What to do if you’ve been raped *WARNING: TRIGGER content

Disclaimer: This article may cause triggers to traumatising events in your life, read with a supportive friend or colleague. This is not legal advice, seek legal counsel if you wish to pursue a case.

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We’re not going to bullshit you, it’s not easy.

First and foremost, it doesn’t matter where you were, what time it was, what you were wearing, or who you trusted – IT WASN’T YOUR FAULT – this was completely the fault of that power-hungry %&$#er who lacked self-control, who preyed on your innocence, whose mind is so messed up that they derived pleasure from your weakness.

But here’s the thing, you aren’t weak.

You aren’t weak because someone overpowered you when you least expected it, that’s all. There are things you can do to regain your power and control. Here is the power the Sexual Offences Act of Guyana gives you:

Step 1: It happened.

Your mind may be in a haze because something traumatizing happened, your brain’s instinct is to keep you alive and that may be to shut down and reboot; so you may be dizzy and start to blank out, but try to focus on where you are, and who is around. Try to remember sounds, clothes, build, voices.

I know I am asking you to re-live and store this trauma but trust me, your mind is trying to erase it but you need to remember this for the next steps, and for the healing process to come.

Step 2: Picking yourself up.

After you’ve regained strength you’re going to want to rush into a bathroom to wash yourself off, sit and cry, and hide away from the world. It’s recommended that you DON’T.

Don’t wash yourself – you are washing away evidence that will directly identify the perpetrator: this may include bodily fluids and clothes fibers.

Do not clean the environment where it happened either, again, you are cleaning away evidence.

Step 3: Those darn police!

Based on our trust and feelings of the Guyana Police Force, your conscience is going to say “They are not going to do anything/ nothing gon come of this” but you have to involve the police ASAP. They may not even know what to do; luckily you do because you’ve read this article and you know the process, and your rights. They may also be insensitive and completely stupid.

Call the police if you’re around the environment and have access to a phone (but more than likely they’ll ask you to come in because they don’t have gas), or go yourself to the closest police station because there are some things that they need to do to collect evidence, and also to protect your health.

There are instances where the police response can be, “Well there is nothing much we can do”, or “that would be hard to prove”, or even “why were you there? that would’ve happened because (insert some reference to rape culture); for men, the response can be laughter and, “wha you mean? a man can’t get rape!” (see what I mean by insensitive and completely stupid?). You have to put your foot down at this point to say that they are not the court to decide that, the police by law has to take your report. There are also legal consequences if the police chooses to not take your report. More info on this below.

It would help if you contact a trusted friend, a Social Worker, a Rights-Based NGO or a Community Leader to go through this process with you. It’s like extra eyes watching the police, and it forces them to follow protocol and not just drop it (which we all know they love to do).

You will have to make a report of what happened. This again is reliving the situation and this is hard to do, the police are required to  exercise patience and you are allowed someone there to support you. This recollection of what happened for the report is why it was important for you to identify sounds, area, and persons during the crime; if it was soon enough the police will launch a local man-hunt to find the person/s based on your report. Witnesses around the area you described may also be picked up to add their reports to your case.

At the police station you can request a private room to make your report and an officer of the same gender as yours; you can also request the presence of a social worker or lawyer in the room.

Step 4: A medical exam

The police, after recording your complaint will have the medical examiner on duty perform a rape kit check and medical examination or they will send you to the nearest hospital or clinic with a paper for you to be checked (they may or may not accompany you if they send you somewhere else, that’s why it’s important you contact another person to go with you for support).

This “rape kit” includes medication that they will give you to prevent the transmission of HIV if your perpetrator was HIV positive. It needs to be taken ASAP – so every hour counts – the medical examiner will also swab you to collect bodily fluids, take a record of any marks of violence on you (scratches, bruises, and evidence of forced penetration), and gave you medical attention (like dressing your cuts, stitching gaps, and taking care of your medical needs).

The examiner will make a note of their findings which will be compiled with the police report for the impending investigations and possible court matters.

It will be helpful for you to keep a record of this.

Until you’ve been medically examined and a rape kit has been used to collect evidence do not:

• Wash your hands, shower, bathe, douche or clean any part of your body

• Brush or comb your hair

• Brush your teeth

• Eat or drink anything or use mouthwash

• Change your clothes

• Tidy or clean the place where the assault took place; leave everything exactly as it was so that the police can collect evidence.

Step 5: Seek counselling.

Something terrible happened. You need to speak about it, you need someone to emotionally support you.

