What can you do?
As always, even after an incident of sexual/gender-based violence, you remain in control over your decisions, choices, and exercise of your agency. No one gets to decide for you or to talk over you, and you are not what happened to you on any account. The following note offers insights on some of the options you have at your disposal to address the incident and its impacts. At any time, you have the freedom to decide to do any, all, or none of these and no one gets to question your decision or to force their decisions on you.
Following an incident, you have the right to decide whether to do anything about it or not to. Prioritizing healing and well-being, or addressing pressing needs that speak to what you most require at the relevant point in time is well within your right. If you choose to do nothing, no one can fault you or guilt you into doing something – please know that you are not what happened to you and if you don’t want to do anything about it, it is perfectly alright. This said, it does not mean that once you decide to do nothing about it in the here and the now, the decision is final. Like consent, this choice is also dynamic and you have the freedom to decide, at any point in time, if you want to address it and how. In some countries, the law may not be open to prosecution after the expiry of a certain period of time – but in most countries, even that is not an impediment.
You have the freedom to decide whether, how, and to whom to disclose the incident. Disclosure refers to the act of telling someone about the incident. You get to decide whether you want to tell anyone, if so, whom you will tell, and accordingly, how much and what you will tell. You have the right to expect any person you tell to keep your story to themselves and to neither disclose nor report on your behalf without your consent and permission to do so.
You may choose to report the incident. Reporting refers to the act of presenting the details of the incident to the police or to the legal system, with a request for them to initiate action. In some countries, you have the option of letting the police know of the information with a request NOT to proceed or to press charges. In most countries, access to the police to report an incident is available 24x7. In some countries, the law may not be open to prosecution after the expiry of a certain period of time – but in most countries, even that is not an impediment and prosecutions can take place at any time. One thing to remember if you decide to report the incident is that it involves visiting court, possibly seeing the perpetrator, having to recount your story a few times over and being questioned and examined, and also dealing with situations such as the lack of evidence and acquittal of the accused. It can be challenging and emotionally draining – so if you do decide to go ahead, finding a strong support system is vital.
You may make a safety plan to ensure that you have a way to stay safe. A safety plan in general is a good idea, but when you are vulnerable, it is highly recommended. It involves identifying a safe route for you to escape a difficult situation, making note of the people you will call on, as well as packing a bag so you can get away quickly. Please know that choosing to stay on in an abusive relationship does not mean that you are consenting to abuse or that you are somehow at fault for the incident – you simply do not deserve to face violence and that you faced it does not make it your fault on any account.
You may choose to access medical and/or psychosocial help. Depending on the level of violence you faced, you may choose to get injuries looked over and medically treated, and even access therapy with a counsellor or psychiatrist. In most countries, the immediate medical support given also involves a process of preserving evidence – such as your clothing, blood, hair, and other samples. To ensure that they save the evidence without any of it disappearing, it is generally advisable to not bathe/shower/wash after an incident. You may also speak to / consult a therapist or counsellor or psychiatrist for as long as you need. Please know that healing is not a formula and is not for anyone else to define for you. You do you, and you follow all that you need to follow, to help yourself.
You may also seek legal advice if that is a course you wish to pursue. Some folks choose to press charges, while some just want to know what their options are – especially where the case involves an abusive family member or relationship. It is a good idea to understand your rights and the steps you can take to make an informed decision on your actions.
You may choose to move out of the place you lived in regardless of whether that was where the incident took place or whether that was a shared space with the abusive person. Moving out or staying back, or being ambivalent about it are all equally valid decisions to make and no one else gets to decide your course of action but you.