Last week, women and men around the United States watched the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh with rapt attention. Many of those tuning into the live stream and keeping tabs on social media were moved by the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who alleged Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her in the 1980s. While the FBI continues its supplemental background investigation of Kavanaugh, it's clear that regardless of the outcome, the very public proceedings have had a significant impact on survivors of sexual assault.
Between the day of the hearing (Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018), and Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) reported a 338 percent spike in its hotline traffic. As the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization, RAINN operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline in partnership with more than 1,000 local sexual assault service providers around the country. Friday, Sept. 28, proved to be the busiest day in the hotline's 24-year history, with more than 3,000 callers seeking help.
"History shows us that when high-profile allegations such as these are in the news it often causes others to reach out too," RAINN president Scott Berkowitz said in a statement. "This story has clearly resonated with survivors, and has led thousands to reach out for help for the first time. Over this past year, following the cases of [Harvey] Weinstein and [Bill] Cosby and the explosion of #MeToo, our numbers have been growing pretty rapidly, but we've never seen anything like this before."
Since its inception in 1994, the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline — 800.656.HOPE (4673) — has connected callers with trained staff members from local sexual assault service providers. According to the organization, an American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds, and every eight minutes, that victim is a child. The National Sexual Assault Hotline was born out of the need to offer a centralized resource to provide immediate help.
If you need to report sexual assault and you call the hotline, you'll be routed to a local RAINN affiliate organization based on the first six digits of your phone number (cell phone callers may also enter your ZIP code to optimize location accuracy). The confidential service provides you with a number of free resources, including:
- Private support from a trained staff member
- Help locating local health facilities trained to care for sexual assault survivors and provide services like forensic exams
- Support in finding local resources to assist you in healing and recovery
- Local long-term support referrals
- Information on the laws of local communities
- Basic information about medical issues and concerns
While the hotline is considered confidential, most states do have laws requiring staff to report specific situations like child abuse. Callers are almost always connected directly to a staff member or volunteer, but in the event that lines are busy, RAINN also provides the option to receive 24/7 help at online.rainn.org.
In addition to the services RAINN provides, the organization also offers additional actionable steps for people who have just experienced sexual assault:
- First and foremost, if you are in immediate danger or injury, it's important for you to immediately call 911.
- While RAINN states that the decision to report to law enforcement is your choice, "some survivors say that reporting and seeking justice helped them recover and regain a sense of control over their lives." If you do decide to contact authorities, you can do it by calling the direct line of the local police station or by stopping by the station in person.
- If you're on a college campus and wish to report an assault to authorities, you may also be able to contact campus-based law enforcement.
In many regions, there are specific law enforcement officers trained to interact with survivors of sexual assault. Many agencies also participate in Sexual Assault Response Teams (SARTs), which provide "a survivor-centered, coordinated response to sexual assault," incorporating medical personnel, law enforcement and local sexual assault service providers to collaborate on an investigation. It is important to know that if you do choose to report the assault to police, there will be a statute of limitations (the window of time you can report a crime). These statutes vary by state, type of crime, age of the survivor and other factors. Visit RAINN's State Law Database to learn more about the laws in your area.
For more information or to report a sexual assault, call 800.656.HOPE or visit online.rainn.org.