I originally wrote this article for the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault website.
When we see a sexual assault crime portrayed in the media, we are always presented with the dramatic criminal trial. There, at the conclusion of the criminal proceedings the judge renders the guilty verdict and justice is served; the survivor can now begin to move on with their lives, vindicated and on the road to recovery.
Of course, the reality of a sexual assault is much different.
In fact, sexual assault cases rarely make it through to a criminal trial. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network) Only 6% of rapists will ever spend a day in jail. The emphasis that people place on the importance of the criminal trial is disingenuous and overshadows the immediate needs and safety issues a sexual assault survivor faces.
There is also an issue with reporting. According to the “Health Survey of Texans: A focus on sexual assault” In Texas, only eighteen percent of victims reported their sexual assault to the police. Often, the reporting of the crime functions as the gateway to services for survivors. What about the eighty two percent of survivors in Texas who do not report the sexual assault to the police? Simply because they didn’t report their assault to authorities doesn’t mean that they do not have those same immediate needs.
Let’s look at some of those immediate needs in the aftermath of a sexual assault in Texas. The following is not legal advice and a survivor or advocate is strongly urged to consult with an attorney on all of these issues.
Safety: What if the survivor is concerned that the perpetrator will attempt to harm them again? (A survivor can apply for a Sexual Assault Protective Order, which prohibits the perpetrator from contacting or going near the survivor. If the Protective Order is violated the police will arrest the perpetrator.)
What if the survivor is in fear for their safety, and they are concerned about their name and address appearing in public court records and police records? (A survivor has the right to request that their name and address be redacted and made confidential in court and police records.)
Housing: What if the sexual assault occurred in the survivor’s apartment or apartment complex? The survivor may not feel safe there anymore and may need to terminate their lease in order to relocate. (A survivor has the right to terminate their lease to move to a new safe location if the assault happened in their apartment or apartment complex.)
Education: What if the survivor and perpetrator attend the same school? How can the survivor stay safe on campus following the assault? (Schools have policies and procedures to protect the survivor of a sexual assault, such as changing class schedules, changing final exam schedules, and stay away orders; this is in addition to the other remedies available such as a Sexual Assault Protective Order.)
Family Law: What if the perpetrator and the survivor have a child together? Who gets custody of the child, how does the survivor keep themselves and the child safe? (A survivor can file a Suit Affecting the Parent Child Relationship, which can determine custody rights, restrict or supervise visitation, and enter in a child support order.)
Financial: What if the survivor is encountering financial hardship as a result of the sexual assault, such as relocation costs, medical bills, and lost wages? (The survivor may be eligible for Crime Victims Compensation which can provide financial assistance to survivors. The survivor also has the right to ask for financial restitution at the criminal trial or they may bring a suit in civil court for damages.)
Immigration: What if the survivor is concerned about jeopardizing their immigration status or is an undocumented immigrant? (The survivor may be eligible for a U visa, a visa for a survivor of a violent crime, which grants the survivor temporary legal immigration status and may lead to lawful permanent resident status and later citizenship.)
These are just a few of the immediate issues that a survivor faces in the aftermath of a sexual assault; and these issues are in addition to the criminal investigation, medical, and emotional issues.