Doc is In | What to do immediately after a sexual assault

In a time of increased sexual assaults on college campuses, here’s what you need to know about the immediate steps to take afterwards.


College campuses across the nation are reporting an increase in the prevalence of sexual assaults. According to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, 13 percent of undergraduate and graduate students have experienced unwanted sexual contact through physical force, violence, or incapacitation. In 70 percent of all sexual assault cases, the assault is perpetrated by someone the survivor knows. 

What is sexual assault?

Sexual assault is defined as any unwanted sexual contact that occurs without explicit consent, regardless of if penetration occurred. Consent cannot be assumed when someone is intoxicated, is not asked directly, is coerced, or says nothing. Even if consent was given in the past, any form of unwanted sexual contact is considered sexual assault. 

Oftentimes, a survivor may feel guilty or blame themselves for the assault. It is important to understand that it is never the survivors’ fault, and that sexual violence can occur to anyone regardless of age, gender identity, or sexual orientation. 

Because of how prevalent sexual violence is on college campuses, it is important to equip oneself with the knowledge on what to do in the immediate aftermath of a sexual assault.

The first step: establishing safety

After a sexual assault, the most important thing to do first is to establish safety by exiting the situation and going somewhere secure. During this time, it can feel very overwhelming to reach out for help. The 24/7 crisis hotline numbers included below have trained advocates ready to listen, provide free resources, and offer support. One can also call a trusted friend or family member. 

For those offering support to a survivor, always ask before initiating physical contact, even if it’s meant to comfort them. If they choose to share, listen without judgment, and don’t pry for details. Asking questions can emotionally overwhelm them or make them feel like they must validate their story. A concrete way to support them is to offer to drive or accompany them to receive the appropriate care.

Getting medical care

Many people may feel reluctant to receive a medical evaluation, but there are many benefits in doing so. Firstly, survivors of sexual assault can receive a forensic exam, also known as a “rape kit,” at no cost. Additionally, prophylactic medications are available for any possible sexually transmitted infections. Emergency contraception is available as well. 

A forensic exam is most effective if performed within 72 hours of the assault. But if that timeframe has passed, a medical evaluation is still strongly encouraged. Before being evaluated, it is important to preserve as much evidence as possible. This includes avoiding showering, using the restroom, and combing hair after the assault. 

If the survivor has changed clothes already, they can place the clothing they were wearing in a paper bag to preserve any evidence. If DNA is found, it can help strengthen any future prosecution. Receiving a sexual assault forensic exam does not mean that the survivor must report the assault, but the evidence can be stored in case the survivor chooses to file a report later.

The trauma of a sexual assault is not only physical, but also emotional and mental. It is a situation where a survivor can feel powerless. Asking for help, sharing your story, and receiving the appropriate care are all ways that survivors can begin to take that power back.

Resources for survivors 

National Resources:

  • National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-HOPE (4673)

Local Confidential Resources:

  • Rape Victim Advocacy Program (RVAP): (319) 335-6000 http://rvap.org24/7, 24/7 hotline 
  • Domestic Violence Intervention Program: 1 (800) 373-1043
  • Emergency Department, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics: (319) 356-2233

State Resources (available throughout Iowa):


  • Women’s Resource and Action Center: (319) 335-1486
  • University Counseling Service (for students): (319) 335-7294
  • Faculty and Staff Services/Employee Assistance Program (for faculty and staff): (319) 335-2085


  • UI Nite Ride: (319) 384-1111, call for free transportation from 10 p.m.- 5 a.m.


  • For help deciding how to proceed after experiencing a Sexual Assault at the UI, you can contact the UI Sexual Misconduct Response Coordinator at 319-335-6200. However, please be aware that the Sexual Misconduct Response Coordinator may need to file an official report. This resource is not fully confidential.

To report a complaint, call the non-emergency police number according to the jurisdiction where the incident took place:

On campus: 

  • UI Police: (319) 335-5022


  • Iowa City Police: (319) 356-6800
  • Coralville Police: (319) 248-1800
  • Johnson County Sheriff: (319) 356-6020
  • North Liberty Police: (319) 626-5724
  • University Heights Police: (319) 887-6800
  • Angeline Vanle, she/her/hers, MD Candidate, Class of 2024

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.