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"I spoke out to put a face to the issue for the millions of women, men and children who suffer in silence and to say that you are not alone. Help is available." ~ Ayanna Pressley, Boston City Councilor (Photo by Christopher Mason)

Things to Know

You may have a lot of questions about your health, safety, and rights. Here is some basic information. We urge you to talk to a trained sexual or domestic violence advocate to talk about your concerns and to understand your options. Research has proven that being connected to a sexual or domestic violence advocate can make a difference in helping you find both safety and justice.

Legal Issues: Legal issues might range from how to get a restraining order to questions about child care and custody, property damage, access to guns, etc.

  • If you meet the legal requirements, you are entitled to protection from abuse in the form of a restraining order.
  • Many acts of sexual violence (from harassment to rape), stalking, and domestic violence are against the law, ranging from misdemeanors to felonies. Sexual and domestic violence and stalking laws in Massachusetts apply to anyone regardless of age, gender or gender identity, or sexual orientation, and citizenship status.
  • If you report these crimes to police, the abuser might be prosecuted. In most cases, survivors can decide for themselves whether they want to participate in criminal proceedings. Exceptions exist for minors, elders, and people who are disabled.
  • Survivors might also consider pursuing civil legal remedies to hold the offender accountable for the violence.

Address Confidentiality Program available in Massachusetts: If you are being stalked, you may be eligible for the Address Confidentiality Program (ACP). The ACP serves as a confidential mail forwarding system for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. The substitute address is used as the victim’s legal residence, as well as work and/or school address. Consequently, government records may be disclosed to the public without identifying the victim’s new location. For more information call the ACP at (617) 727-3261 or (866) SAFE-ADD or visit: http://www.sec.state.ma.us/acp/.

Intimate Partner Sexual Violence (IPSV): When sexual violence – including rape and other forms of sexual assault – occur within a current or former relationship, it’s both domestic violence and sexual violence at the same time. In Massachusetts, sexual violence and rape is a crime even if the couple is married or in a relationship. This law applies to everyone, including immigrants and refugees from other countries. IPSV often occurs repeatedly within a relationship. Domestic violence perpetrators commonly use anal and oral rape as a way to humiliate, punish, and take ‘full’ ownership of their partners.

Alcohol and drugs: Perpetrators sometimes use drugs or alcohol to incapacitate their victim. If this has happened to you, you are not responsible for the violence. In fact, Massachusetts’ law says that you cannot give consent to sexual activity if you are drunk or under the influence of drugs. You can get a toxicology test without submitting to a full forensic exam.

Statutory Rape: In Massachusetts it is illegal to have sexual intercourse with a child who has not yet reached his or her sixteenth birthday (Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 265, Section 23). If you or the person you know is under the age of sixteen, ask your advocate how this law may impact you or your loved one.

Child Sexual Abuse: Child sexual abuse occurs when an adult has sexual contact of any kind with a minor child. While sexual violence programs in Massachusetts do not provide direct services to survivors under 13 years of age, they do offer services and support to adult survivors of child sexual abuse and to non-offending parents.

  • If you or someone you know needs help for a child under age 13, please contact: the Massachusetts Children's Alliance (MACA) at http://www.machildrensalliance.org.  You'll find the Children’s Advocacy Center nearest you. They can help guide you and ease the child’s experience from the point of disclosure on.

Technology Concerns: From sexting to online harassment, perpetrators might use technology to make contact with victims and survivors. On the other hand, using technology such as your phone, email, or computer can help you find resources and reach out for help. Please remember that any of these electronic communications could be accessed by the perpetrator or used as evidence if the crime goes to trial. Find out more about technology safety and your rights.

Health Effects:  Advocates have been working with health care providers to improve the response to their patients.  There are also a growing number of sexual and domestic violence advocates, resources, and support available in community health clinics and hospitals. Sexual and domestic violence and stalking can have both short and long term physical, emotional, and psychological health effects. The violence might affect both you and your children.  Seeking medical and mental health care can help you be healthy, prevent unwanted pregnancies, address drug and alcohol abuse, and more.

Possible Physical Effects of Sexual and Domestic Violence

  • Pain
  • Injuries
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Exposure to sexually transmitted diseases

Possible Emotional/Psychological Effects of Sexual and Domestic Violence

  • Shock/denial
  • Irritability/anger
  • Depression
  • Social withdrawal
  • Numbing/apathy (detachment, loss of caring)
  • Restricted affect (reduced ability to express emotions)
  • Nightmares/flashbacks
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Diminished interest in activities or sex
  • Loss of self-esteem
  • Loss of security/loss of trust in others
  • Guilt/shame/embarrassment
  • Impaired memory
  • Loss of appetite
  • Suicidal ideation (thoughts of suicide and death)
  • Substance Abuse
  • Psychological disorders

Possible Physiological Effects of Sexual and Domestic Violence

  • Hypervigilance (always being "on your guard")
  • Insomnia
  • Exaggerated startle response (jumpiness)
  • Panic attacks
  • Eating problems/disorders

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