By Cleo Stiller
June 29, 2016
Sexual assault survivors are forced to endure indignity after indignity. After the trauma of the initial assault, victims must navigate invasive medical exams, and too often, poorly trained law enforcement and intense social judgement.
But there’s one indignity we don’t often hear about, and that’s what happens after survivors receive a forensic medical exam and are asked to hand over their clothing as evidence. What do they wear home from the hospital? If the facility doesn’t have a specialized sexual assault unit, it may not have clothing to provide—forcing them to leave in a hospital gown.
Most of the time a survivor’s clothing won’t be returned, because the lab will need to dissect it for evidence. Sometimes survivors lose an item of clothing with sentimental value, or if the survivor is from a low socioeconomic background, they may lose their only pair of jeans, explains Amy Edelstein, director of our Staten Island Community Program.
Safe Horizon offers clothing to survivors.
One might think a patient could just call a family member or close friend to bring an extra change of clothes, but often, survivors are not yet ready to contact anyone or share that they’ve been assaulted, says Edelstein, who has spent years working with these patients.
And that’s why it’s so important that these facilities have clothing to offer survivors. “Sexual assault is a very horrific trauma. It’s about the loss of power and control and from one person to another, ” Edelstein says. “When they give up their clothing, it’s another loss, another control they’re giving up. So something as simple as having new clothing that feels normal can add just a little bit of comfort to them.”