Sexual Assault: Frequently Asked Questions

I have been sexually assaulted, what should I do?
What happens at the hospital?
What is a medical examination?
What is a forensic examination?
Will you tell anyone or call the police?
How long will it take for me to feel better?
I feel like my family and friends are suffocating me-what can I do?
Why do I feel like I'm going crazy?
When will I be able to have sex with my partner again?
I have such frightening dreams and nightmares. What can I do? When will they stop?
How can seeing a counselor help me?
Everyone at school is talking about me. I feel like I'm on display. How do I handle this?
I am so angry. Will I ever be the same again?


I have been sexually assaulted, what should I do?
Go to your closest emergency room and ask to see the sexual assault team. In London you can also go to the Urgent Care Centre at St. Joseph's Hospital. Other options are to see your family doctor, your school's medical clinic, or a walk-in clinic. All of these places can refer you to our program.

Outside of London, Middlesex, Elgin, and Oxford counties, there are many Sexual Assault Treatment Centres. See also our Community Partners page for a link to the other centres in Ontario.

What happens at the hospital?
You must tell the nurse in the Emergency Department or Urgent Care Centre that you were sexually assaulted. She will ask you if want to see the sexual assault team. If you answer yes, the emergency room nurse will connect with the sexual assault nurse who is on call and make arrangements to get you to our centre at St. Joseph's Hospital.

The sexual assault nurse will talk to you about your options. It is entirely up to you what we do.

You can choose to have:

  • A medical examination and treatment

    and/or

  • A forensic examination (looking for evidence of a crime).

The on call nurse will notify the sexual assault examiner. This is a specially trained doctor or nurse. Together the examiner and the on call nurse will complete your care. All RSADVTC doctors and nurses are female.

What is a medical examination?
The medical examination involves checking you from head-to-toe to look for injuries. We will check your temperature, pulse and blood pressure, as well as check your abdomen, eyes and ears. It is similar to seeing a doctor for a checkup.

We will provide you with the option of testing for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, hepatitis B and C, and HIV. That is done through blood tests and swabs of your vagina and cervix (rectal or penile swabs for men).

Medical treatment may involve giving you medications to prevent pregnancy and/or sexually transmitted diseases including HIV. We can treat minor injuries, or refer you back to the emergency department for more serious injuries such as broken bones.

What is a forensic examination?
This involves using the Sexual Assault Evidence Kit to gather samples from your body. The samples can then be examined at a special lab to help determine the identity of the person who assaulted you.

Although there is no way to prove or disprove a sexual assault, this evidence can be helpful to show that contact took place.

The nurse and the examiner may collect samples of your clothing, head hair, pubic hair, and samples from your mouth, vagina or rectum. They will look for signs of body fluid (such as saliva or semen) on your skin with a special light.

If you are not sure about reporting this crime to the police, we can collect the kit samples and arrange to store them anonymously while you make up your mind.

Will you tell anyone or call the police?
If you are under 16 but a mature person who can understand what your options are, we do not need to notify your parents or the police if you do not want us to.

We will respect your right to privacy. We will never report your assault to the police without your permission.

Exceptions:
There are a few situations when we are obligated, by the Ontario law, to turn over information:

  • Your record may be subject to a warrant, which means the court can make us hand over your record, without your permission. This is a rare occurrence.
  • We also, by law, must inform Children's Aid Society when we feel a person under 16 is not in a safe situation.
  • "Reportable diseases" (such as new cases of HIV, and gonorrhea) by law must be reported to the public health department. They will handle the report in a way that respects your privacy.
  • If we have reason to believe that you may harm yourself or another person, we must ensure your safety and that of others.

In all other cases, we must have your written permission before we give out any information about you or your visit.

How long will it take for me to feel better?
Everyone is different. We do know that there are some feelings that most people have after experiencing the trauma of sexual assault. It is likely that the intensity of your feelings will decrease within a few months, but you are likely going to experience a variety of feelings for at least a year.

You will not always be terrified, forgetful, confused, angry, helpless, or empty forever. However, you may feel some or all of these things at first and this can cause you great anguish and pain. Counseling can help you understand and manage these feelings.

I feel like my family and friends are suffocating me-what can I do?
People who care about you are likely going to want to protect you and take care of you, but at times that will feel like smothering. It will be important for you to tell others what they can do or say that would be helpful to you, even though your needs and wishes may change frequently. Others will probably be feeling somewhat helpless as to how they can be supportive so you will need to help them and give them guidance.

Counseling is also provided to significant others, for their support and to provide them with education and information about sexual assault trauma response. They will only be seen with your permission.

Why do I feel like I'm going crazy?
When someone experiences many conflicting and overwhelming feelings at the same time she or he may feel out of control and sometimes crazy. When you cannot do the normal, regular everyday activities of life, like making coffee without forgetting what you were doing, you may feel like you are going crazy. You are not crazy. You are overwhelmed, exhausted, and emotionally drained at a time when you may be asked to make important decisions and do many new things. You will not always feel like this.

When will I be able to have sex with my partner again?
This is a very individual decision. It will be important for you to communicate openly with your partner and to give yourself permission to not do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. In time, you will want to have sex again and you will be able to trust and enjoy your partner.

Your partner may wish to have his/her many feelings, and questions addressed as well, and we are open to meeting with him/her, with your permission.

I have such frightening dreams and nightmares. What can I do? When will they stop?
Disturbances in sleep are a very common response to trauma and can leave you feeling frightened and exhausted throughout your day. For most people the nightmares do diminish over time. Sometimes it can be helpful to get out of bed following a nightmare, if it feels safe to do so, and walk around for a bit. This movement can create an interruption in your pattern and may make it easier to fall back asleep again. If you are tired throughout the day and can rest or sleep, try to do so. Try not to nap too late in the day as if will make it harder to get to sleep that night. Self-care strategies and routine prior to bed may also be helpful such as reading, listening to music, a hot bath etc.

How can seeing a counselor help me?
It can be helpful to sort through your painful feelings and thoughts with someone who has experience in trauma and recovery. Sometimes being in a safe and confidential environment with a neutral person can allow you to share details and feelings that you do not wish to share with friends or family. It is important to do this in your time though, family and friends may want to "hurry" this along because they want you to feel better sooner. It is important to have someone who can tell you whether what you are experiencing is usual and how long it could last. As well, there are many ways of handling the anxiety, forgetfulness, panic or terror that an experienced counselor can share with you.

Everyone at school is talking about me. I feel like I'm on display. How do I handle this?
When we experience trauma we feel exposed and vulnerable. At times we will feel that everyone knows (when they may not) and that they are all looking at you or talking about you. If they know, they may well be looking and talking because this is a big deal for everyone. It is important for you to have people around you, who do know and who you trust, to help you manage the questions of well meaning friends as well as those people who are not so well meaning.

At school, it is helpful if you or a family member can let the school officials know what you are experiencing. They do not have to know any details of what happened. You do need to decide what you will tell others, if anything, and it is helpful to have a few "ready answers" to common questions. For example "Thanks for your interest, I'm OK". You can also inform others that you will update them as things happen to get some control of when you wish to talk about this.

I am so angry. Will I ever be the same again?
Anger is an appropriate response to sexual assault. What is so frightening is how strong it feels. Most of us never feel the rage that can accompany sexual assault. You can be reassured that you will not feel angry forever. This is one of the important areas where counseling can be helpful for both you and your family.

Last updated: Thu, 2011-03-10 09:58