Hesperian Health Guides

What to Do if You Have Been Raped

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HealthWiki > Where Women Have No Doctor > Chapter 19: Rape and Sexual Assault > What to Do if You Have Been Raped

Every woman’s experience with rape is different. But there are a few things you need to do to help yourself recover.

First, ask yourself these questions:

  • Who can you ask for help?
  • Do you want to tell the police about the rape?
  • Where can you go for medical care?
  • Do you want to try to punish the rapist?
Do not blame yourself. You did not deserve to be raped. There was nothing you did that made it right for a man to force sex on you.

You need someone to talk to when you feel sad, hurt, scared, or angry, to go with you for medical care, and to help you figure out what to do. Choose someone who cares about you, who you trust will not tell others, and who is strong and dependable. Sometimes a woman’s husband or parents are too upset themselves to be able to give much support.

a woman touching and speaking to a sad-looking woman
I believe you. It's not your fault. I will help you.

If someone you know has been raped

  • Reassure her that it is not her fault.
  • Be supportive. Listen to her feelings, help her decide what she needs, and reassure her that she can go on with her life.
  • Respect her wishes for privacy and safety. Do not tell anyone else unless she wants you to.
  • Go with her to see a health worker, to report the rape to the police, to talk with someone who is trained to listen and support her, to see a lawyer, and to go to court if she wants to do those things.
  • Do not protect the rapist if you know him. He is a danger to every woman in the community.

The decision to use the law must be made carefully.

If there is no health worker who can treat you, the information on health problems of rape can help you prevent and treat some of the problems yourself.

  • Can someone go with you to talk to the police?
  • Has the law helped other women in your community who have been raped?
  • Do you want the rape to remain private? Can the police keep others from learning about the rape?
  • Did the rapist threaten to hurt you more if you reported the rape?
  • If the rapist is caught and you can prove that he raped you, how will he be punished?

If you think you may want to report the rape to the police, do it as soon after the rape as possible. Do not wash before you go, and bring the clothes that you were wearing in a bag. These things can help you prove that you were raped. Take a friend with you, and ask to have a female health worker examine you, if possible.

If you do not want to go to the police, or if you cannot go until later, you should see a health worker anyway—even if you are not badly hurt. Tell the health worker that you have been raped. She should then check you for cuts or tears, and give you some medicines to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Ask her to write down everything that she finds because it will help prove to the police or to others in the community that you were raped.

If you go to the police

a female police officer meeting with two women in an office
In some countries, women have worked with the police to have specially trained female police officers to help victims of rape and violence.

Always take someone with you to the police.

In most places rape is a crime. But it may take a long time and be very difficult to prove you were raped.

The police will ask you what happened. If you know the rapist, tell them who it is. If you do not, you will need to describe what he looks like. You may have to go with the police to try to find him. You may also be asked to get a medical exam from a legal doctor who works with the police. This is not an exam to help you get well, but to help prove that you were raped.

If the rapist is arrested, you will have to identify him, either in front of the police or in front of a judge in court. If there is a trial, try to find a lawyer who has worked with rape cases before. The lawyer will tell you what to expect and help you prepare for the trial. Always take someone with you.

Going to court for a rape is never easy. Describing what happened may make you have the feelings of being raped all over again. Not everyone will be understanding. Some may try to blame you or say you are lying.

This page was updated:17 Apr 2019