Dealing with a police investigation and possible court cases after you have been sexually assaulted can add to the trauma you’ve already experienced. If you or someone you know is a victim, a sexual assault lawyer in Pennsylvania can help you understand your rights and guide you through the process. Regardless of whether your case goes to trial, it is important to gather information and evidence that can support your claims and potentially help police and prosecutors put your attacker behind bars.
Reporting Sexual Assault
After an assault, you may feel overwhelmed, terrified, and unsure of where to turn. These feelings are common in survivors of sexual abuse, but do not let them keep you from reporting what happened to you. Making your voice heard is critical, and it is the only way to bring your attacker to justice. The sooner you call the police, the sooner they can collect evidence and begin their investigation. Your body, clothes, and scene of the event can provide valuable evidence, so make sure to refrain from:
- Changing or throwing away your clothes or bedding
- Washing your hands, showering, or bathing
- Disturbing the area where the assault occurred
Getting a SAFE Exam
Survivors of sex crimes have the option to get a Sexual Assault Forensic Exam (sometimes called a rape kit or SAFE exam). A specially trained nurse will collect DNA samples, hair, saliva, clothes, and other evidence that could help support your case. They will also interview you, and may take pictures with your consent.
It is important to keep in mind that you can go straight to the hospital and get a rape kit before reporting an assault to the police. This allows you to preserve vital physical evidence and get medical treatment and the resources you need right away. This is also a good time to contact a close friend or family member for extra support. You may also want to find a sexual abuse lawyer as soon as possible to help get justice.
After you make a report to law enforcement, you can decide whether you want to press charges. Ultimately, it is up to prosecutors to determine whether to move forward with criminal charges based on the evidence available to them. In many cases, a defendant may agree to a plea bargain and you will not have to testify in court. If you do have to testify, your lawyer and the prosecution team will help you prepare. If the state decides not to prosecute your attacker, it is still possible to file a civil lawsuit against them to recover monetary compensation for damages.
When Your Attacker is Someone You Know
Unfortunately, many victims are sexually assaulted by someone they know. Whether it was an acquaintance, family member, coworker, classmate, spouse, or intimate partner, you have the right to report the crime and hold them accountable. If you have been assaulted by someone in your household, lawyers for domestic violence victims can offer the support and legal representation you need.
Documenting Threats and Harassment
If you have been facing ongoing threats from the person who assaulted you, make sure to preserve and provide all written or electronic communications, including text messages, emails, DMs, social media posts, phone logs, and voicemails. It can also help to promptly create a timeline and write down everything you remember about what happened, and provide the names and contact information of any witnesses who may be aware of the situation.
Take Advantage of Resources and Lean on Your Lawyer
Even if you do not report a sexual assault, seeking help to process what happened and find healing is critical. The National Sexual Assault Hotline (1-800-656-4673) can automatically route you to the nearest sexual assault service providers, who can connect you with counseling, medical care, crime victim advocacy, and other resources.
If you or a loved one has been a victim of an assault, our Chester County sex crimes attorneys can be your staunch advocate and protect your rights and interests.