Sexual Assault

After a sexual assault, it’s hard to know how to react and feel.  You may be physically hurt, feel numb or emotionally drained, and feel unsure what to do next.  Learning about the options that are available to you following a sexual assault can help to empower you during a difficult time.

  • What is Sexual Assault?

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    • According to the U.S. Department of Justice, sexual assault is “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” Sexual assault is an umbrella term and includes fondling, rape, and attempted rape.
    • Many of us have the image of a sexual assault occurring in a dark alley by a stranger. Sexual assault can happen in crowded rooms, cars, public places, or your own bed. More than half of all reported rape/sexual assault incidents occur within one mile of a victim’s home or at their home. Perpetrators are not usually strangers either; sixty percent of sexual assaults are committed by an acquaintance, friend, lover, or spouse.
    • Every 73 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted
  • What To Do If You Are Sexually Assaulted

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    You are not to blame for being sexually assaulted and you have options for moving forward. Please consider the following:

    • Contact the police – Call the EMU police or 911 as soon as possible. Reporting the assault is not the same as prosecuting. The decision to pursue legal action can be made later. Police can help connect you with an advocate, take a report, transport you to the hospital and assist you with a court-issued restraining order or an order of protection. Consider preserving evidence by avoiding showering or cleaning yourself or your clothing.
    • Get medical attention – getting medical attention immediately after an assault is important, whether or not you choose to report the assault or file charges. If you are 18 or older, you don't have to involve law enforcement. Medical attention can detect, document and treat physical injury, sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy. Please see the “Medical Concerns” section for more detailed information.
    • If you are in Washtenaw County, you can call Safe House at (734) 995-5444. Safe House is an organization that provides 24-hour crisis counseling and can assist you with police and court proceedings.
    • Seek emotional support - Trained therapists can help you during this difficult time. If you're an EMU student, you can make an appointment with a CAPS therapist by calling (734) 487-1118. Please note that CAPS services are confidential. We are not mandated to report to the university or police.

    Contact EMU’s Title IX coordinator – Title IX is a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, gender, gender identity and gender expression. Relationship violence, stalking and acts of sexual violence constitute discrimination prohibited by Title IX. 

  • Medical Concerns

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    Receiving immediate and follow-up medical attention is one of the most important things that you can do for yourself if you have been sexually assaulted. You may have injuries that need to be treated, and you may want to be tested for pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). A friend, relative, or advocate from the Assault Crisis Center in Washtenaw County can accompany you to the hospital. You do not have to do this alone!

    If You Were Assaulted Recently

    • Go to an Emergency Room: The most important reason to do this is to check for injuries. It may be hard to tell general aches and pains from the assault from serious injuries related to the assault. Although it will not be easy, an exam may help set your mind at ease. You will also be given important information about STIs and pregnancy.
    • Pregnancy and STI Concerns: You may want to ask your doctor or nurse about the “morning after pill.” This treatment is a high dose of estrogen that is effective at preventing pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of the assault. The hospital may also give you antibiotics for STIs. Base-line tests for pregnancy and some STIs may be completed. These tests will only tell you if you were infected or pregnant before the assault.
    • Preserving Evidence: Another important reason to receive immediate medical attention is to collect physical evidence for a criminal investigation. A hospital emergency room is the best place to do this. Emergency room staff can perform a rape kit exam. This is a standardized exam and a series of lab tests that are designed to collect physical evidence for use in the prosecution of rape cases. Every emergency room is required to offer the rape kit exam if the assault happened within the previous 72 hours. Evidence is best collected within six hours of the assault. You are not required to have the kit completed.
    • Legal: The hospital is required by law to notify the police of the rape. Having a rape kit completed does not mean that you have to talk to the police. You can refuse to speak to the officers. If you are currently unsure about participating in criminal prosecution, having the rape kit completed will help keep your options open. You may feel differently in a few months than you do immediately after the sexual assault.
    • Paying for the Hospital Visit: Your private insurance plan should pay for the cost of the rape kit and medical treatment. If you are uninsured (or do not want to use your parent’s insurance), you should be able to work out a payment plan with the hospital. Most emergency rooms have a policy to not turn anyone away because they cannot pay. The police or the Washtenaw County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office (734.222.6620) can put you in touch with the Crime Victims’ Services Commission, where you can apply to be reimbursed for your ER visit and rape kit. You must report the assault to the police to be eligible for compensation for the crime through this program. 

    “Rape Drugs:” Some assailants may use drugs (Roofies, GHB, Special K) to physically control their victim and render them defenseless. If you believe that you were drugged, inform your doctor. Blood or urine tests may detect the drug in your system. Testing should be done as soon as possible, because some drugs can only be detected within twelve hours of ingestion.

  • If You Were Assaulted in the Past

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    It is still very important to receive medical attention. You may want to have pregnancy and STI tests taken. Although a rape kit can be performed at any time, the chances of collecting evidence decrease significantly when more then a few days have gone by. However, you can still report the crime to the police and prosecution may still be possible.
  • Common Reactions to Sexual Assault

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    Those who work with sexual assault survivors often use a response model to outline how people commonly react to traumatic events.

