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The rape survival guide: Ten simple steps to dealing with sexual assault

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Thousands of women made a stand against male sexual violence at the March 4 Justice around the country (Screenshot via YouTube)

Carla Bennett breaks down step-by-step the best way to survive a sexual assault and to prepare yourself for a lack of justice in the end.

*CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses rape

WELCOME TO the Women's Survival Guide to Rape in ten easy-to-follow steps. This guide is aimed at helping women competently and confidently navigate the rocky waters of their first rape. With practice, some experience and the help of this guide, you'll be getting raped like a pro in no time.

Step 1: Keep Calm

Following your first rape, it's not unusual to experience some shock. This should be discouraged. Rather than going into a state of shock, in a calm and orderly fashion, write down in specifics the details of your rape.

You may also photograph your surroundings as well as any injuries you may have, remembering that they may also be consistent with consensual, rough sex. This may be used as evidence as well as assist in describing the event to other people rather than trying to come up with the words yourself, as distressed women crying about their rapes are just looking for attention.

You may also be feeling a little bit mucky with the dregs of your rapist's fluids left in and on your body. However, it is important that you do not shower, brush your teeth or drink water to ensure DNA can be collected. If DNA cannot be collected, you've probably invented your assault.

Step 2: Report

The next step after being raped is making a report. Remember that if you do not report immediately and to a police officer (not just a friend or relative), then you were not actually raped and you are making the whole thing up for your own little ego-trip. Keep in mind that there is no logical reason that a woman would not report her rape the second it happens.

Present at your nearest police station calmly. Do not arrive in hysterics as hysterical women do not remember their rapes. It is important that you report to a police officer who believes you. This can be tricky as not all stations will have a female officer available to you in that moment. If your police station does not have such an officer, it's probably better if you just avoid getting raped until you can be sure a female officer will be available.

Step 3: Medical

If you have been raped and the police believe you have been raped, you will need to undergo a medical examination. For this reason, it is advisable to avoid being raped on a Friday or Saturday evening as the hospital will likely be at its busiest at these times. It is also advised that you are not raped in a small town with only one or possibly no hospitals, as your wait times will increase exponentially and it is unlikely you will see a doctor. Instead, the nurse you do see will have never performed one of these examinations — and they will tell you that.

The nurse will collect DNA samples from your body; thank goodness you didn't brush your teeth! They will also take photos of your body and your face which will be kept in a police file, so big grins! Remember that your injuries may be consistent with consensual, rough sex. Your nurse will remind you of this.

The clothes you were wearing immediately before and immediately after the assault will be taken so DNA can be collected from them also. For this reason, it's a good idea to ensure you're not wearing any clothes you're particularly attached to if you're planning on being raped.

Step 4: Disclose

The fourth step is telling your family and friends that you have been raped. This can be problematic if either of those groups includes a human male. It is strongly advised that you are not raped by a man as they are typically a lot more important and therefore believable than you; an imperfect female.

Things become more complicated if you are raped by a man who has potential, which means there is a chance (however slim) that he won't rape again. It is also strongly advised that you are not raped by a man with a reputation, which refers to any man known for doing literally anything other than raping. If you are going to be raped by a man who is liked by – or known to – at least one other human male, it's better if you just keep that to yourself, in the interest of avoiding your character being discredited and your integrity questioned.

Step 5: Statement

After you have completed your medical examination the police will ask you to make a statement. In your statement, you must describe your rape exactly as it happened. Police understand that during a sexual attack, the part of your attacker that you have the best visual of is his genitalia, as opposed to his hands, or the pillow in front of you, or the pattern the lamp makes on the ceiling. Nope, rape survivors spend most of their attack just checking out their rapist's penis.

As such, ensure that your statement includes a detailed description of your attacker's member — whether or not it's circumcised, to what side it leans, any odd bumps you may have noticed and its exact length and girth. Remember that if you cannot provide an accurate description of this part of your rapist, then you obviously have not seen him without his pants on and the incident was invented.

If any detail about the event feels foggy or unsure to you, or later turns out to be inaccurate, then this is further proof that your attack is merely an invention and you will be discredited and potentially sued for your attempted slander. To assist with this, police may choose to wait three to four days after your rape to take your statement to ensure your memory is at its freshest.

Step 6: Lawyers

If you have arrived at Step 6, you have successfully convinced at least one police officer, a nurse and (optionally) your friends and family that you were raped. Congratulations! The next step is to convince a room of lawyers that you were raped.

To prepare for this, study your statement closely in the weeks leading up to the meeting. The room of lawyers will ask you questions about your statement that you will be expected to answer without your statement in front of you. This step is particularly suited to those who did well in high school. For this reason, if you struggled with memorising content for exams in Year 12, then getting raped may not be for you.

