What can you do if you are raped or assaulted?
Every woman’s experience with rape is different. But there are some things you can 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?
A disabled woman who is raped needs the same help as any other woman. It is important to tell someone you trust who can go with you to see a health worker, and help you decide if you want to tell the police. You may feel sad, hurt, scared or angry for a long time, so you will also need someone to talk with about your feelings. Choose someone who cares about you, is strong and dependable, and who you trust will not tell others. Your family or usual helpers may be too upset to be able to give you all the support you need.
If you speak differently, you may find it hard to explain what happened, especially if you are upset. If you are ashamed or frightened, the words may be harder for you to say. Sometimes it helps to draw a picture to explain what happened.
In most places, rape is a crime. But it may take a long time and be very difficult to prove you were raped. Make your decision to go to the police carefully. Have the police helped other women in your community who have been raped?
Never go to the police alone. In some communities, a woman who goes to the police alone is at risk for being raped again by the police. Be sure someone else can go with you. If you want to report the rape to the police, you must go as soon as possible. Do not wash, shower, or bathe before you go, and do not change the clothes you were wearing. This can help prove you were raped. The police may ask you to have a medical exam from a doctor who works with the police. The exam can also help prove you were raped. If the rapist is arrested, you will have to identify him in front of the police or in front of a judge in court. 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 understand. Some may try to blame you or say you were lying. And some people will not listen to you because of your disability. They may believe a disabled woman cannot be a truthful or convincing witness. But some women with disabilities have been successful in court, especially when they have support from their community. When you decide to go to court, make sure you always go with someone you trust.’
Excerpt from ‘A Health Handbook for Women with Disabilities’ by Jane Maxwell, Julia Watts Belser, and Darlena David
If you are talking with a woman who has been abused or raped, reassure her that you will listen to her. Tell her to take as much time as she needs to explain what happened.
- Reassure her that it is not her fault
- Be supportive. Listen to her feelings, help her decide what she needs, and reassure her she can go on with her life
- Respect her wishes for privacy and safety. Do not tell anyone unless she wants you to
- Go with her to see a health worker, to report the rape or abuse to the police, to talk with someone 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. If possible, let other women know about the man. He is a danger to every woman in the community
If you see someone who has been raped or abused:
- Treat her with kindness and understanding. Encourage her to tell you what happened, listen carefully, and let her know you believe her. Do not blame her.
- She may find it difficult for you to see or touch her. So before you touch her, explain how you will examine her and wait until she is ready. Remember that her feelings about the rape and violence may last for a long time, even years.
- Treat her health problems. Give her medicines to prevent STIs and pregnancy, and lower her risk for getting HIV/AIDS.
- If she became pregnant because of the rape, help her to decide what to do.
- Write down who raped her and exactly what happened. If your clinic does not keep records, make one and keep it somewhere safe.
- Draw a picture of the front and back of her body and mark the places where she has been hurt. Show or tell her what you have written and explain that it can be used to support the fact she was raped if she reports the rape to the police or brings legal charges against the rapist.
- Treat her emotional and mental health needs. Ask her whether she has someone to talk to. Help her to respect herself again and to gain control of her life.
- Help her to make her own decisions. If she wants to report the rape to the police, help her find legal services. Help her find other services in the community for women who have been raped.
- Help her tell her partner or her family. If they do not know already, offer to help her tell them. You can help them find ways to support her until she recovers. Remember that family members usually also need help to overcome their feelings about the rape.
- Always ask permission before you examine a girl who has been raped or abused. This will help her feel she has control over who touches her.