Rape

Rape is a type of sexual assault that includes sexual penetration, no matter how slight, without consent. Although other types of sexual assault may be done by men or women, rape is almost always done by men.1 Most women who are raped are raped by someone they know, such as a former or current intimate partner, an acquaintance, or a family member.1 Rape is never the victim’s fault.

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What is rape?

The U.S. Department of Justice defines rape as “the penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”3 The federal government uses this legal definition to collect information from local police about rape. The legal definition of rape may be slightly different in your community.

Giving your consent means giving a clear “yes” to any type of sexual activity, though the laws about consent vary from state to state. It is also rape when penetration takes place when you are drunk, high, drugged, passed out, or asleep and cannot give consent. People under the age of 18 (in most states) cannot give consent to sexual activity with an adult.

How can I tell if I have been raped?

You may not be sure if you were raped. The definition of rape is different in different states. But you may have been raped if you were penetrated — even partially — by a body part or object without your permission. In some states, penetration by other body parts, such as fingers or objects, is also rape. If you were drinking, were drugged, or were unconscious, you may not know if you were raped.

Find out more and get help by calling the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) at 800-656-HOPE (4673).

What should I do if I have been raped?

  • Get to a safe place. Call 911 if you can. The most important thing after a rape is your safety.
  • Don’t wash or clean your body. If you shower, bathe, or wash after an assault, you might wash away important evidence. Don’t brush, comb, or clean any part of your body, including your teeth. Don’t change clothes, if possible. Don’t touch or change anything at the scene of the assault. That way, the local police will have physical evidence from the person who assaulted you.
  • Get medical care. Call 911 or go to your nearest hospital emergency room. You need to be examined and treated for injuries. A doctor or nurse may give you medicine to prevent HIV and some other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy.
    The National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) can help you find a hospital with staff members who are trained to collect evidence of sexual assault. Ask for a sexual assault forensic examiner (SAFE) or a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE). A doctor or nurse will use a rape kit to collect evidence. This might be fibers, hairs, saliva, semen, or clothing left behind by the attacker. You do not have to decide whether to press charges while at the hospital. You do not need to press charges in order to have evidence collected with a rape kit.
  • If you think you were drugged, talk to the hospital staff about being tested for date rape drugs, such as Rohypnol and GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyric acid). Date rape drugs pass through the body quickly and may not be detectable by the time you get tested.
  • Reach out for help. The hospital staff can connect you with the local rape crisis center. Staff there can help you make choices about reporting the sexual assault and getting help through counseling and support groups. You can also call a friend or family member you trust to call a crisis center or hotline for you. Crisis centers and hotlines have trained volunteers and other professionals (such as mental health professionals) who can help you find support and resources near you. One hotline is the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673). If you are in the military, you may also call the Department of Defense (DOD) Safe Helpline at 877-995-5247.
  • Report the sexual assault to the police. If you want to report the assault to the police, hospital workers can help you contact the local police. If you are in immediate danger, call 911. If you want to report sexual assault that happened in the past, call your local police non-emergency number or make a report in person at the police station.
  • Talk to someone about reporting the assault to the police. If you want to talk to someone first about reporting the assault, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673). An advocate or counselor can help you understand how to report the crime. Even though these calls are free, they may appear on your phone bill. If you think that the person who sexually assaulted you may check your phone bill, try to call from a friend’s phone or a public phone.
  • If the person who assaulted you was a stranger, write down as many details as you can remember about the person and what happened. This will help you make a clear statement to police and medical providers about the sexual assault. With good information, they will be better able to help you and find the person who assaulted you.

Why do I need medical care after a rape?

After a rape, it can be difficult to think about being touched in personal areas by doctors or nurses. But it’s important that you get examined by health professionals who can look for internal injuries and get you medicines to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy.

Go to a hospital emergency room or a special clinic where staff are specially trained to treat rape and sexual assault victims. To find a special clinic in your community, call the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) at 800-656-HOPE (4673). The police can also tell you where to find a clinic in your area.

If you think you were drugged, ask the hospital or clinic to take a urine sample. This will make it possible to test for date rape drugs like Rohypnol or GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyric acid). But these drugs pass through the body quickly and may not be detectable by the time you are tested.

