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One in five women and one in 16 men is sexually assaulted during college.

Sexual assault and rape are difficult topics to discuss. But before you or your loved one starts a new chapter at a university or heads back for another year of college, it’s important to make sure you know what to do if you’re sexually assaulted.

“Sexual assault and rape are topics that most people would rather avoid but it’s important to understand what you can do if you’re attacked to protect your health and safety, and learn about your options for reporting an assault,” said Katie Lynn Ahmadzadeh, DO, an emergency medicine physician at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre.

If you have been assaulted, make safety your first priority. If you believe you’re in immediate danger or you need immediate medical attention, you should seek help by calling 9-1-1.

If you know you’re out of danger, you should go to the nearest hospital to get checked for injuries. You might be tempted to take a shower, brush your hair or change your clothes before you go there, but it’s important not to. You may want to ask a friend or loved one to accompany you to the hospital for support.

At the hospital, a doctor or nurse can give you medicine to prevent HIV or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). There, you can also get emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy. If you believe you were drugged before the assault, you should also talk to a doctor or nurse about being tested for evidence of data rape drugs like Rohypnol and Gamma Hydroxybutyrate (GHB).

“We can’t stress enough how important it is to get examined by a medical professional following sexual assault to make sure you’re healthy,” said Dr. Ahmadzadeh. “It’s also important to note that you can get medical attention without reporting the event to law enforcement.”

In addition to providing necessary medication, nurses will likely offer to collect forensic evidence including fibers, hair, clothing, saliva and semen and other DNA evidence with a Sexual Assault Evidence Kit (SAEK) or “rape kit.”

“Anything that might have DNA on it should be saved,” said Dr. Ahmadzadeh. “Your hair and clothing might have fibers, hair or bodily fluid on it, which can be collected as evidence if you decide to report the event right after it happens or even in the future.”

This collection process also includes a head-to-toe examination to locate bruises, scratches and other physical injuries from the event. During the exam, the nurse may take swabs of body surface areas and ask you to provide a blood or urine sample.

Finally, you’ll be asked questions about your health history and recent sexual activity to collect specific information about the event.

After evidence has been collected and before you leave the hospital, a nurse can connect you with a sexual assault and rape crisis center that can provide counseling and other resources.

“Sexual assault or a rape is a very scary and traumatic event,” said Dr. Ahmadzadeh. “It’s important to surround yourself with emotional support in the days and weeks following an assault.”
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