During a recent interview with Howard Stern, Madonna shared that shortly after she moved to New York City, she was raped. She told Stern that she never went to police or reported the incident. “I was told that if I wanted to press charges, that I would need a physical examination, I would have to go before the court, and they’re going to ask you all these personal questions,” she explained of her choice. “You’ve already been violated … it’s just not worth it. It’s too humiliating.”
Many women who are victims of sexual assault make the same decision Madonna did, and some don’t even seek medical attention — perhaps out of fear, because they have misconceptions about what would ensue after reporting the sexual assault, or because they don’t want to relive the experience.
That’s why I want all women to know that if you are a victim of rape, you don’t need to recall the details of your sexual assault in order to be treated by a medical professional. The only two questions a doctor should ask is, “Did the person use a condom?” and “What orifices were penetrated?”
That’s exactly what I asked when I consulted on a violent rape of a young woman who had been dragged into Central Park in New York and beaten within a minute of her life in the course of being sexually assaulted. As the gynecologist on-call, I was asked to perform a rape-kit on her and address her GYN trauma. What struck me about the magnitude of severity of this particular attack was not just the physical trauma, but the emotional devastation as well.
With Madonna making headlines, and numerous stories about sexual assault on campuses shedding light on what is still a national epidemic, I think it’s important for EVERYONE to have a ‘rape’ plan. Just as you have an emergency plan in case of a fire or earthquake, you need a plan for what to do in case you are ever sexually assaulted.
Here are 5 things you need to know:
1. Seek medical attention in an ER immediately. Time is of the essence, since the collection of forensic evidence is time-sensitive.
2. Do not shower or change your clothes before going to the ER. Clothing may be collected as forensic evidence.
3. You do not need to relive or retell every nightmarish detail of your horrible experience, unless you want to. Every hospital has nurses, doctors, or trained rape-kit professionals on-call to help you through the process. These people will never demand that you tell them everything that happened. This is unnecessary and can do more emotional and psychological harm than good. The only two things they need to know in order to protect your health are: 1.) “Did the person use a condom?” and 2.) “What orifices were penetrated?”
4. The term “rape-kit” may sound scary, but in reality, it’s actually fairly simple. Performing a rape-kit on someone involves collecting hair samples, swab cultures from the mouth, vagina and anus, scrapings under the nails, blood samples, urine cultures, and a urine toxicology sample. Depending on the type of trauma, imaging tests like ultrasounds, x-rays, or CT scans may be necessary. Photographs may also be taken. Medication will also be offered and administered to prevent or prophylaxis against possible STIs, including Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and HIV, as well as to prevent unintended pregnancy.
5. Seeking comfort and support from trained counselors and mental health professionals is very important, as is surrounding yourself with a close but select group of friends and/or family.
Something to keep in mind is that most women are raped by someone they know. A great tool that could help save your life is Robin McGraw’s Aspire News App. While it appears to be a news app, it can be used to secretly alert chosen contacts about a potentially violent situation.
Knowing that rape is not your fault and that you WILL recover is easier said than done. My thoughts and prayers are with anyone who has ever been hurt, abused, attacked, assaulted or raped. Please know that your strength and courage is admired.
If you or anyone you know has been the victim of sexual assault, these resources may be able to offer help:
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-(800)-656-HOPE(4673)
National Sexual Violence Resource Center
Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network
Love Is Respect
The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-(800)-799-7233