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Sexual assaults (stranger rape, date rape, unwanted touching, forced sexual acts, or abuse) cause intense trauma, stress, fear, and confusion. Some victims are too horrified to focus on caring for themselves. We hope you never encounter the brutality of sexual assault. If you do, the following list will help you organize your thoughts and take charge of a terrible situation:

FIND SAFETY.  First, ensure your personal safety and the safety of your children and family. Is the perpetrator still nearby or able to approach you or your family? Secure your own space, lock all doors, and find a phone.  DO NOT SIT ALONE IN YOUR CAR IN A PARKING SPACE.

SEE A DOCTOR.  Go to the Emergency Room as soon as possible, and explain what happened. DO NOT SHOWER OR USE THE BATHROOM, & DO NOT EAT, DRINK, OR SMOKE before going to the ER, because you may lose valuable evidence. Even if you have already bathed, go to the ER anyway! Doctors will test you for injuries and sexually transmitted diseases, and provide emergency contraception. Going to the hospital DOES NOT MEAN YOU HAVE TO TALK TO POLICE IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO. Take care of your own health first.

SAVE THE EVIDENCE. Sexual assaults leave victims feeling violated, and sometimes the first reaction is to clean up and toss everything linked to the assault and the perpetrator. Resist that urge!  DO NOT throw away or clean your clothing, bedding, rugs, your car, or your home – dishes, silverware, water bottles, beer cans, even cigarette butts can be valuable evidence. DO NOT delete texts or social media posts, even if you feel they may make you look guilty. Too often, victims destroy evidence because they worry about getting into trouble themselves, but usually such evidence helps and does not hurt. Of course, if you have already cleaned up evidence, don’t worry – a good victim’s advocate will help you proceed.

VISIT A FRIEND.  Call a trusted friend or relative, and visit with them personally. Do not go through this alone! Sexual assault is NEVER the victim’s fault, no matter how you were dressed, what drinks/drugs you were taking, what you were doing, who you were with, what time it was, or where you were. Sexual assault is the fault of only one person: the perpetrator. Find a sympathetic friend who understands this and will support you. The healing process can be long and hard, and you will need someone to help you through.

CALL LAW ENFORCEMENT.  If the assault happened in a town or city, likely this will be the police. If it happened outside town or city limits, you should call the local sheriff’s office.  SAY UP FRONT THAT YOU WANT TO REPORT A SEXUAL ASSAULT AND ASK FOR AN OFFICER WHO HANDLES THIS KIND OF CRIME. If some time has passed because you weren’t ready to report the crime to law enforcement right away, report it anyway!  The statute of limitations may not have run. For example, North Carolina has no statute of limitations for felony sexual assault.

CALL AN ATTORNEY.   Call an experienced sexual assault attorney as soon as you can, even if you believe your situation is complicated, that you have no proof, or that no real crime was committed. Getting legal advice quickly is very important. Sometimes victims believe they were somehow at fault. Other times, victims were intoxicated (drunk, high) and worry about getting themselves into trouble. And sometimes, when the perpetrator is a friend or family member, the victim is worried about getting the perpetrator in trouble. Do not let these concerns stop you.  If someone violated you, let an experienced attorney explain your rights so that you can best decide how to move forward in the way that is best for you.

 Many victims worry about contacting an attorney because they think they may be pressured to sue someone.  But attorneys who regularly represent victims will often be available to advise and support you through the criminal process, without suing anyone.  It can be very important to find out about civil statutes of limitation that may apply if a company or institution failed to investigate the background of a perpetrator or to supervise him properly after he was hired.

CONTACT A CRISIS CENTER.  Many professional organizations offer free hotlines to help victims work through the trauma of sexual assault. If you find you need additional support beyond your friends/family and law enforcement, contact a crisis center, which can help you establish a safety plan for you and your family, and can guide you through the details of how to begin your recovery. Some resources are:

  1. Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network: 1-800-656-4673
  2. National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
  3. Durham Crisis Response Center: 1-919-403-6562

RECOVER   A sexual assault is terrifying, traumatic, and often devastating. Do not underestimate the years of recovery ahead of you. Many victims suffer long-term sleep disorders, anxiety, depression, and isolation. Remember to take time to allow yourself to heal.  Many recovery groups, private counselors, and support groups regularly help victims of sexual assaults. If you need help, get it.

Sexual assaults are not only traumatic, they can be life-altering.  If you or someone you know has been the victim of a sexual assault, we hope these steps will help you to focus on caring for yourself and protecting your rights. For more information, please contact attorneys Leto Copeley or Valerie Johnson at 1 (888) 407-5921.  The sexual assault attorneys of Copeley Johnson & Groninger PLLC offer free and confidential meetings in sexual assault cases.

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