How to get online help if you’ve been a victim of sexual assault or harassment
The ongoing scandal surrounding Harvey Weinstein’s multiple allegations of sexual assault is the latest example of high-powered individuals allegedly exploiting their privilege; this time in a particularly public-facing industry. But the news is an example of how anyone can be affected by sexual assault, and millions are affected every year.
Sadly, sexual assault is more common than you might think. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), an American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds, and the UK’s Rape Crisis charity says 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped in England and Wales alone every year – that’s 11 every hour.
For victims of sexual assault, no matter how recent the incident happened, news stories like Weinstein’s can bring back painful memories. If you have been the victim of a sexual assault, or someone close to you has, there are lots of people who want to help.
“Sexual violence or assault can happen to anyone of any age: men, women and children,” says Bernie Ryan, manager at St Mary’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre in Manchester. “For the victim, the extent of the sexual assault is no indication of how distressing they find it, or how violated they feel. It’s important that anyone affected receives the right advice and support.”
Of course, anyone who is the victim of an assault can report it to the police immediately, and the police will know exactly how to help. But for some people, in a wide range of situations, this can be daunting. From online chat rooms to phone helplines, there is a huge amount of free help available.
The NHS Choices website explains the medical implications of assault. After an assault, you may wish to check for sexually transmitted diseases, in men or women, or pregnancy in women, and a doctor or sexual health clinic can help with that.
If you wish to prosecute, the NHS encourages not washing or changing clothes immediately, as they may be used as evidence. A forensic examination would also help with a prosecution, and the faster this is done the more effective it is.
For specialist medical attention, including a forensic examination, the best place to visit is a sexual assault referral centre (SARC). Your GP can refer you to one of these, but so can other services including Rape Crisis, Women’s Aid, Victim Support, National Domestic Violence Helpline, the police, NHS 111 or contraceptive clinics. These services will also offer more information and advice, to help you decide whether you would like a forensic examination
Rape Crisis runs a national freephone helpline on 0808 802 9999, which operates between 12-2.30pm and 7-9.30pm every day of the year. There is a free 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247. Victim Support operates a free helpline on 0808 168 9111.
For women, Women’s Aid Federation has a helpline open 24 hours on 0808 2000 247 and the Women Against Rape website offers information and advice. For men, there are specific services including Survivors UK – Male Rape and Sexual Abuse Support, which offers online chat and SMS services.
The Havens speciality centres in London gives support for those who have been raped or sexually assaulted, if it occurred in the past 12 months. Respond helps children and adults with learning disabilities who experienced abuse or trauma, as well as those who have abused others.
For emotional support dealing with the aftermath of sexual abuse, Safeline offers face-to-face, telephone and online counselling, helplines and legal advisors.
If you are close to someone affected
Rape Crisis also offers advice for people supporting a survivor, with a list of things to do and not to do. There are also counsellors and therapists around the country who can help, on the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) website.