On 2 August 2017, a Reddit user shared a photograph of an information flyer regarding rape and sexual assault to the subreddit r/interestingasfuck:
The poster did not provide a source or context for the image, and appeared to interact on Reddit primarily in the form of submissions. The flyer read:
DID YOU KNOW
after a rape or sexual assault…
- You can go to the hospital and not report [the rape or assault] to the police
- Evidence can be collected for up to 5 days and will be held for up to 6 months whether or not you decide to report to the police
- Testing for Date Rape Drugs can be done from 24 hrs up to 72 hrs
- Medications to prevent STD’s and Pregnancy need to be started within 72 hours
- A rape crisis counselor can go with you to the hospital
Everything you do/don’t do is YOUR CHOICE
Although the document appears to be a handout from a rape crisis or advocacy center of some description it also looks as if identifying information (indicating jurisdiction, among other things) had been cropped out, priming the image to be shared by a larger audience.
Nothing claimed in the flyer was particularly bad or harmful advice, but it also targeted assault victims and made promises that might not always be true, such as that a hospital escort would be available. Further, statements about preventive care following an assault are worthy of double-checking, because of the decreased efficacy of such treatments over the course of hours following an assault.
The meme’s first claim is that it is possible to seek medical treatment without reporting the rape or assault to the police, a statement that is gray at best. Confidentiality standards maintained by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) require sexual assault hotlines to adhere to privacy policies, but we found no sweeping guarantee in the United States that any third party was prohibited from reporting a suspected rape or assault to local authorities. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, Inc., in some situations mandated reporters are bound to report suspected assault or rape regardless of the victim’s wishes:
Depending on to whom you report the abuse, if it involves a minor, there may be mandatory reporting requirements for minor victims. Many states require that health professionals, school officials, and counselors report any accusations of sexual assault, rape, or unlawful sexual contact to child protective services and/or to the police if the victim is a minor. Mandatory reporting requirements vary by state. You can look up your states specific laws on mandatory reporting requirements for minors in RAINN’s State Law Database. If you are a minor and you want to talk to an adult about sexual assault or abuse without having it be reported to the police or child protective services, it may be a good idea to ask the adult if s/he is a mandatory reporter before you talk to him/her. If s/he says “yes,” you can ask if s/he can refer you to someone who you can talk to confidentially (who is not a mandatory reporter). Alternatively, you may want to call a national or state hotline anonymously without giving any identifying information about yourself.
A 2013 question-and-answer piece published by Cleveland’s Plain Dealer clarifies:
There is no requirement [a victim] talk to police [if they visit a hospital following a rape or assault]. However, a hospital must inform law enforcement that a probable crime has occurred. If you are an adult, the report can be made without providing your name.
In 2014, Canadian broadcast outlet CBC reported that a hospital visit does not automatically trigger police involvement in Canada, again stipulating that minors do not have the option of refusing police involvement. The meme also said that evidence can be collected for up to five days and would be held for six months in the event the victim opted to involve police at a later date. This is potentially misleading. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime [PDF], the length of time kits are held by law enforcement fluctuates:
This varies from state to state, but is generally equal to the statute of limitations for sexual assault in that state and the amount of time proscribed in the state’s evidence retention laws. There may be reasons to keep the kit indefinitely because of future changes in the statute or technological advances that may provide for future testing.
The same organization noted that advances in DNA testing enabled evidence collection in some cases for up to 96 hours (four days) after an assault. But 12 to 24 hours [PDF] is optimal for investigative purposes, and evidence can deteriorate at the upper end of that window:
In general, once a body fluid dries to form a stain, the DNA is stable and, thus, can be analyzed over time. However, due to the adverse impact of various environmental conditions (mainly heat and humidity), biological material should be collected for use as evidence as soon as possible. In sexual assault cases, it is important to obtain evidence samples from the victim as soon as possible after the incident, preferably within 12-24 hours. Federal guidelines for sexual assault nurse examiners state that evidence in sexual assault cases should be collected within 72 hours, though some programs are expanding that deadline to 96 hours due to advances in DNA technology. With appropriate storage, DNA evidence collected properly and in a timely manner can be analyzed after the passage of any amount of time.
In other words, four days is stretching the bounds of forensics, and not all jurisdictions hold samples for up to six months. In addition, advocacy groups routinely advise victims to avoid the following before collecting evidence:
- take a bath or shower
- brush your teeth
- go to the bathroom
- change your clothes
- brush your hair
- eat or drink anything
The meme went on to claim that testing for incapacitating drugs could occur between 24 and 72 hours after an assault, which is complicated by the breadth of substances that fall into that particular category. Although rohypnol (roofies) and gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) are commonly recognized as agents used to incapacitate victims, alcohol and benzodiazepines also are classed as drugs associated with date rape. GHB has a short half-life, but rohypnol can appear in tests for approximately 28 days. The range of drugs used to facilitate non-consensual sexual encounters is broad enough that a specific window of 24 to 72 hours does not fit that wide spectrum.
Next, the flyer says that medications to prevent sexually transmitted disease and pregnancy must be started within 72 hours.” The World Health Organization’s guidance on post-assault care recommends something different:
The decision to offer STI prophylaxis should be made on a case-by-case basis. Routine prophylactic treatment of all patients is not generally recommended.
When agencies and organizations do recommend prophylactic antibiotics, we found no time limit included. With respect to emergency contraceptives, intra-uterine devices (IUDs) were considered effective for five days after a rape or unprotected sexual encounter. Oral emergency contraceptives (the “morning after pill”) are not typically recommended after 72 hours, and work best when used as soon as possible after exposure to pregnancy risk.
The final bullet point appears specific to whatever entity originally published the list. The claim that victims can obtain an escort without a number to call or other resource provided is open-ended, and clearly not applicable in all situations. According to RAINN, there is a possibility (but no guarantee) victims can connect with the support described on the sheet:
If you call the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE) or contact a local sexual assault service provider, you may be connected with an advocate who can talk to you about the examination and offer support. The advocate may also be able to accompany you during the actual exam. Be aware that if you invite someone other than an advocate into the exam room, they could be called as a witness if you decide to report the crime.
The rape and sexual assault flyer posted to Reddit offers a mixture of true, false, and likely region-specific information, running the risk of confusing rape and assault victims in the critical hours after an attack. Reference to the upper end of forensic and prophylactic services could lull individuals into a false sense of security, as does the lack of stipulation that minors or other at-risk individuals are often unable to seek medical care without police involvement.