After a sexual assault, victims can seek sexual assault support through local rape crisis centers, sexual assault hotlines, and counseling services. Hospitals, clergy, as well as friends and family can also offer valuable support. Referrals for sexual assault support can come from a variety of sources, including law enforcement, a prosecuting attorney, and health care professionals. Determining the best source of sexual assault support depends largely on the victim's needs and his or her own personal support system.
If a victim chooses to report sexual assault, she may first contact the police or may seek medical treatment at a hospital. Both hospitals and law enforcement may be able to provide a victim with information about sexual assault support, including a victim advocacy agency as well as a local rape crisis center. Rape crisis centers operate in many areas, offering free counseling and support to sexual assault victims. They may be staffed by mental health professionals or trained laypeople who can offer significant support to victims. Some hospitals have a policy of calling in a rape crisis center counselor whenever they treat a sexual assault victim. If the hospital does not volunteer this information, the sexual assault victim or friends and family can ask whether a rape crisis center exists in the area.
In cases where a rape victim requires sexual assault support some time after the crime was committed, she can contact a community mental health center for information. In some cases, the victim may be referred to a private counselor or to a support group sponsored by the mental health center or an outside agency. If a victim has difficulty finding a community mental health center, she should visit her public library, which often has a listing of social service agencies. If the sexual assault victim decides to prosecute her assailant, she may be offered additional support through the prosecutor's office. Victims' advocates can accompany the victim and her family through the legal system, explaining how the process works and intervening if necessary to protect the victim's rights and dignity through the process.
Many sexual assault victims may also reach out to people in their own social network for support. Friends and family can help a victim regain a sense of normalcy and offer practical support as she recovers. This support can be particularly welcome as the victim interacts with the criminal justice and legal systems. Victims and their families may also turn to clergy for support and may find that other members of their faith community can offer significant practical and social support as they cope with the aftermath of assault.