What to expect at the Emergency Room if you’ve been sexually assaulted…
Going to the emergency room after a sexual assault can be a scary and confusing experience. Your safety and health are of utmost concern. It is important for you to understand your options and have the support you need to make informed decisions.
When you arrive at the Sentara RMH Medical Center Emergency Room, you will need to check in at the triage desk to be registered. At this time the hospital staff will call a Collins Center advocate as well as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE). The Collins Center advocate will ask you some necessary questions in order to coordinate the appropriate medical and legal response.
Physical Evidence Recovery Kit (PERK) Exams
A PERK is a special medical exam given to people who have been sexually assaulted within the last 72 hours to collect evidence that may be helpful in the investigation and prosecution of the sexual assault. A Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) will conduct this exam. Sexually Transmitted Infection and Pregnancy Prophylaxis are routinely offered with the PERK exam. STI Prophylaxis is a high dose of antibiotic that will decrease your chance of getting an STI. Pregnancy prophylaxis is a high dose of birth control that can help prevent pregnancy if taken within 72 hours. The cost of PERK exams and medications are paid for by the Commonwealth of Virginia's Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund.
A PERK exam cannot tell you whether an assault did or did not happen. Instead, evidence collected during a PERK is sent to a lab as part of an active investigation. Results will be sent to the investigator assigned by law enforcement. After a PERK, the nurse may refer you to an emergency room physician if you have injuries that require medical attention.
Below are some things to keep in mind when determining how and when to report a sexual assault:
- Adult victims may choose whether or not they would like to talk with law enforcement, unless a weapon has been used. The police and Child Protective Services will have to be notified of the assault if the victim is under the age of 18.
- An assault must be reported to the law enforcement from the location where the assault occurred. Be sure to let the Collins Center advocate know where you were assaulted so the correct jurisdiction can be contacted. If the assault occurred outside of Harrisonburg or Rockingham County, medical professionals and the advocate will help determine how to make the appropriate contact.
- A patrol officer will be dispatched and come to the hospital to ask you some questions about the assault. This may be done in a private space called the Family Room in the ER waiting area. An investigator may also come with more detailed questions to help build a criminal case.
- It is important to tell law enforcement all the details surrounding the assault, including information about alcohol and drug use, even if you are under age. This information will be used only to aid in the investigation.
- Title IX is the on-campus reporting option, separate from the criminal process, that allows the school to investigate and put protective measures in place. For more information, contact your school's Title IX coordinator.
If you think you may want to report the assault to the police, the sooner you have evidence collected, the better, as a PERK exam may not be effective if more than 72 hours have passed since the assault.
When considering making a report to law enforcement...
If you do not want to make a report to law enforcement…
You may choose to see an emergency room physician for your injuries and request medications including STI Prophylaxis and Pregnancy Prophylaxis. There are other options for obtaining medications only – through the health department, your gynecologist, or university health center. For more information about accessing STI and Pregnancy Prophylaxis, ask the Collins Center advocate or Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner.
If you have decided you do not want to make a report to law enforcement now or in the future, then having evidence collected via a PERK exam may not be the right choice for you. A PERK exam may be done without reporting to law enforcement. In such cases, other evidence may potentially be lost. The sooner you report the assault to law enforcement, the better the chance for a successful prosecution of the offender. The Collins Center advocate can help you think through the choice to report the assault and/or to have a PERK exam.
- Collins Center Advocate – The Collins Center provides trained sexual assault crisis specialists who can offer support and information to victims at the hospital. The Collins Center advocate can answer most questions you may have and can be with you throughout your visit to the hospital.
24-hour sexual assault crisis hotline: 540.434.2272
- SANE – The Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner is a nurse who is specially trained to collect a Physical Evidence Recovery Kit exam (PERK).
- Emergency Room Physician – This is the doctor you will see if you have physical injuries that need treatment. Or if you are not interested in pursuing criminal charges, he/she will do a gynecological exam.
- Police Officer – A patrol officer may respond to the hospital to ask you questions about the assault. He/she will then contact an investigator to report on what has happened.
Harrisonburg Police Dept.: 540.434.2545
Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office: 540.564.3800
- Police Investigator – The detective will investigate the assault. He/she will come to the hospital and ask many detailed questions to help build a potential case.
- Child Protective Services (CPS) Worker or Social Worker – CPS or a social worker may be at the hospital if the victim is a child or an adult with special needs. They will work with the family and with law enforcement to ensure the child’s safety.