What to do when you’re a victim of sexual assault

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IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. This is the first thing to remember. It is never a victim’s fault when a perpetrator decides and chooses to commit violence against another person. It is something beyond your control. In Manitoba, there is ready assistance and support for sexual assault victims. There are many programs run by experts who are trained to help you move forward and begin your recovery.

What is Sexual Assault?

Sexual assault is “sexual activity where consent is not obtained or freely given.” It is intentional sexual contact, characterized by use of force, threats, intimidation, abuse of authority, or when the victim does not or cannot consent.

Consent is an important element in this equation. Without the consent of both parties, it is a criminal offence, regardless of age. Consent means freely giving permission for something to happen. It requires that a person voluntarily agrees by showing it through words or action that they will engage in the sexual activity. But remember, consent can be taken back at any time by simply saying that you want to stop or by your actions. Consenting to one sexual act does not mean consenting to another. Also, even if you’ve had sex with someone before does not mean you consent every time going forward. There has to be mutual consent each time even between long-time partners and spouses.

Cycling through Consent by Western University

What to do if you are a victim of sexual assault?

  1. Call 911 especially when you feel that you are still in danger.
  2. Go to a safe place. This can be your home, or a friend’s place. This should be a shelter where you are safe from the perpetrator.
  3. Preserve evidence. If possible, don’t change your clothes, wash or bathe.
  4. Go to a hospital, clinic or nursing station as soon as possible for medical care. You can go to any Emergency or Urgent Care centre nearest you. The Health Sciences Centre has a Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) staffed with a team of nurses who are trained in providing care to patients who are victims of sexual assault (see video below). If you are outside Winnipeg, you can go to your local emergency room, nursing station or your family doctor (check the Regional Health Authority map). You can also call Health links at 204-788-8200 (Winnipeg) or toll-free at 1-888-315-9257 in Manitoba for more information. You can bring a friend, family member or support person with you to the hospital. It is important to get checked even when you don’t see signs of injury. You may have internal damage. You could have also been exposed to drugs, chemicals or sexually transmitted diseases. All medical services provided will be safe, free and confidential.
  5. Tell someone you trust. It may give you a bit of relief to unburden yourself to someone.
  6. It is your choice if you want to report it to the police. But if you are under 18, the person to whom you reported the assault must call Child and Family Services to report what happened.

There are many supports in the province available and you have many options. Trained professionals can talk to you and help you decide the best recourse. You are not alone. This video from the Sexual Assault Response Team in Winnipeg (SART) shows how victims are supported after a sexual assault:

What happens after you’ve reported the crime?

If you decide to report the crime, know that under the Manitoba Victims’ Bill of Rights, you have the right to be interviewed by an officer of the same gender and the right to have personal details about you kept confidential. A Victim Services worker can also be assigned to you to help you understand the court and the criminal justice system. You can ask for a Victim Services worker even before you report to the police. They can support you through the court process, find counselling services, apply for financial compensation as a victim of crime, explain the offender’s sentence and help you with safety planning and protection. Go to Victim’s Bill of Rights Support Services (VRSS) to know more about the services that are available to you.

Sources: You have options: Help after sexual assault, Manitoba Justice Victim Services; You are not alone, Manitoba.gov.mb.ca; and The Victims’ Bill of Rights Overview, Manitoba Justice. Retrieved September 19, 2018.

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Community Resources

Klinik Community Health offers free sexual assault crisis counselling. Call their toll free crisis line for immediate help or ask for an appointment for in person counselling. Friends or family members of the sexual assault victim (secondary victims) may also avail of free counselling.

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