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Frequently Asked Questions
Should I have a medical exam?
An individual who has experienced sexual assault can have a medical exam to attend to injuries, sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy and to discuss other medical issues. The medical exam may be done at a doctor's office or clinic, a student health center or a hospital.
what is a PERK exam?
The Physical Evidence Recovery Kit (PERK) exam is a special medical exam given to people who have been sexually assaulted who may want to report the assault to the police. A PERK exam is different from a regular health exam as it is done to collect evidence of the assault. If the survivor chooses to report the assault to the police, the evidence collected may be helpful in the investigation and prosecution of the sexual assault. The PERK must be done within 72 hours of the assault. A PERK exam is obtained by going to an Emergency Room and requesting it be done. A survivor does not have to report the assault to the police for the PERK to be done. The PERK exam and all services directly related to the gathering of forensic evidence will be paid for by the Virginia Victims Fund.
Should I contact the police?
An individual who has experienced sexual violence can:
- Choose not to report the crime;
- Report the crime to the police and not request an investigation;
- Report to the police with the intent of having charges pressed against the perpetrator.
If the individual is an adult, there is no mandated reporting unless there is a weapon inflicted wound that is not self-inflicted.
If the individual chooses to report the case, an officer may take the initial report and the crime will be investigated by a detective. After the detective/investigator has gathered all the evidence, they will turn the evidence over to the Commonwealth’s Attorney who will decide if the case is taken to court. An individual can speak with the investigator, the Commonwealth’s Attorney and/or a Women’s Resource Center Legal Advocate to find out the status of the case.
What will the court experience be like?
As soon as the defendant is arrested a bail bond is set, and the defendant may be released pending future hearings. A preliminary hearing will follow, which determines whether there is probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed and that the named defendant is the one who committed the crime. The individual may be required to testify at this hearing. If probable cause is found the case is certified to the Grand Jury. The Grand Jury is a group of seven citizens from the locality where the crime was committed. The individual does not testify before the Grand Jury and the defendant is not present. The Grand Jury is held in private, and the investigating officer is asked to present the case. If there is a direct indictment from the Grand Jury then the case moves over to Circuit Court and an arraignment is set. If a not guilty plea is entered then a trial date is set. The trial can be before a judge or a jury and either side can request a judge or a jury trial. The individual must testify and is subject to cross-examination. The defendant may or may not testify. If the defendant is found guilty the defense attorney can request an appeal.
If the defendant pleads guilty at the arraignment, there is a conviction which will result without the individual and defendant going to trial. The prosecuting and defense attorneys work out the specifics of a sentence through a plea bargain that is approved by the judge. There may be a pre-sentencing hearing ordered before a decision is made in regards to sentencing. This is a time when the judge will listen to victim impact statements a statement on how the crime has affected the individual’s life. In considering a defendant’s sentencing, the judge will consider the past history of the defendant. The Women’s Resource Center Legal Advocates can accompany individuals to court and answer questions related to the court process.
How do I or should I tell my friends and family?
Who to tell and when to tell about the assault is a personal choice. However, the longer an individual keeps silent the more likely they will have increased mental, physical and emotional stress. One option is for the individual to talk their feelings through with a counselor or call a sexual assault crisis hotline. The Women’s Resource Center of the New River Valley has a hotline available at (540) 639-1123. All calls made to the Crisis Hotline are confidential. You also can call the Virginia Sexual Assault Center at (800) 838-8288 or visit them on the web at http://www.vsdvalliance.org/
This will be a difficult time for everyone. It is important for the individual to surround themselves with others who are supportive of their decisions and helpful in the recovery process. In addition to providing services to individuals who have directly experienced sexual violence, the Women’s Resource Center also can talk with those indirectly affected, which includes friends and family, providing there is permission from the primary individual involved.
Could I have prevented the assault from happening?
There are still many myths and stereotypes that our society perpetuates by blaming the individual whom experienced the violence. It is important to remember that no matter what events may have lead up to the assault, the individual experiencing violence is never the one to blame for the assault. Only the perpetrator can stop an assault from happening. Although each individual experience is different, there are common reactions felt by individuals who have experienced sexual assault, which include but are not limited to: fear, shame, guilt, anger and loss of control. Even though the number of stranger rapes is fewer than the number of acquaintance rapes, the emotions individuals experience are still very similar.
What type of information will the media have access to?
An individual who experiences sexual violence does not have to speak to the media at any time. The media has the right to sit in on preliminary hearings and Circuit Court trials, but they are not allowed to release the names of juveniles. There could be a request to hear the preliminary hearing in private. If the judge approves the motion, then the media may not have access to the hearing. All Circuit Court hearings are open to the public. In many cases involving adults, the media can report the plaintiff’s name as well as the defendant. However, due to the seriousness of the crime, often the media will not release the name of the individual who experienced violence.