Step 7: Public

Assuming you pass your statement exam, the next step is to avoid your rapist in public, given that he has either not been arrested or not been considered a threat to you and has been let out on bail.

Your rapist's bail restrictions will prevent him from coming within 50 metres of your home or places of work and study. His bail restrictions will not prevent him from coming within 51 metres of your home or places of work and study, studying 150 metres from your university, eating in restaurants 100 metres from your home or talking to your friends about how much of a bitch you are. If the prospect of this feels unsettling or distressing to you, you may need to reconsider if you're really prepared to take on the consequences of getting raped and rethink the whole thing over.

Step 8: Therapy

Following a sexual assault, you may decide to undergo psychological therapy to assist with processing the trauma of your experience. This should be done with caution to ensure records of your sessions are not subpoenaed for court. Your “therapist” should not be an actual, practising therapist so they may be exempt from keeping notes on your sessions. A non-judgemental friend or relative who has way too much time on their hands, some experience with the emotional and legal implications of sexual assault and a whole lot of free emotional space for you to take up would be perfect. If you can't find such a person, you may need to just keep your trauma to yourself.

Furthermore, ensure you don’t have an existing back-catalogue of mental health disorders that a psychologist may have written down at some point in time. All these notes and the notes of any meeting pertaining to your mental health pre or post-assault may be subpoenaed by the defence and used to discredit your version of events. This is because people who have struggled with mental health in the past are unreliable, unbelievable and extremely likely to go out of their way to frame innocent men for rape.

Step 9: Court

After some months or probably years of preparation – studying your statement at length, avoiding the cafes you know he likes, meeting in secret for de facto counselling sessions – it's finally time to appear in court. If you have made it this far then congratulations and I'm sorry.

Allow yourself to be helped by the few protections that can be afforded to you throughout the trial — screens, court companions and, if possible, video-link testimony. Don't be baited into saying things you don't mean. Examine your reasons for proceeding to trial and, if necessary, readjust your expectations. Surround yourself with people who love you and be patient with yourself throughout what will be a harrowing few days.

Step 10: “Justice”

The final step is to watch as the man who assaulted you is acquitted.

Whether in a court of law or in the court of public opinion, rapists get off.

If this experience has taught you anything about our justice system and the checks and balances that exist to protect the rights of the accused, then you have learnt that we are living with a system that fails to understand the nature of sexual assault, protect survivors and punish offenders.

If your case is one of the many that was dismissed at some point throughout the process, or you chose to withdraw your complaint at any point, this does not take from the validity of your experience. From the second you disclosed the details of your attack, it's likely that you have been gaslighted and talked in and out of believing things that you know are real. Remind yourself that you know what happened and remember to trust your own version of events above anyone else's.

It's not impossible to imagine that the hardest part of being raped is surviving the attack itself. And for many, there is no doubt that that is true. But following an assault, the legal and often public battles we put survivors through are comparable to a second, drawn-out attack.

Between 2007 and 2017, there were more than 140,000 incidents of sexual assault reported to the police. Of those reports, roughly 30% resulted in legal action, leaving roughly 70%, or 97,400 cases withdrawn, rejected, unresolved or resolved without an arrest. Only 10% of those reports resulted in a conviction.

In 2017, the National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey (NCAS) found 10% of people thought women were probably lying if they didn't come forward with their allegations immediately. That number rose to 42% of people who believed sexual assault allegations were a common tool used to ‘get back at men’.

Whilst these reports are a few years old, current attitudes can attest that these trends show no sign of slowing. Couple these statistics with the humiliating process we subject accusers to and one realises very quickly that the odds are stacked against survivors of this sort of crime from the second they are violated.

A “correct response” to rape is a fallacy invented by those looking to discredit the few who come forward with allegations. The sequence of events I've described is only one possible outcome of choosing to come forward with allegations of sexual assault and it aims to highlight some of the many roadblocks sexual assault survivors will encounter in their pursuit of justice for themselves.

There are a number of ways such allegations can play out but the common factors are recurring: accusers being put on trial rather than their accused; women not being believed or blamed for their assaults; and men not being held accountable by law or by their peers. So how can it be any wonder that women choose to stay silent about the crimes that are committed against them?

The last few weeks have seen immense feats of bravery by women coming forward with allegations against prominent Australian politicians. Their initial disclosures have been met with the same unsympathetic rhetoric we have become used to hearing — victim-blaming and defending that which is indefensible. However, it is important to remember that the road ahead may become bleaker still, as they attempt to navigate a justice system and broader society that is ill-equipped to deliver them justice.

If you would like to speak to someone about sexual violence, please call the 1800 Respect hotline on 1800 737 732 or chat online, or contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Carla Bennett is a Melbourne based writer who is currently studying a Masters of Journalism at the University of Melbourne. You can follow Carla on Twitter @carlabennett00.

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