What happens at the hospital?

Even if you were not physically injured, you may need a full and complete medical exam. This type of medical exam is called a sexual assault forensic exam. It should be very thorough and might take several hours.

If you give permission for the doctors and nurses to do a sexual assault exam, that does not mean you are required to report the rape to the police. Giving your permission for the exam only means the doctors and nurses have your permission to collect DNA and other evidence from your body.

You might have heard of something called a rape kit. This is a container with several things in it that help a doctor, nurse, or examiner collect evidence of rape. These kits usually include a checklist. This helps to make sure all procedures are followed correctly. They may also include forms for collecting the facts and tubes and envelopes for physical evidence and DNA.

Collecting this evidence is important. If the rapist is caught and prosecuted, the evidence will be used in court. Even if the attacker is not identified or arrested, his DNA can be added to a national database. This can make it possible to connect the attacker to a future crime if he does it again.

The hospital or clinic will usually set up a follow-up appointment. This will help to make sure any injury continues to be treated and that you are getting any other care, such as counseling, that you might need.

Can I get medicine to prevent sexually transmitted infections and HIV after a rape?

Yes. The hospital or clinic can give you medicines that can help keep you from getting many sexually transmitted infections. This is called a prophylactic (proh-fuh-LAK-tik) treatment. It helps to keep you from getting an infection in case you have been exposed. Medicines should be given as soon as possible.

The hospital or clinic can also give you medicine, called post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), to help keep you from getting HIV. PEP should be given within 72 hours of the rape.

Can I get medicine to prevent pregnancy after a rape?

Most hospitals or clinics can give you emergency contraception pills to keep you from getting pregnant, or you can buy them over the counter at the drugstore. These pills are sometimes called morning-after pills. Emergency contraception is not the same thing as the abortion pill. Emergency contraception has the same hormones found in regular birth control pills. Emergency contraception prevents you from ovulating (releasing an egg from the ovary) or prevents sperm from fertilizing an egg. Emergency contraception works best when taken as soon as possible.4 Learn more about emergency contraception.

Get help if you are raped and become pregnant.

What if I can’t afford to pay?

Under the Violence Against Women Act (PDF, 410 KB), your medical exam after sexual assault should be free. Every state also has a crime victim compensation program. The National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards provides links to every state’s program. These programs can help you with medical expenses, counseling, and lost pay from missing work.

You can get more information and counseling from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) at 800-656-HOPE (4673).

What happens if I decide to report a rape?

If you decide to report a rape to the police, they may begin an investigation to collect evidence of the crime. The police will file an official report. Sometimes the police arrest the attacker if they believe the attacker is an immediate danger to you or anyone else in the community. If the evidence is strong enough, the lawyer for the state government, the prosecutor, will charge the attacker with a crime.

You will have to answer questions from the police and lawyers about the rape. You may be asked to testify in court if the attacker is charged with a crime.

Consider asking a friend, relative, or advocate to come with you to the police station. Having someone else present with you when you report the rape may help the situation feel less scary or overwhelming.

How common are false rape charges?

Many women are afraid to report a rape or sexual assault because they fear no one will believe them. And false rape charges are often talked about in the media. But researchers think that less than 10% of reported rapes are false.5

Just as it is impossible to know the exact number of rapes or sexual assaults, it is impossible to know the exact number of false accusations. Sexual assault is a serious crime, and charges must be taken seriously by everyone involved.

Did we answer your question about rape?

For more information about rape, call the OWH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 or check out the following resources from other organizations:

Sources

  1. Smith, S.G., Chen, J., Basile, K.C., Gilbert, L.K., Merrick, M.T., Patel, N., et al. (2017). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010-2012 State Report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  2. Walters, M. L., Chen, J., Breiding, M. J. (2013). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010 Findings on Victimization by Sexual Orientation.
  3. U.S. Department of Justice. (2012). An Updated Definition of Rape.
  4. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2015). Emergency Contraception. FAQ 114.
  5. Lisak, D., Gardinier, L., Nicksa, S. C., Cote, A. M. (2010).  False allegations of sexual assault: An analysis of ten years of reported cases. Violence Against Women, 16(12): 1318-34. doi: 10.1177/1077801210387747.