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What to Do If Someone You Know has Been Assaulted

 

Maria Menounos doesn't like doctors, and now we know why. Last Monday (6/11) the TV host told Howard Stern that she has been sexually assaulted by doctors twice. The first incident occurred, she said, when she visited the doctor for a minor throat ailment. Menounos told Stern that she was told to put on a hospital gown, after which, the doctor began groping her genitals.

"I was really young, so I was uncomfortable," the 34 year old said. [My boyfriend] Kevin was in the waiting room and I literally started screaming... I was just so uncomfortable I didn't know what to do."

The second assault occurred when Menounos went to the gynocologist for an exam and he commented on how "hot" her belly button was. He then began touching it, Menounos told Stern.

No one expects to be in the position of dealing with this kind of situation, so it can be hard to know what you should do or say if someone comes to you and confides that he or she has been raped or sexually assaulted. If you do find yourself in that situation, know that it's OK to be confused—but remember that your friend is probably in need of your support. 

"Quite often, women who have been assaulted don't want to say anything," says Dr. Jeff Gardere, a psychologist and adjunct professor at the Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine. "They may be in shock and feel embarrassed, ashamed, or powerless."

If a friend does confide in you that she's been raped or sexually assaulted, you can suggest that she speak up about it, Dr. Gardere says.

"It can lift the burden of guilt, and she might prevent it from happening to someone else," he says. "It can be a kind of catharsis." 

However, it's important for the power to remain in her hands, he says. In other words, never try to force or coerce your friend into talking about her experience or confronting her attacker. If your friend reacts badly to you, step back and leave it alone for a bit, Dr. Gardere suggests. Understand where her anger comes from and that if she wants to report her experience, she will. In the meantime, you can try to be there for her in other ways. For example, you can provide her with resources like the number to a hotline she can call. 

According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), an estimated 54 percent of sexual assaults go unreported to the police, making this one of the most underreported crimes in the U.S. Of the cases that are reported and make it to trial, only about three percent end in jail time. That, coupled with the fact that there's still a huge stigma against sexual assault survivors (if you want examples, check out the comment boards on any of the major media outlets that covered Menounos' case), means that many who report their case may not have much faith in the justice system, and your friend could need you more than ever.

"Things can get dicey if your friend does report her experience," Dr. Gardere says. "Initially after reporting an assault, women may feel bad. They may have to undergo an exam, talk to the police, or describe their experiences in court. But eventually, with time, they may feel better, stronger, and it can be part of the healing process." 

For those who have been sexually assaulted or raped and would like to reach out for counseling or support, RAINN provides an online hotline and can also be reached at 1-800-656-4673.

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