Address Specific Concerns
Sexual assault victims present a wide range of symptoms to health care practitioners:
- Skipping or racing heartbeat or chest pressure.
- Dizzy spells, headaches, fainting spells, or light headedness.
- Muscle tension in the neck and head.
- Hyperventilating, smothering or choking sensation, or lumps in the throat.
- Tingling, numbness, or shaking or trembling of the hands and legs.
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
- Sweating, hot flashes, or chills unrelated to temperature conditions.
- Rashes resulting from excessive sweating.
- Sensitivity to light, sound, touch, temperature, and taste.
Victims also can experience adrenalin rushes, sleepiness, unexplained crying, emotional numbness, feelings of being trapped, helplessness, panic reactions, nightmares, flashbacks, racing thoughts, heightened or dulled perception, and complete or partial amnesia. Thoughts of suicide, eating problems/disorders, substance abuse, or self-mutilation also may occur.
In addition, sexual violence is linked to numerous adverse chronic health conditions, such as arthritis, chronic neck or back pain, frequent migraines or other types of headaches, visual problems, sexually transmitted infections, chronic pelvic pain, increased gynecological symptoms, peptic ulcers, and functional or irritable bowel disease.
It is important to choose mental health counselors and rape crisis advocates who understand the impact of sexual assault. For example, some women use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate following sexual assault. If counselors do not understand the impact of sexual assault, they may see alcohol or drug use as the most serious problem to address and may not focus on the assault as part of a victim-centered approach.
How can SARTs help address victims' health care concerns? Develop medical protocols for treatment, referrals, and reporting. Establish training programs and protocols for hospital personnel on the rights and needs of sexual assault victims. On a systems' level, work to provide seamless local services by addressing
- The kinds of services that are provided by medical professionals and institutions locally and regionally.
- The need for health care protocols and training, such as those involving medical forensic exams, substance abuse treatment, and followup medical care.
- Health care issues specific to the sexual abuse of older victims and individuals with disabilities.
- Cross-cultural service delivery, including campus health services, military medical providers, and indigenous or native healers.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Explores complementary and alternative healing practices in the context of rigorous science and disseminates authoritative information to the public and professionals.
The Principles of Advocacy: A Guide for Sexual Assault Advocates Discusses the use of traditional healing practices for American Indian victims of sexual assault.
To provide holistic and customized responses relevant to victims' healing, consider exploring complementary and alternative healing practices that can enhance physical and mental health and wellness, manage pain and other symptoms, and reduce health problems.
Not sure where to start? Here are some examples:
- A forensic medical examiner serving rural Colorado provides referrals and collaborates with homeopathic providers, naturopathic doctors, massage therapists, hypnotherapists, acupuncturists, and nutritionists.9
- In Texas, a sexual assault counselor uses emotional freedom techniques® as an aid to both physical and emotional healing.10
- A SART organization in Florida provides classes called Gentle Yoga for Trauma Survivors.11 Victims report that the yoga class has helped them reconnect with their bodies, manage trauma, and address their intrusive thoughts.
To proactively address victims' followup health care needs, make sure to take the following steps:12
- Educate patients on how to care for their injuries.
- Discuss the signs and symptoms of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, and reinforce the need for the victim to seek treatment should any occur.
- Explain the importance of taking all prescribed medications as directed.
- Discuss the side effects of prescribed medications.
- Explain the physical, psychological, and behavioral responses that patients may experience.
- Inform patients of their legal rights.
- Give patients written documentation regarding treatments received, tests performed, and dates and times of followup appointments.