    • Shock: For the first few days or weeks, the assault may seem unreal. The survivor may react in a numb or unfeeling way. She or he might even have physical symptoms of shock: feeling weak, nauseated, moving slowly, appearing pale.
    • Adjustment: This is a period when the survivor may feel the need to deny or underplay the assault. Pressure to "get on with your life" might come from within or from other people. She or he may find it easier to go through the motions of her/his previous routine than to address intense and uncomfortable issues associated with the assault.
    • Secondary Crisis: For many people, something happens in their life (a trigger), which may make their previous coping mechanisms ineffective, causing them to face the previous sexual assault. Acknowledging the assault may be quite painful. What formerly seemed unreal or was denied may become very real. Survivors of sexual assault describe feeling depressed and/or having flashbacks or obsessive thoughts about the assault. They may replay the assault in their mind many times and/or experience intense anger.
    • Integration: The survivor has been changed by the assault, but has integrated the experience and can move forward with her or his life. She or he may feel as though they have survived the assault and have dealt with the thoughts and emotions of the trauma. The memories will remain, but can be faced. Healing is possible; however, it will take work.

    Survivors of sexual assault experience a wide range of reactions. Some have said that after an assault their emotions go up and down or from one extreme to another. If you have been assaulted, your reactions are your own way of coping with the crime that has been committed against you. There is no standard response to sexual assault. You may experience a few, none, or all of the following: shock and numbness, feeling a loss of control, fear, guilt and self-blame, isolation, vulnerability, distrust, fear of being sexual or intimate with others, anger, and disruption of daily activities.

  • Seeking Help and Recovery

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    Experiencing so many different emotions is a part of working through what has happened. Right now, if you have been assaulted, you may wonder when you will "get your life back." Or, perhaps you are not feeling much at all. There is no right or wrong way to react to sexual assault.

    Many survivors have found that self-acceptance, patience, time, and support from others have helped them recover. A good counselor will understand and help you work through the emotional roller coaster that you may be on.

    Moving Forward:

    • Be aware that anger, sadness, shock, guilt, etc. are normal reactions to trauma. Each person handles crisis differently, so think of things that helped you get through a crisis in the past.
    • Get help to sort out what you would like to do and how you may want to organize your thoughts, time, and decisions. Be compassionate toward yourself; give yourself time to heal.
    • Try to get as much control over your life as you possibly can, even over small things. Use outside resources, such as counselors and legal professionals. Ask how other people have handled similar situations. Try to make as many of your own decisions as possible. This may gradually help you regain a sense of control over your own life.
    • If you want company, do not hesitate to ask familiar people to be with you day and night. You may want to make your physical environment feel safer (moving, making your home more secure, getting to know your neighbors better).
    • No matter what the situation was, you did not ask to be hurt or violated. Blaming yourself is sometimes another way to feel control over the situation.
    • Recovering from an assault can be a very lonely experience. However, you are not alone in what you are feeling. You may find it reassuring to talk to others who have been assaulted, or to a counselor who has worked with survivors of sexual assault.
    • Trust your instincts about whom you want to talk with about what has happened to you. Try to talk with people who you have found to be the most dependable in the past; select those who have been good listeners and non-judgmental.
    • If sexual activity is troublesome, try to tell your sexual partner what your limits are. Let your partner know if the situation reminds you of the assault and may bring up painful memories. Tell your partner that it is the situation, not him/her, that is bringing up the painful memories. You may feel more comfortable with gentle physical affection. Let him or her know what level of intimacy feels comfortable for you.
    • Be accepting of your anger. Thoughts of committing violence toward the attacker do not mean that you are a violent or bad person. You have the right to feel angry about the violation you have experienced. You may want to talk to people who understand this.
    • Take things very slowly. Some people find it helpful to keep a notebook at hand to write down feelings, thoughts, ideas, or details of the assault; keeping the thoughts and feelings in one place may make them feel more manageable.
  • What Can I Do to Reduce My Risk of Sexual Assault?

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    • Don't leave your beverage unattended or accept a drink from an open container
    • When you go to a party, go with a group of friends. Arrive together, watch out for each other, and leave together.
    • Be aware of your surroundings at all times
    • Don't allow yourself to be isolated with someone you don't know or trust
    • Think about the level of intimacy you want in a relationship, and clearly state your limits

    Unfortunately, sexual assault can still happen even when you take all the necessary precautions. Following these guidelines can only decrease your risk of assault. It is important to realize that if you were sexually assaulted and you did not follow these guidelines, the assault is still not your fault.

  • For More Information

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    Crisis Resources

    • EMU Counseling and Psychological Services
      Can handle emergencies between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
    • Assault Crisis Center (Ann Arbor)
      24-Hour Crisis Line: 734.483.7273
    • RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network)
      24-Hour Crisis Line: 1.800.656.4673
    • Safe House Center
      24/7 HelpLine: 734.995.5444
    • U of M – Sexual Assault Prevention and Counseling (Ann Arbor, MI)
      24-Hour Crisis Line: 734.936.3333


    • Counseling and Psychological Services publications
    • Handbook for Survivors of Sexual Assault (Michigan Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence)
    • All statistics are from the 2000 National Crime Victimization Survey (Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice)