Sexual assault involves a wide range of unwanted sexual behaviors that are performed against a person’s will, or when a person is unable to give consent because of their age, disability, level of intoxication, or other reasons. Each state uses a different legal definition to describe the abusive sexual acts. Many states include the following acts in their definitions: forced sexual intercourse, forced oral or anal sexual acts, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape.
Perpetrators of sexual assault may be acquaintances, friends, family members, or strangers. They may use violence, threats, coercion, manipulation, or other forms of pressure or deception to commit sexual assault.
What is Sexual Assault?
While this list isn’t exhaustive, you may be the victim of sexual assault if someone:
- Touches you without your permission
- Forces you into sexual acts through physical force or coercion
- Violates you while you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Penetrates you with parts of their body or an object
- Intimidates you into performing sexual acts without your consent
If you have experienced a sexual assault, you may:
- Feel a range of emotions including, but not limited to, helplessness, anger, sadness and shock
- Be overwhelmed or confused about what to do
- Not want to see friends or family, or have difficulty connecting to others
- Feel pain, bleeding, and have discharge from your genitals, anus or mouth
- Have nightmares or flashbacks
- Have changes in your eating or sleeping patterns
- Have difficulty concentrating
- Feel unaffected, detached, and numb
What can I do?
It can be difficult to know what to do after a sexual assault. There are a number of options available and you can decide which next steps are best for you:
- Call 911 For Immediate Assistance— You know yourself and your situation better than anyone. Trust your instincts and call for help if you feel you are in danger.
- Report to Police – You have the right to report the incident(s) to the police. Read more about reporting and what to expect from the criminal justice system from RAINN.
- Seek Medical Attention – You may want to seek medical care after a sexual assault in order be treated for any injuries. Even if you do not have any physical signs or symptoms of injury, consider being tested for sexually transmitted diseases, sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy. You can learn more from RAINN about receiving medical attention after an assault.
- Consider Getting a Rape Kit – You may consider having a sexual assault forensic exam, also known as a rape kit, in order to collect forensic evidence from the assault. This exam should be provided to you free of charge. All states are required to allow you to have the exam done without reporting to law enforcement, though some may still ask you to do so. If you are asked to report, consider reaching out to a local advocate who can assist you in communicating your wishes not to report to hospital staff. It is your choice to have the exam or not, however if you do, the best evidence is collected as soon as possible after the assault, and no more than 96 hours later. Please note, if you don’t report but do have an exam, the evidence from the exam may not be held as long as you’d like, potentially limiting the evidence available for a future legal case. You can read more from RAINN on what happens during this exam.
- Find an Advocate – It might be helpful to locate a trained sexual assault advocate in your area to help you navigate your options and plan your next steps. Many sexual assault centers can assist you with reporting, accompanying you to the hospital, finding a counselor, and more. RAINN’s sexual assault center finder can help you find resources in your local area.
- Learn About Your Legal Options – Every state has different laws on how they define sex crimes, what the penalties are, how long after an assault you can report the crime to the police, and how long after an assault you can file a civil lawsuit. You can find more information about the laws in your state on RAINN’s website.
- Contact Your School’s Title IX Coordinator – Title IX coordinators are school officials who enforce federal Title IX rules and regulations. Title IX requires schools to protect students from gender-based discrimination and take prompt action to investigate and end sexual assault on campus. More information about Title IX and finding your campus’s coordinator is available on this informational Title IX site.
- Seek Support for Mental Health – Some survivors of sexual assault find it helpful to speak to a counselor, therapist, or participate in a support group. RAINN’s sexual assault center finder can help you find resources in your local area and Psychology Today provides a robust search tool to find local counselors and therapists.
- Remember to Care for Yourself – Try to be kind to yourself and allow yourself time and patience as you move forward; everyone responds differently to crime. Practice self-care and coping skills.
Contact the VictimConnect Resource Center by phone at 1-855-484-2846 or by chat for more information or assistance in locating services that can help you or a loved one after a sexual assault.
The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) has a 24/7 service hotline that connects you to your local advocacy center for help and provides crisis support by phone at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or via their live chat service.
Find Help Near You is a feature on the RAINN site which helps you locate the rape crisis center closest to you anywhere in the United States, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands.
Department of Defense Safe Helpline is a worldwide crisis support service, provided by RAINN, for members of the DoD community affected by sexual assault. Help is available for survivors and their loved ones.
Laws in Your State is a feature on the RAINN site which provides information about states’ laws on consent, definitions and penalties for sex crimes, criminal statutes of limitations, and more.
Male Survivor offers useful resources for finding therapists, support groups, and other assistance.
The National Sexual Violence Resource Center offers a wide variety of information relating to sexual violence, including a large legal resource library.
NotAlone.gov was created by the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. The website has a student tab offering information about what to do in the aftermath of an assault, along with advice about how to file a complaint against a college.