can be issued, and an arrest can be made. (In some instances, an arrest can be made without a warrant if there is sufficient probable cause.) Keep in mind that an arrest is not the same as a conviction and that someone who has been arrested may be released on bail shortly after being taken into police custody. Once an arrest has been made, it’s important that you remain in contact with the police, as you may have to go to the police station to identify the individual.
Self-care after sexual assault
- Common reactions to sexual assault: Emotional responses vary from survivor to survivor, and there is no “correct” way to feel or act following an experience of sexual violence. It’s important to keep in mind that your responses, whatever they are, are a normal reaction to a traumatic event. Below are some common reactions that survivors may have, but this is not an exhaustive list.
- Shock: In the hours and days following the assault, you may feel disbelief or denial about what happened. Some survivors feel emotionally drained, numb, and detached from their surroundings, while others may respond to the shock with overwhelming emotions. Reactions may include crying uncontrollably, laughing nervously, or feeling nothing at all. Any and all of these are normal reactions to trauma. It may be helpful to have the company of people you trust to help you through these initial reactions. Breathing exercises or meditation can also be helpful.
- Loss of control: Sexual violence can take away your sense of control over your body, and it’s common for survivors to feel powerless and out of control over their lives as a result. You may feel anxious or scared or unsure of yourself, and decisions that once seemed easy may feel overwhelming. One of the most important parts of healing from sexual assault is regaining that sense of control. While it can be great to have supportive people to help you sort through your options, try to trust your instincts and to make as many of your own decisions as you can.
- Fear and anxiety: A common reaction to sexual assault is fear or a sense of vulnerability, even when going about your routine activities. You may feel anxious about being alone or be afraid of being in groups of people. You may also have reactions to specific things, such as smells or sounds that remind you of the assault. Try to find ways that you can feel safe again: this might involve staying with a friend, changing dorms, getting a No Contact Order from the College or a protective order from the court. You may also find that you become afraid of trusting anyone, since sexual assault is often committed by someone that you know – and thought that you could trust. In the aftermath of sexual violence, not trusting people is a normal coping mechanism, and you’ll find it easier to begin trusting people again once you have had a chance to heal.
- Isolation: Sexual assault is an incredibly isolating experience, and survivors often feel alone as a result. It can feel as though you’ve been suddenly pulled into a different world than your family and friends, one without safety or rules, completely unmoored from the reality that they know. You may feel as though nobody will understand or be able to relate to your experience, or that you don’t want to impose on anyone by talking about your problems. Remember this: you are not alone. Many survivors find that it’s comforting to talk with other survivors, and it can also be helpful and validating to learn more about sexual assault and its effects.
- Guilt and shame: Many survivors feel guilty or ashamed following a sexual assault. You may blame yourself for what happened or feel that you somehow provoked the assault or should have been able to prevent it. You might think that you shouldn’t have trusted the person who assaulted you, or that you shouldn’t have had as much to drink, or any number of other doubts about your judgement. This reaction is particularly common in survivors who are assaulted by someone that they know. Oftentimes, self-blame can make you feel less helpless, as though you had some control over the situation, or that if you change your behavior, you’ll be safe in the future. Ultimately, though, this can lead you to restrict or change your behavior in ways that are unproductive and can lead you to question your judgement in ways that are unfair and unjustified. Repeat this to yourself several times a day: it wasn’t your fault, nobody deserves to be sexually assaulted. The only person who is responsible for sexual assault is the person who perpetrated it.
- Anger: You may have different reasons to be angry following a sexual assault. Many survivors experience anger towards both the assault itself and events that follow it, such as the disruptions to their daily lives. Anger is an appropriate and healthy response to sexual assault, and you have every right to feel angry; however, it’s important that you find ways to express your anger without hurting yourself or others. Anger can be expressed in safe and healthy ways, or it can be turned inward, where it can become depression or self-destructive behavior. Physical activity, writing in a journal, and playing music are some examples of healthy ways to release anger. Some survivors also find that reporting their assault and/or engaging in activism is a helpful way to turn their anger into positive action.
- Nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks: Nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks, and general anxiety are common responses to sexual assault. While these can all be incredibly frightening, remember that they’re normal reactions to the trauma that you experienced. If you are experiencing any of these effects, it can be helpful to talk to someone about them. It may also be helpful to practice grounding exercises to decrease your anxiety and to connect to the present. Writing about your feelings can also be useful.
- Self-care strategies: It’s important that you take care of yourself following an experience of sexual violence. That means addressing your physical, emotional and psychological health. Here are some thoughts and strategies that may help.
- Be patient with yourself: Healing from sexual assault takes time and is not a linear process. It can feel a lot more like a Whack-a-Mole game, where you think that you’re “done” with something, but then it pops up elsewhere in a slightly different form and everything gets tough again. Remember that those setbacks aren’t really setbacks, that they’re a normal part of the healing process, and they don’t mean that you’re weak. Having a hard time doesn’t mean that it never gets better. Healing is a continuous process, but it does get easier, with time.
- Take care of your physical health: Getting enough sleep, using exercise for stress relief, and eating well can help you heal. Survivors often find that they have trouble sleeping following an assault. If that’s the case for you, talk to a counselor, therapist or other health care professional.
- Make your own decisions: An important element of healing from sexual assault is regaining a sense of control over your life. While it can be great to have supportive people to help you sort through your options, try to trust your instincts and to make as many of your own decisions as you can.
- Get the support that you need: While friends and family can be important parts of your support system, you may also consider seeing a counselor or therapist. When talking to people who are close to you, you may feel a desire to protect them or to not burden them with your feelings. Getting support from a trained professional can allow you to talk about your experiences in a setting where you don’t have to worry about judgement or protecting the listener. A therapist can also provide you with ideas and exercises to help manage some common reactions to sexual violence, such as flashbacks and anxiety.
- Allow yourself to have positive experiences: Your feelings in the aftermath of sexual assault can be incredibly overwhelming, and it may initially seem as though you’ll never feel better. Try to remember, though, that life can still happen for you. Do things that you like to do, spend time in the company of friends, take the time to enjoy what you can.