Getting medical help

If you think you have experienced sexual violence, you could consider getting medical help.

Common feelings

Everyone’s experience of sexual violence is different. However, many people have common feelings and reactions. These may include feeling:

  • numb and shocked;
  • angry and irritable;
  • out of control;
  • jumpy and finding it hard to concentrate;
  • dirty;
  • guilty and embarrassed.

You might also feel:

  • worried that somehow everyone knows about it;
  • scared it will happen again;
  • that you want to pretend it never happened: ‘I want to block it out’;
  • like it was not real, ‘Did this really happen to me?’.

You may also notice other changes, such as:

  • not wanting to eat or eating too much;
  • not sleeping, or having nightmares and flashbacks;
  • wanting to push people away emotionally;
  • not wanting any sexual or physical contact.

Some people feel an overpowering need to move away, change the way they look or change their lives in other ways. Others find it very hard to manage the everyday things in their life, like work or personal relationships.

These feelings may come up shortly after the sexual violence or weeks, months or even years afterwards. You might think you have moved on with your life when these feelings come up again.

Why getting medical help is important

Seeking medical help is important because:

  • you can access health checks, pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection tests and treatment of any injuries;
  • they can refer you to support services to help you heal psychologically as well as physically;
  • if you choose to report the violence to the police, medical evidence can help a court in finding the person charged with sexual violence offences against you (the perpetrator) guilty.

Sexual violence support services

The NSW Sexual Violence Helpline (formerly known as NSW Rape Crisis) and NSW Health Department Sexual Assault Services can help people after they have experienced sexual violence.

The NSW Sexual Violence Helpline, operated by Full Stop Australia, provides a 24/7 telephone and online crisis counselling service for anyone in NSW who has experienced, or is at risk of sexual violence.

NSW Health Department Sexual Assault Services are based in community health centres or hospitals across NSW. Sexual Assault Services assist people who have been subjected to sexual violence, whether recently or some time ago. Sexual Assault Services are free and confidential services.

They can:

  • help you speak to a counsellor;
  • ask if you want to see a doctor;
  • carry out a medical examination, including sexually transmitted infection and pregnancy tests, if needed;
  • carry out a forensic examination if you were sexually assaulted very recently (usually within the last 5 days for adults or 72 hours for children);
  • help you access the medical care you need including information on the morning after pill, abortion and follow up medical tests;
  • help you talk to police, if you want to;
  • refer you for support and/or continuing counselling after this initial reporting process is over;
  • refer you to get legal advice;
  • keep a record of what happened to you.

Forensic examinations

A forensic examination is different from a medical check-up. It is sometimes known as a Rape Kit and officially called a Sexual Assault Investigation Kit (SAIK). The doctor will write down what happened and describe any injuries and any distress you are showing. They may test for DNA from sperm or saliva using cotton buds that are wiped in your mouth, vagina, anus or on your skin, if relevant. They will take photos of any injuries. The doctor might also take a blood sample and take any clothes you were wearing for testing too.

If you think someone gave you drugs, ask for a blood test. A blood test and urine sample need to be taken as soon as possible if you think a person has given you drugs – legal or illegal – before the sexual assault. Tell the police or sexual assault service and make sure the tests are done. The drugs may be out of your system if you wait too long, making it harder to get any evidence.

You can request a female doctor but if this is not possible (and it often is not possible particularly in rural/regional areas), they will have a female worker stay with you while the doctor does the examination. You can request a female support person be present if no other female worker is available at the time.

If they are unable to perform a SAIK at the hospital, ask where you can go instead. If you are able to travel to another hospital that will help you with a SAIK, it is good to do this as soon as possible. Police, sexual assault service workers or a trusted friend or family member can help you get there safely.

There is a form to sign in the SAIK which says you allow the information to be released to the police. You do not have to sign it. If you are 15 years of age or younger, the sexual assault counsellors have a duty to report to Department of Communities and Justice, which may result in a police investigation.

For more details and information about why forensic evidence is important, how it is used in the legal process, and what choices you will have about its use, please see Investigations.

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