This person can be a trusted friend, family, a group of persons who went through similar situations, or a professional counsellor, therapist, psychologist. Religious leaders aren’t necessarily the best but if you find comfort in your religion, sure.

If you suppress your trauma, and try to forget about it like most people are forced to do, it will impact your life in negative ways: You may find it difficult to speak to people, socialise, trust others, go near certain places; some things may trigger you and cause shocks and blackouts (sudden screams, chills, fainting); persistent nightmares and depression, anxiety, and mental illnesses (post traumatic stress); poor performance at work, family and social life. You need to regain your strength, your confidence, your life. Accept that it happened, do something about it.

This is up to you:

You can stop at making the report and seek counselling.

You can actively pursue the case for justice.

You can be a voice, a local advocate and campaigner against sexual violence, calling for and working for the protection of others, and mobilising more resources for the police and courts to deal with cases, and education campaigns for persons to know these processes.

Completely your choice. Take ownership of your experience.

Counselling is an ongoing process and does not stop until you are comfortable enough to end your sessions. It may be 2 months or it may be for life. You also get to determine this. Regain your power! It’s never lost.

Step 6: Investigation and trial of Sexual Offences

Police investigation: The police are required to record and investigate every sexual offence report and within 3 months of the report to either bring charges or send the file to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for advice.

Failure by the police to report, investigate, charge or seek advice from the DPP within 3 months, is neglect of duty and disciplinary charges can be brought against them.

Magistrate’s review: The Magistrate having received the police report can make a decision if the case should go to trial or substantial evidence is lacking which means the police will have to do further investigations. The perpetrator during this would have been questioned and asked to report to the station or lodge their travel documents.

Court Procedure: If the Magistrate is satisfied that a case has been brought, the perpetrator would be asked to provide a defence to the report made against them, to challenge the results of the police investigations, and respond to the paper committal – that is a written statement and account of the victim’s experience and testimony.

Note that confrontations between you, the complainant and the accused are unlawful. Complainants should never be in the presence of the accused or other witnesses for the accused unless for an identification parade by way of audio-visual link, two way mirror or other means whereby the accused cannot see the complainant.

You will never have to sit in the same room as them. That is protected by law. The accused will be asked to confront the evidence, not the person.

I’m not going to say you will get justice. In Guyana you always run the risk of families threatening you, someone offering you money to “drop the case”, slow responses from the police, the Magistrate puts the accused on bail and adjourns the matter for weeks, sometimes months; and we are all too familiar with this – the police prosecutors lose a file/ failed to provide evidence/ botched the case and the person gets off on technicalities.

Going through the trial will take a lot of your strength, time and patience, but you’re not alone.

You will find people who believe you, who will offer help, support you throughout all these processes. You are not alone.

You also have a right to do nothing. But I beg you not to suppress it and “go about your life” as if nothing happened. It did. At least report it and go through the medical exam. But if that’s all you’re willing to do, that’s fine, but please, pleasseeee seek counselling.

Sexual violence can happen from anyone, to anyone, and anywhere: your spouse/ partner, your children, your parents, siblings, relatives, friends, classmates, co-workers, the boss, religious leaders, neighbours, and complete strangers. At any age, any gender, any social class.

It was an unfortunate incident, but regain your power! Your strength. We got you.

Some people reading this article may not have been raped, it is still important to know what to do in the unfortunate instance that you are raped. It can happen to anyone.

Here is what to do during the crime before enacting the follow-up steps above.

Red alert: Fight or Flight.

Your stomach tingles and your heart pounds, the hair on your body stands and your fight or flight mode is activated.

Use what comes naturally to you.

Run and scream if you can, if they catch you, fight: cause marks of violence (that will be used later to identify the suspect), that is scratches on their skin, torn clothes, or a bite, but you risk being knocked out to subdue you.

It’s happening.

This may sound like terrible advice here, but if you are subdued – relax – Don’t fight up.

I KNOW, I KNOW. But trust me.

At this point if you are subdued, fighting isn’t going to make it better. If you fight (which the perpetrator will like), it will cause the experience to go longer, you also risk the perpetrator using violent force to knock you out completely or even kill you.

Just relax, close your eyes, control your breathing, listen to sounds, and assess your environment.

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Featured image: Canva

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Jairo Rodrigues is a Women Deliver Young Leader, Human Rights Advocate and Social Change Projects Coordinator specializing in Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), and programmes related to gender relations, women empowerment, youth development, and LGBT Rights.

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