The ways in which one chooses to recover from sexual abuse can vary widely. Because the effects of sexual abuse aren’t always immediate, it can be difficult to fully comprehend or pinpoint exactly how the abuse has affected you. Oftentimes, survivors of sexual abuse don’t experience issues until years after the abuse.
In efforts to prompt healing after an act of sexual assault, it is important to seek out the proper care and guidance. Recovering from sexual abuse can be a complex process that takes one through the full gamut of emotions but seeking medical assistance, contacting the police, and working with an experienced sexual abuse attorney can be among the ways to recover from sexual abuse.
What Are Ways to Recover From Sexual Abuse?
1. Seek Medical Assistance
When you’re involved in a serious car accident, you typically go to the emergency room. When you develop an illness you can’t shake, you may decide to visit your doctor. The same should apply after an act of sexual assault has occurred. The last thing you may want is to be physically examined, but the first 72 hours after a sexual assault are crucial when it comes to gathering medical evidence.
It is recommended that children be seen by experts at facilities such as the Children’s Interview Center and CALICO. These agencies partner with law enforcement, family services, mental health professionals, and attorneys to provide sensitive, comprehensive care to children affected by sexual abuse. In addition to providing therapy, these groups facilitate forensic medical exams, interviews, and parent education.
Adults may call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to ask about sexual assault forensic examiners. A medical forensic exam can be provided free of charge, typically including a full body examination with samples of blood, urine, body surface areas, and hair. Seeking physical care for your discomfort is a wise move, as any physical symptoms you are experiencing now may give rise to chronic conditions if left untreated.
If you have missed the window for acute care, there is no harm in speaking with a doctor or therapist regarding symptoms that emerge later. Commonly, victims suffer heightened mental and emotional symptoms once they reach puberty, after forming a new relationship, a death in the family, or the birth of a child. PTSD, anxiety, depression, flashbacks, phobias, and mood disturbances are the most common psychological symptoms.
If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
2. File a Police Report
It is estimated that only 16 to 38 percent of rape victims report what happened to law enforcement. When the assailant is known, victims are even less likely to contact the police. Yet, the only way to get the perpetrator behind bars is to speak up about the incident to the proper authorities.
You are not the only one who can report crimes of a sexual nature. In cases of child sex abuse, certain people in which you interact—such as mandatory reporters—may be legally required to report known or suspected abuse to the police; failing to do so subjects them to fines or even jail time.
To file a police report, you can call 9-1-1, visit a police station, or let medical professionals know you’d like to report the incident to authorities when you go in for your forensic medical evaluation. Many law enforcement agencies have sexual assault response teams in place to provide a survivor-centered, coordinated response. A typical sexual assault report will follow a standard protocol that includes: a description of what occurred from the victim’s perspective; indications of force; lack of consent; signs of premeditation; a timeline of trauma; and documentation of the victim’s observed response.
When it comes to a case being tried in criminal court, it’s important to note that a higher standard of evidence is needed, meaning that the evidence must prove the events happened beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict the suspect. If successful, the perpetrator could be fined, put in jail, placed on probation, and registered as a sex offender. For many victims, it is a relief to see justice served in a way that protects the community from a known sex offender.
3. File a Civil Lawsuit
When it comes to assessing the damages in a case of sexual assault, it’s not as simple as a standard personal injury case that may involve a slip and fall or car accident. With a sexual abuse case, the bulk of a victim’s damages are emotional, rather than physical. Attorneys must work with a team of experts, including psychologists, to assess the past, current, and future unseen damages caused by the abuse.
Adding to the difficulty of determining the damage caused by sexual abuse is the fact that some victims repress the memories of the abuse for years or even decades. And some impacts are only seen at later stages of one’s life.
Fortunately, filing a civil lawsuit allows victims the opportunity to recover compensation for:
- medical expenses
- therapy costs
- lost earning capacity
- pain and suffering
- punitive damages
In civil court, victims are also able to pursue a case against third parties who may have been involved in some way. For instance, a school district can be sued for hiring and retaining a child molesting teacher. Or an athletic organization sued for failing to provide supervisory oversight of their programs.
Another benefit to filing a civil lawsuit is that the standard of evidence in civil court is lower than criminal court. It based on a preponderance of evidence which means you must prove that your version of events is 51% or more likely to have happened. So even if you have unsuccessfully pursued criminal charges, you may still secure a victory in civil court and receive money to cover your losses.
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