Recently, there has been a worldwide wave in which people, mostly women, have increasingly come forward with allegations of sexual harassment, assault, and rape. This recent increase is a global trend that is sometimes referred to as the “Weinstein effect.” The allegations started in Hollywood but have continued to spread to include executives, actors, powerful political and judicial figures, and members of the business world. It has become difficult to keep track of the numbers of prominent men who have been accused of sexual misconduct in the past few years. Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, Charlie Rose, Les Moonves, Roger Ailes, Sen. Al Franken, Roy Moore, Kevin Spacey, and most recently Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Sadly, recent allegations and witness accounts have brought attention to the staggering number of incidents that go unreported and often go unreported for significant periods of time. The benefit of these revelations is that it has shed light on an area of the law that has traditionally been problematic. A central theme, in many of these accounts, and most recently in the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford against now Justice Kavanaugh, is the credibility determinations that must be made, especially when there is a delay in reporting.
Often, allegations of sexual assault become a “he said she said” situation that can become clouded by questions regarding the veracity of the victim’s statement and the alleged attacker’s statement. Some victims are vividly able to recall details of the assault, while others struggle to piece together a coherent narrative; neither one is conclusive of the validity of the story. Many times, there is no police report to support the allegation. Many, if not most victims have a reason for not reporting the assault: they were afraid of their attacker, they were afraid of the consequences of reporting the attack, they did not want to relive the attack, they did not think anyone would believe them, they were ashamed of the attack, and many more.
In the wake of these stories and accounts, it is more important than ever to know what to do if you or someone you know is or becomes a victim of a sexual harassment, rape, or assault. There are steps that can be taken to help you successfully file a claim against your attacker in the future, even if you are not ready to come forward immediately after the attack.
- Keep a Contemporaneous Account
One of the most important things you can do is create a record of your attack. Write it down in a journal, send it an email to yourself, take photographs of yourself that are timestamped, or create a video recording of yourself telling the story. Having a record while the event is still fresh in your mind will help you recollect the event, the circumstances around it, and the details of the environment, all questions that are typically asked of a victim when in court. Additionally, the mere existence of a record lends itself to the argument that the event occurred, even if it is not verified by someone else. Be sure to include the date or dates.
- Tell Someone Trust Worthy
Consider telling someone you trust – a friend or a family member can be great options. Having someone who can verify that you told them about the event acts in much the same way a written account does – it bolsters the argument that the event occurred. Even if that person was not there at the time of the incident, the court can find value in the fact that you told someone about it.
- Call a Help Line
There are sexual assault hotlines or help lines that you can contact to be connected with a trained professional. For instance, 1-800-656-HOPE is a National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline. By calling into the hotline you will be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area. The hotline can assist you in obtaining services in your area such as: support finding a local health facility that is specifically trained to care for survivors of sexual assault, local resources that can assist you towards healing and recovery, referrals to long term support in your area, and basic information about medical concerns. In addition to providing important support and resource, the call will a trained staff member can ultimately be used as a contemporaneous record of the attack. It is also important to know that the hotline will not release the record or information about the call without the consent of the caller, unless obligated by law.
- Seek Medical Attention
Many victims say that they did not seek medical attention because they did not want to answer questions about the attack. This is extremely understandable from a psychological and emotional perspective. But consider the medical benefits to seeking medical help. You may have wounds and injuries that need to be examined. Your physical health should be prioritized and is not something to gamble with.
From a legal perspective, there could be a variety of benefits: DNA evidence could help identify an attacker and it creates another record that the attack occurred, which can be verified with medical evidence. Medical reports can also be very strong evidence that the attack occurred a certain way.
Creating a contemporaneous account, telling someone you trust, calling a support hotline, and getting medical attention all lend themselves to creating a record after the event. While it can be very difficult to create a record of the incident as it occurred, these are steps you or someone you know can take if you find yourself in this precarious situation. They may not be easily done; emotionally and psychologically, each involves an acknowledgment and recounting of the incident in a way that many victims state is the reason they did not report the incident. But, they can be invaluable if you decide to pursue a legal claim down the road.