What do I do if I am Sexually Assaulted?

By Lt. Cmdr. Cindi Palacios, sexual assault prevention and response officer, U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery

Sexual Assault Awareness banner

If you have been sexually assaulted or think you have been, go to a safe location away from the perpetrator. If you want to talk with someone or want assistance, you have individuals who are ready to help. Make sure you understand the difference between a restricted and unrestricted report so that those you reach out to will understand your needs and can best assist you.

Unrestricted reports give you access to the same support services as a restricted report, but they are fully investigated and reviewed for prosecution. Providing an unrestricted report of a sexual assault may seem intimidating; however, the sexual assault response coordinator or victim advocate are there to help victims through the process. The Navy has implemented numerous policies to ensure victim safety and support. It is important to know that victims may request an expedited transfer to another command or duty station. Additionally, military protective orders are often issued against the suspect, ordering the suspect to have no further contact with the victim.

Restricted reports are kept confidential. Law enforcement is not notified, nor is an investigation initiated. The command is only notified that an assault has occurred with no identifying information about the victim or suspect. You can make a restricted report to the sexual assault response coordinator, victim advocate (VA) or medical. If you make a restricted report, you are still able to receive medical treatment, including a Sexual Assault Forensic Examination, counseling services, victim advocacy support, chaplain support and legal assistance.

Your communication with the SARC, VA, or health care provider is privileged and confidential except in specific circumstances. While a chaplain cannot take a restricted report, communication with a chaplain may be privileged under the Military Rules of Evidence or applicable statutes and regulations when they are made confidentially and as a formal act of religion or as a matter of conscience. Chaplains may not disclose a confidential or privileged communication revealed in the practice of their ministry without the individual’s informed consent.

You may also contact your chain of command or law enforcement (military or civilian); however, if you contact your chain of command or law enforcement, an investigation will occur, and you will not have the option of making a restricted report. Seek medical care as soon as possible. Even if, like many sexual assault victims, you do not have any visible physical injuries, you may be at risk of becoming pregnant or acquiring a sexually transmitted disease. Ask the health care provider to conduct a sexual assault forensic examination (SAFE) to preserve forensic evidence in case you decide later that you want to file an unrestricted report of sexual assault which may lead to prosecution.

If you suspect you may have been drugged, request that a urine sample be collected. Preserve all evidence of the assault. Even if you feel an intense need to clean yourself, do not bathe, wash your hands, eat, drink, or brush your teeth. Do not clean or straighten up the crime scene. You may not be thinking clearly due to the trauma, so taking these steps at the outset will help preserve evidence that investigators or law enforcement personnel may need to collect in the event that you file an unrestricted report.

For additional sexual assault resources, please visit:

● Visit safehelpline.org (for service members) to receive live, one-on-one confidential help with a trained professionals through a secure instant-messaging format.

● Call 1-877-995-5247 to speak with Safe Helpline staff for personalized advice and support.

● Text your location to 55247 inside the United States or 202-470-5546 outside of the United States to receive automated contact information for the sexual assault response coordinator at your installation or base. A sexual assault victim advocate may be assigned to assist you.

Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network:

● Visit https://ohl.rainn.org/online/ for free, confidential and secure help that is just a click away.

● Call 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) to speak with trained, professional counselors for advice or support.