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What to do if you have been sexually abused

Sexual abuse is when you're forced into any sort of unwanted sexual contact

Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in health

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Sexual abuse or assault can be any action or behaviour that pressures someone to do something sexually they don’t want to do.

Abuse has nothing to do with love. It’s about aggression, control and power – the power of one person over the other.

Sexual abuse can happen to anyone

A person of any age or gender can be sexually abused. 

  • Both women and men can be victims of sexual assault or abuse. 
  • Any person, of any age or gender, can perpetrate sexual abuse.
  • Rape Crisis Centres throughout the country gives support to victims both male and female of rape, sexual assault and child sexual abuse.

The National 24 Hour Helpline 1800 77 88 88 is available to anyone who has experienced rape, sexual assault or childhood sexual abuse. The telephone counsellors are available 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year, to listen, provide information or direct you to your nearest rape crisis centre where they can organise counselling if that’s what they want.

Who to turn to if you have been sexually abused

If you've experienced any form of sexual abuse it can be very difficult to talk about it. People often describe feelings of uncertainty, guilt, shame, anger, disgust and even disbelief. There can be worries about what will happen to you or the person involved if you speak out.

People who have been abused will often fear that they won't be believed if they tell someone or that it wasn’t serious enough. However, it is very important not to let this fear stop you from getting help.

Rape Crisis Centres throughout the country provide support to victims both male and female of rape, sexual assault and child sexual abuse. They can accompany you to the Gardaí or police, arrange a medical forensic examination, give you information about what happens next, and offer you specialist. There is also professional help available through the HSE National Counselling Service.

What to do if you've been sexually abused or raped

  • Don’t blame yourself; the rape was not your fault.
  • Tell someone you trust, even if you were abused in the past but never spoke about it.

  • Get medical attention right away. Visit a doctor or a clinic to be tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), pregnancy and to have any physical injuries treated.
  • Contact the Rape Crisis Centre for support on 1800 77 8888. They can talk to you about next steps, or simply just listen.

Reporting a rape or sexual assault

When you report to the Gardai, they will take you to a Sexual Assault Treatment Unit (SATU) where you can receive medical treatment, they can carry out a forensic examintation, and you can be given emotional support.

The SATU will offer the information you need to make a decision on what to do next. You do not have to agree to make a formal complaint to access a SATU.

  • If you decide to report the rape or sexual assault to the Gardai or police, do not wash until after you have had a forensic medical examination because important forensic evidence might be washed away.
  • Reporting a crime means you’ll be asked a lot of detailed questions and should carefully read through your statement when it’s finished to make sure there are no mistakes.
  • You have the right to ask for a male or female Garda, police officer or doctor.
  • When you’re reporting the rape or assault you can ask for as many breaks as you want and leave the station any time you want.
  • If you think you’ve been drug raped ask the medical staff to take a urine sample as soon as possible but remember some drugs can leave your system in as little as 12 hours.
  • Some victims might get an erection or ejaculate (cum) during the attack. This is an involuntary reaction by the body and doesn’t mean you enjoyed the attack or wanted it to happen.

Your feelings after being sexually abused

How a person reacts to sexual abuse or rape is different for everyone and it can take a long time to deal with what happened.

  • You might feel disbelief, numb, frightened, powerless, ashamed, disgusted with yourself or humiliated.
  • You might feel guilty and responsible for what happened or blame yourself for letting it happen.
  • You might want to be alone and feel unable to tell anyone that you were sexually abused.
  • You might have nightmares or flashbacks about what happened and find it difficult to get involved with anyone else.
  • You might self harm or develop addictions to drink, drugs or food.
  • The effects will vary from person to person because everyone reacts differently to trauma and crisis and sometimes a person will not react in the way they themselves might have expected. Remember there are rape crisis centres throughout the country to listen and offer support.

Staff at a Rape Crisis Centre can help you work through your feelings. The 24 Hour Helpline 1800 77 8888 offer a confidential, listening and support service for women and men who have been raped, sexually assaulted, or sexually abused at any time in their lives.

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Published January 14th, 2013
Last updated March 13th, 2018
Tags sexual abuse abuse safety rape sexual assault
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