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Rape: Healing and Survival

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Updated November 30, 2009

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

As you may have already guessed, 100% accurate statistics on rape are impossible to get. However, the estimates that have been made -- regardless of their differences -- are frightening.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 876,000 rapes occur each year in the United States. The American Medical Association says more than 700,000 sexual assaults occur annually, and the National Crime Victimization Survey conducted a survey of victims which put the number at 433,000. Depending on the source, this means that between 1 in 4 and 1 in 7 women are raped or sexually assaulted annually in the United States.

Sexual assault is the most rapidly growing violent crime in the United States, and less than 50% of rapes that occur are actually reported. Eighty percent of rapes are committed by someone who knows the victim, and 61% of female victims are under age 18. Although the majority involve male perpetrators and female victims, 5% of reported rapes happen to male victims.

If You Have Been Raped

Your first instinct might be to take a shower or bath to wash away what has happened to you. However, doing this could wash away physical evidence that could be used for prosecution. It is extremely important, whether you think you have any physical or emotional injuries or not, that you see a medical professional as soon as possible.

Call a friend, family member, or rape crisis counselor to accompany you to the hospital if you don't feel comfortable going to the hospital alone. Remember, it is OK to ask for help.

Hospital Examination After Rape

During a hospital examination after a rape, a doctor will look for signs of physical and emotional trauma, as well as collect evidence for prosecution (should you decide to file criminal or civil charges). You can refuse to be examined for evidence if you are completely sure that you don't want to prosecute. Many hospitals have special programs to assure that rape victims receive the support and information necessary to make the best decisions regarding the health services they accept.

The examination includes a verbal history of the rape or sexual assault. You may find it difficult to recount the event, but these details provide important information that alerts the health care professional about where physical injuries and/or bruises that may otherwise go unnoticed may be hiding. Pictures are taken for use as evidence. If bruises or other injuries appear later, it is important that you contact your examiner so that they can be noted in your record.

A pelvic exam is done to detect the presence of semen, as well as any injury, though it is possible for no semen to be present after a rape. Your pubic hair will be combed to look for the presence of your assailant's pubic hair. The physical evidence collected during your exam is available to the police only with your written permission.

It's a good idea for you and a friend or counselor to examine the record of your rape exam within 24 hours to assure its accuracy.

Emergency contraception is available if you feel that pregnancy is possible as a result of your rape. Emergency contraception works by preventing pregnancy within a few hours or days of unprotected sex. Methods used for emergency contraception include combined oral contraceptives, progestin-only pills, and insertion of an IUD.

A shot of an antibiotic is given in the buttocks to prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs); this is followed by a dose of oral antibiotics. You do not have to accept the shot. But if you're relying on symptoms to help you make your decision, be aware that some STDs may not show up for several weeks.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends that victims of sexual assault be reevaluated for STDs and HIV 2, 6, 12, and 24 weeks after a rape.

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