Empowering survivors to make medical decisions best for them
Category: Medical Advocacy, Uncategorized
Category: Medical Advocacy, Uncategorized
Empowering survivors means providing them with information in order to make decisions that are right for them. We stand firm in our belief that survivors alone are in the best position to decide what is best for them. That core philosophy guides our work, including and especially surrounding medical decisions.
Sexual assault survivors can incur physical injuries and face continued health impacts stemming from their assault, one of which is rape-related pregnancy. New national statistics show almost 15% of victims became pregnant as a result of their assault.
Victims of sexual assault experience the loss of bodily autonomy. Restoring a sense of control is vital to long-term recovery. When the U.S. Supreme Court decided last week to reverse five decades of precedent protecting the constitutional right to abortion care, it told survivors of rape or incest once again their bodies didn’t belong to them, that someone else would make the decision for them.
Here in Washington state, at least for now, survivors continue to have access to the full range of reproductive options in their medical care. (Click here to view King County Public Health’s comprehensive list of resources and info.) Our role is to provide them with the very best information we can based on almost 50 years of working with sexual assault victims. We support clients’ decisions without judgment.
Medical advocacy — supporting survivors who need medical attention and forensic exams following a sexual assault — is part of KCSARC’s comprehensive services. With medical care for sexual assault victims in the headlines, we thought we would take the opportunity to share what we do in this realm.
Thousands of callers a year reach out to our 24-hour Resource Line (888.998.6423) or contact our client care advocates. Many of those callers are survivors who need emergent medical care. Others who did not seek a forensic exam immediately after a sexual assault may call wondering if it’s too late to have an exam or to access care.
Advocates assess on multiple fronts from the moment the call comes through. One of the most important assessments is ascertaining the survivor is in a safe location and out of further danger. “We have sometimes called 9-1-1 on behalf of callers who were in an unsafe situation, and couldn’t call themselves,” said Laura Lurry, director of advocacy at KCSARC.
In addition to taking whatever steps are needed to ensure the survivor is safe, advocates provide information, including identifying nearby hospitals or clinics where the survivor can access specialized medical care and forensic exams.
They prepare the victim for what will happen once they arrive and the care they can expect. That includes evaluating for and treating injuries, emergency contraception, testing for and dispensing medications to prevent sexually-transmitted infections. They also review each step of the forensic exam, explaining what decisions they may be asked to make in the process, including the decision about whether or not to report to law enforcement.
“Sometimes victims aren’t sure whether they want to report to law enforcement in the immediate aftermath, and we tell them that’s ok,” Lurry said. “It’s really important that they know that medical care and a forensic exam will be provided regardless of whether they want to report; both are covered by Crime Victims Compensation.”
Advocates also help clients understand that undergoing a forensic exam — especially if within 120 hours of the sexual assault —may provide evidence in the event they decide to report. They walk the survivor through how to preserve any evidence that may be at the scene, such as clothing or sheets.
KCSARC prioritizes maintaining partnerships with hospital and clinic social workers and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs). That takes time and effort but doing so means the best possible experience and care for survivors.
“Those partnerships foster trust and make great use of one another’s areas of expertise,” Lurry said. “An example of how that works for survivors is when we refer someone to a hospital or clinic. If a victim requests and gives permission, we have at times called ahead to that facility, so that the victim’s needs can be anticipated on their arrival,” Lurry said. “Small considerations can make such a big difference when a survivor is injured and traumatized, even just by making a private space available to them to wait in, instead of sitting in a crowded waiting room,” she added.
Centering on what helps empower survivors, and restores their well-being, sense of control and long-term recovery drives our medical advocacy work — and everything else we do at KCSARC.