Everybody deserves respect and to feel safe in their sexual relationships. We know that sexual assault and rape happen, and it can be hard to talk about or know what to do. This guide will talk about what sexual assault and rape are, what to do if you have been a victim of sexual assault, how you can help a friend, and where to go for more information.
What are sexual assault and rape?
Sexual abuse is any unwanted sexual contact. Sexual assault and rape are legal definitions used for sexual contact without sexual consent. These definitions vary from country to country and region to region. Sexual assault and rape do not have to be violent or leave a physical mark. To learn more about the specific definitions in the United States and your specific state, visit this website.
Sexual assault and rape can happen to anyone regardless of age, gender identity, race, sexual orientation, intellectual ability, or physical ability, and it is never your fault. Sexual assault or rape is not because of what a person was wearing, how they were acting, where they were, or how late they were out.
Sexual assault or rape may be committed by a stranger, friend, dating partner, or a spouse. In fact, most (80%) rapes are committed by someone the victim knows. More than half (55%) of sexual assaults occur near or in the victim’s home.
Sexual assault and rape may have immediate consequences including pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Sexual assault and rape may have lasting effects including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, thoughts of suicide, attempted suicide, drug use, problems at school or work, and problems in personal relationships.
How common are sexual assault and rape?
Unfortunately, sexual assault and rape are common in the United States:
- About 433,648 people over the age of 12 experience sexual assault or rape every year.
- In the US, a person is sexually assaulted every 73 seconds.
- More than half (54%) of people sexually assaulted are under 30 years old.
What should I do if I have been sexually assaulted or raped?
If you have experienced sexual assault or rape, it is not your fault, and you are not alone. You may not know what to do, how to feel, or who to tell- and that is okay. These decisions are personal, and you get to decide what you do.
Here are some things you might want to consider immediately after a sexual assault:
- If you are in danger or injured, call for emergency services (911 in the United States) or go to an emergency department for medical care.
- Call your healthcare provider, a Sexual Assault hotline (see below) and/or go to the emergency department to discuss:
- taking medications to prevent sexually transmitted infections including HIV (within 3 days)
- taking medication (emergency contraception) to help prevent a pregnancy (within 5 days). The sooner you take the medication the more effective it is in reducing your chance of a pregnancy. Insertion of a Copper IUD can also prevent pregnancy from an assault.
- having a sexual assault forensic exam or “rape kit” (within 3 days)
- A sexual assault forensic exam or “rape kit” is used to collect evidence from a sexual assault. It is best to have the sexual assault forensic exam before doing things that could get rid of evidence such as showering, washing, changing clothes, going to the bathroom, or combing your hair. Even if you have the sexual assault forensic exam, you do not need to report the assault, “press charges,” or talk to the police.
Many people who have experienced sexual assault or rape never tell anyone about it. There are many reasons why someone may not report sexual assault including:
- Not sure if it was sexual assault or rape
- Don’t know who to tell
- Relationship with abuser
- Immigration status
- Not sure if there is enough evidence or proof
- Fear of judgment
- Fear of police or justice system
It can take days, weeks, months, or years for someone to decide to talk about a sexual assault. You may consider telling someone you trust about the sexual assault, such as a friend, parent, counselor, or healthcare provider. You may also feel more comfortable talking to someone you don’t know confidentially (see numbers for hotlines below). Talking to a trained professional (counselor, therapist, healthcare professional, national hotline) may be helpful to process what happened to you, to get medical care, to treat depression or PTSD, or to be referred to resources in your area.
What should I do if someone I know has been sexually assaulted or raped?
It is hard to find out that someone you care about has been hurt. The most important thing you can do is support this person and remind them the assault is not their fault. They may or may not decide to tell other people or report the sexual assault or rape to the police. It is important to understand that this is a personal decision, and it is their choice. Let them know you are there for them no matter what they decide to do. If you are not sure how to help them, try talking to a trusted adult (like a counselor or healthcare provider), visiting the websites below, or calling the hotlines below.
You can also take an active role in preventing sexual assault or rape. Try to avoid being just a “bystander”; instead, if you see or hear something that is not right you can speak up. For example, telling a friend it is not cool to joke about sexual assault or intervening at a party when you see someone try to hook-up with someone who can’t consent to sexual contact (they are drunk, high, or passed out).
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual abuse or rape:
- Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
- If you have thoughts of hurting yourself or of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
- Visit https://www.rainn.org/national-resources-sexual-assault-survivors-and-their-loved-ones