The 2017 documentary The Hunting Ground establishes the tragedy of rape culture and its frequency on the campuses of major university. The sad truth the documentary explores is how victims of these crimes have a hard time finding justice. School administrations are often unhelpful to the victims for a variety of reasons. Primarily, they are prioritizing the school’s reputation, or they do not fully understand the consequences of rape and are reluctant to confront fraternities which are often a high source of revenue in terms of alumnae giving.
New York forensic psychiatrist and expert of criminal psychology Dr. David Salvage, MD, strives to give victims and their legal counsel a comprehensive guide to follow after a sexual assault, ensuring victim rights.
Document everything. Doctor visits. If you’re dorm room was vandalized, take pictures of this. If you were injured, the usual rape protocol in an ER will have this photographed, but it is your legal right to request copies of these photographs because they have been taken by an official agency—a hospital or the police. This will be invaluable later on should you decide to press charges or go to court. Your own pictures can be dismissed by the rapists’ defense as inadequate evidence. If you have already reported this to the police, also make an official report to the school. Some schools have been supportive and have a growing awareness of this, but be prepared not to follow their advice if they are kind but recommend that you don’t prosecute if you feel that you should.
Get help first. Finding a therapist or psychiatrist who is trained in treating trauma, specifically sexual trauma, is invaluable. Check their credentials to ensure they have documented experience in working with this kind of trauma. A background in EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing can be immensely helpful).
Join a group for rape survivors. After a trauma such as this, being with others who understand the experience is a powerful healing tool. Wounds heal more completely when we are with understanding people.
Once the crime has been reported and you have connected with the right level of clinical care, you may have a better sense of what you want to do next. If you decide that you don’t want to prosecute the assailant, that’s your right. If you do decide to bring the perpetrator into the legal system, it is essential to have a forensic psychiatrist involved in your case and working closely with your lawyer. Dr. David Salvage works in this capacity to support sexual assault and rape victims and their legal counsel. The forensic psychiatrist can do an mental examination of you and coordinate with your treatment providers to reflect the degree of damage done and to address issues that may become traumatic in the court room. This will help to prepare the victim in advance. In looking at the particulars of the event, a forensic psychiatrist can also work with you on understanding what happened to you psychologically and how it needs to be presented truthfully, but with the best possible bridge between the clinical aspects of sexual assault and how this translates into language that the judge, jury and opposing counsel will be able to understand.
Don’t give up, whether you decide to press charges or not. Connect with others, and never allow yourself to be silenced.