A Guide to Going to the Gynecologist as a Rape Survivor
As a rape victim, a gynecologist exam was one of my biggest fears/nightmares. I’ve never been able to find enough information about how to prepare myself to make sure nothing goes wrong. Of course you can find the basic information on how it works, but that just wasn’t enough for me. I’ve written a few tips gathered from my own experiences. I’ve also given the tips to gynecologists and I’d like to share them with you in the hope that everything will go well for you. I’ve had very bad experiences (exam against my will) and not so bad experiences (exam went well, but it will never feel “good” for me).
I’m talking about a routine gynecologist exam, so not one straight after a rape to collect evidence. Of course these were the things that helped me, so if you prefer to do it in a different way that is totally fine.
First of all, make sure that you think your current gynecologist is up for it. It was shocking for me to discover how little experience and knowledge most gynecologists have about treating and examining rape victims. They just don’t know how this might affect you and how to take it into account.
So how do you know if this gynecologist is right for you?
It’s important to know you can always refuse the exam and ask for a different gynecologist (for example: I only want females).
1. He/she is calm, understanding and friendly.
2. He/she doesn’t pressure you to do the exam and doesn’t get angry if you’re coming for the 10th time to try but can’t do it yet.
3. He/she doesn’t rush it and plans extra time for you.
4. He/she wants to prepare together before the exam.
5. He/she stops when you want, even if it isn’t finished yet.
With preparation I mean that he/she is willing to answer all your questions before the exam, tells you everything that is going to happen (unless you don’t want to know), makes agreements with you and allows you to tell him/her about the things he/she should or shouldn’t do. For example you can ask if he/she can stop every minute and ask how it’s going. Or you can ask for the door to be locked (sometimes other people walk in) or you can ask for it to be unlocked (because it provides you an escape route). Maybe he/she should not say certain words because your rapist said that to you or maybe you don’t want him/her to touch your knees (the gynecologist might think doing that will comfort you), etc. It is very important to make all of this clear before an exam.
I always want to get to know the gynecologist first, so I don’t do the exam in the first few times I meet her. I always take my partner with me to he holds my hand and ask the gynecologist to stop when he notices I’m frozen. Think about if you want someone else with you and where he/she should stand and what he/she should do during the exam. Do you want to be distracted or do you want to focus on what’s happening in the present? Both might be helpful strategies to prevent flashbacks. Also make sure the gynecologist listens to that other person as well (some doctors only want to listen to the patient and tell me I’m “grown up enough” to tell them myself when I need to stop).
Oh and very important note: a gynecologist shouldn’t force extra people on you: assistants, students etc. without your consent. It’s very difficult for me to say no and I’ve also had bad experiences with some doctors who wouldn’t even ask. I personally think the doctor should not even ask a rape victim to have others in the room.
It’s possible to insert the speculum yourself or to do the exam without laying in the chair/with your legs in the stirrups. If they want to make an echo, they might be able to see enough with an external one (your bladder must be full to do this). A gynecologist can always try doing this first.
A gynecologist exam isn’t a normal situation. If you don’t feel safe, don’t do it. There are other ways to examine if there’s something wrong (for example an MRI or different kinds of self-tests; I’ve done those two as well). It also might not be necessary to do the gynecological exam. I’ve had doctors who wanted to do it just because they always do it. No medical reason.
Last but not least, try to ignore all the people who will say/yell/scream, “you shouldn’t be afraid because the doctor’s used to it.” It’s about you, not the doctor. I wish you a lot of luck, strength and wisdom if you ever decide to do an exam or talk with a gynecologist.
This post was originally posted on Mel’s blog. Follow the journey here.
If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.