I met a teenager today who is nine months pregnant. She was in labour and her eyes were teary. These tears were not just from the physical pain of contractions. She had very many thoughts running through her mind. This pregnancy was not planned for. In her wildest dreams, she had not seen herself at this age in a delivery room; having a baby. She was raped and her whole world turned upside down.
The true incidence of rape is not known because many people who have been sexually assaulted do not present to the hospital or report the case. It’s a gruelling, terrible and traumatic experience. Thus, the medical and emotional care that they need is usually forfeited due to the disillusion and stigma associated with this dark plague. The essence of this post is to highlight the importance of a medical check-up after sexual assault. A medical assessment and follow up will not automatically make everything better; but it would definitely help make the best of a really bad situation.
I recommend that after a rape, you should seek out the help of a dependable friend. Whether you open up to your friend or not, you should try to have someone around you. If possible, move away from the place where you were raped to a place where you may feel relatively safe, the home of your family or a friend.
The next important step would be to go to the hospital- even if you do not intend to inform the police, please ensure that you get the necessary medical attention. This should be done within 24 – 48 hours. If you intend to report the case, it is advised that you should not bathe, douche, change clothes or take any medication. There would be collection of samples like assailant’s semen, saliva, hair and blood for DNA and identification studies. Urine and blood samples may be taken to test for drugs which may have been used by the rapist on you. All these may be documented in case of legal action. There would be an assessment of visible injuries like bruises, lacerations, abrasions. These would get sutured if necessary and pain relief would be provided.
You would get tested for sexually transmitted infections and be scheduled for repeat investigations in a few months. One of these would be the HIV test. The first HIV test done would indicate your initial status before the incident. If the result is positive, it means that you already had the infection before you got raped. A negative result though does not rule out the fact that you might have gotten the infection from the assailant. If the result is negative, you would be given post exposure prophylaxis for HIV infection to reduce the chances of your getting infected just in case you were exposed to a HIV-infected person. Post exposure prophylaxis should be started within 2 hours after exposure, at most within 72 hours. A repeat HIV test would then be done at 4 – 6 weeks, 3 months and 6 months.
You would be given emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy. This might be in the form of a pill if it is within 72hours or an IUCD (intrauterine contraceptive device) may be inserted if within five days. The pill would be most effective if taken within the first 24hours. You would also receive counselling at the hospital.
The visit to the hospital especially the counselling aspect may seem difficult because it feels as though you have to relive the whole experience again. The support of a family member or friend can make this easier.
This may be a very low point in your life and you may not see it now but the truth is you will definitely get past it. It may be difficult to believe that everything in your world especially your emotions would one day not be entirely defined by this experience. The truth is you will survive, you will rise above it. Just be careful not to self-destruct. Don’t push yourself too hard but still reach out and seek help! There are many rape survivors out there who are living wholesome lives.
You might be reading this and shrug your shoulders that you are not a rape victim. You might just be the shoulder for someone who has been sexually assaulted to lean on. Please ensure that the person gets a medical evaluation.
You are a survivor. Live life!