What to Expect at the Emergency Room
Seeking medical care is important, regardless of whether you choose to report to the police. Medical attention will provide for physical exam, treatment and collection of any evidence of the assault.
THE EMERGENCY ROOM EXAM
A local hospital emergency room can provide immediate medical attention. The emergency room responds to both the physical trauma of the assault and the process of collecting evidence in case you wish to report to law enforcement. Rape victim advocacy services are also available at many Chicago hospitals to provide support and referrals.
Hospitals in Illinois are required to notify the local police department that treatment has been given to a sexual assault survivor. However, you are not required to file a police report.
You may sign consent forms to allow the medical personnel to examine, treat, and administer medication to you, and to release information to the police. The nurse or advocate will explain the exam procedures to you and can be present throughout the exam.
After a sexual assault, the primary medical concerns are physical injuries, sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy. At the time of the examination, evidence can also be collected that can be used to prosecute the person(s) who assaulted you. If you wish to have evidence collected, do not bathe, douche or change clothes before the exam. This may destroy evidence. However, evidence may still be collected up to a week after the assault. You may wish to bring a change of clothes with you when you go to the emergency room, since your clothing may be kept as evidence. A sweatsuit or scrubs may also be provided to you.
If you choose, the hospital will conduct thorough and complete evidence collection using the Illinois State Police Evidence Collection Kit (the "rape kit"). The entire evidence collection process will be done only with your consent. You may decline any portion of the exam. There is no fee for having a rape kit done and you do not need to use your insurance. The rape kit does not contain any medication.
Evidence may be collected even if you do not plan to report the attack to the police. If you decide at a later date that you would like to prosecute, this evidence will be available. Any evidence found during the exam may strengthen any resulting criminal court case should you decide to file a report.
Evidence collection includes taking samples of substances from the vagina, rectum, and mouth; combings of head and pubic hair; collecting material from beneath your fingernails; and collection of any other physical evidence (e.g., saliva from bite marks). These samples will be used to detect the assailant's DNA and any other debris from the assailant or crime scene.
The clothes you were wearing also may be sent to the crime lab, and may be kept as evidence until your case is closed. Photographs may be taken of bruises, cuts and other injuries that occurred during the assault. The photographs may be kept as evidence until your case is closed.
THE COST OF TREATMENT OUTSIDE THE WELLNESS CENTER
The Sexual Assault Survivors Emergency Treatment Act (SASETA) will cover emergency room costs, including any medications you receive. The hospital should not bill you for any treatment. If an advocate is present, she can answer any questions related to SASETA and will help to ensure that you are not charged for your treatment.
Under the Illinois Crime Victims Compensation Act (CVCA), victims of violent crimes who qualify can be reimbursed for out-of-pocket medical expenses, loss of earnings, psychological counseling and loss of support income due to the crime.
SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED INFECTIONS
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, and HIV can be transmitted during a sexual assault. You may not know that you have an STI until several weeks or months after it has been transmitted.
If you are concerned about having an STI, discuss this with the doctor or nurse. He or she can give you preventive medicine (antibiotics, HIV post-exposure prophylaxis) at the time of the exam. You should receive information on any medication given to you. Make sure you know the name, dosage, purpose and possible side effects of the drug. You should get the actual medicine, not just a prescription.
Even if you receive preventive treatment, it is important to be tested for STIs two weeks after the attack, and again in six weeks. You should repeat HIV testing in 3 to 6 months. The Wellness Center can test for most STIs and provide referrals for free and low-cost STI and HIV testing.
For women, there is a chance that pregnancy could result from a sexual assault. A test for pregnancy is recommended for all women of childbearing age who are sexually assaulted.
You may request a pregnancy test at the time of the exam. However, a test at the time of the sexual assault will not show if you are pregnant from the assault. Follow-up testing is the most reliable way to determine whether you are pregnant.
Having a late period does not necessarily mean you are pregnant. Stress, tension and worry can cause you to have a late period; this happens to many sexual assault survivors. Pregnancy testing is available at the Wellness Center.
Adapted from After Sexual Assault, Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault