I have been doing first aid now for over 5 years and have gone twice to the rainbow gathering to work for “CALM” that provides first aid, and health care for lots of under-served people who attend the gathering. In a week time you can serve up to hundreds of people. The charm of a dirt floor clinic and working alongside seasoned herbalists, nurses, doctors and other practitioners has taught me a lot. You see everything from staph infections, mental illness, drug addiction, to broken bones, and also rape. Unfortunately, there is never a year where we don’t encounter someone who has been raped at the rainbow gathering and that is what has brought me to write this article. We have lots of herbal protocols or medical protocols for all of the above but it seems there is lack of information about what to do in a sexual assault situation. So here I have compiled a simple how to list in these situations, (though these situations are far from simple) by personal correspondence with rape crisis workers, personal experience, and extensive research with medical databases like up to date that is the most current information on all medical protocols.
A lot of times there is hesitancy from the victim to go to the hospital due to many factors including; the predator might have been a friend, they feel like they were at fault for what happened, shock, humiliation, fear, anxiety of unknown procedures at the hospital that are invasive (which can make victims feel re-traumatized), they could’ve been intoxicated, or meeting someone for illicit drugs, it could have happened with a spouse and more. And honestly some hospitals are not up to date on how to handle these situations and can sometimes make matters pretty uncomfortable for the victim. 1 out of 6 American women will experience sexual assault in their lifetime (RAINN), and 1 in 2 transgender individuals will experience sexual assault (http://endsexualviolencect.org/lgbtq/), and for men its 1 in 33 (RAINN). For every 100 sexual assaults, there are only 32 that lead to police reports. Of those reports, there are only two felony convictions with as few as two rapists spending just a single day in prison (JEM).
Trying to preserve as much evidence as possible is important. Although wanting to wash yourself, dispose of your clothes, brush your teeth, and gargling, are a completely natural response to being assaulted, it’s helpful if the victim doesn’t. Even removing of tampons or inserting them, douching, and wiping the genitals should be discouraged. However, the victim has complete rights to do so if they wish. If the person has already washed up that’s fine, just make sure they don’t do anymore. If clothing has been removed, try to access them and place each article of clothing or evidence in separate plastic bags so there isn’t any cross contamination and bring them with you to the hospital. Plastic bags are more helpful if you are using “wet” evidence since they won’t degrade like paper bags will. Collect items in plastic bags and label properly. Collecting evidence of course has to have consent of the victim. If proceeding to the hospital have the victim get out of the clothes that they were assaulted in, and get them some new clothes to wear, or bring a new change of clothing with you to the hospital.
WHAT TO SAY
So what are things to say to someone who has been raped? Making sure that you make the victim feel like they have control over their body by giving the victim options about services and making them feel empowered through education is crucial since this person has just been left with feeling completely powerless. To start, be there as a supportive advocate giving them choice, options, and a safe space. Even asking things like “can I get you another blanket?” seems small but gives them the power of choice. A rape victim will have to repeat their story many times to different authority figures, so make sure you only ask questions about their emergency medical care, this makes it less overwhelming. However, if they want to share their story to you then listen carefully. If they do share their story with you it might be a good idea to write some things down that might help later when speaking with cops or emergency room staff. Of course with their consent first.
Saying things like:
I believe you
it’s not your fault (no matter what!)
I’m sorry this happened
You can trust me
Its healthy and OK to feel what your feeling
Healing takes time but it’s completely possible to have healthy relationships again, and rebuild trust.
Reassurance that their privacy will be protected
Do you have family or friends back home that can support you in your healing process?
are ways to let the victim know that you acknowledge their experience and that they are not to blame.
WHAT NOT TO SAY
Though it seems like common sense to not say these things, it’s still good to have a reminder. Things not to say are:
Telling someone how they could have avoided the situation
Everything happens for a reason or its Gods will
Disbelieve or question the situation
It happened on a date, that’s common
Telling someone to get over it
Other people have it a lot worse
Question the victim’s actions leading up to rape
This is common I know a bunch of people who have been raped
Did you say no?
Did you change your mind?
Where you drunk or under the influence of drugs
Did you like it (I just cringed)?
They are your partner/spouse maybe it’s a misunderstanding
Why didn’t you scream for help?
Why didn’t you tell anyone immediately?
CAREGIVERS BEING TRIGGERED
Because rape and sexual assault is so common, it is possible that you yourself might feel triggered when dealing with the emotional trauma of rape in first aid. PTSD ranges from person to person and how we handle it does too. Being triggered can sometimes feel obvious while other times it may be subtle. Sometimes PTSD will show its ugly horns days after the event. Even when you feel really confident that you can handle something to this extreme you may find out that you can’t, and that’s OK. Knowing how you act when you are triggered can be surprising; for some it is being zoned out and not listening while for others its crying, not sleeping, and anger, or it could be none of those things. If your feeling like this might be a possibility and there are other people in first aid that can help, reach out and express to them that it might be too much for you. Don’t try to take on a situation like this alone. In every first aid situation you should always be working with another first aid crew member. This ensures support for each other, breaks, and more support for the person. Taking care of yourself during first aid is like first aid 101, as first aid staff we are susceptible to getting sick, emotional strain, long shifts, and little time to eat and sleep. So it’s very important to make sure you take care of yourself, and reach out for help when you feel you need it. Some helpful tips are:
Remind yourself you are safe
Remind yourself how this is different from your personal experience
Get a cup of hot tea/ herb blend of calming herbs /supplement like GABA, or Calm magnesium.