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Sexual Assault

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 spouses, 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 asleep or 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 is consent?

Consent is when someone agrees, gives permission, or provides an enthusiastic “yes” to a sexual act. Consent is always freely given for every change in activity and each participant can say no or stop the activity at any point. Consent is a legal definition and can change from state-to-state. To learn more about how consent is defined where you live and penalties for sex crimes, criminal statutes of limitations, and more please visit RAINN’s website, Laws in Your State.

Male Victims

If you are a male victim of rape or sexual assault, please know that you are not alone.

There is a different nuance to the impact of sexual assault when the victim is male. Many male victims find that societal norms and expectations of them (as men or boys) conflict with their feelings of powerlessness resulting from the assault. Sometimes male victims feel they were targeted after being identified (either correctly or falsely) as gay.  Understandably, victims may wonder about the cause of the assault, but it is important to remember that sexual assault is about power and control, not sexual orientation.

Male victims may also experience involuntary erection and/or ejaculation. This is often confusing or embarrassing for victims and may be misunderstood as a sign of sexual pleasure but this is a very common, automatic physical reaction. Just like in the cases of crying while cutting an onion or laughing when tickled, these are not responses that a victim has control over and they are in no way indicative that what took place was consensual sex.

All sexual acts committed without consent or as a result of force/intimidation are acts of violence and abuse, they are not sex. This holds true whether the victims are male or female and regardless of the sexual orientations of the perpetrator or victim. Sexual assault, in any form, is not sexual passion but primarily reflects the perpetrator’s desire to dominate, control, humiliate, or degrade the victim.

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 to 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. To find resources in your local area visit our VictimConnect Resource Map or use RAINN’s sexual assault center finder.
  • 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’ coordinator is available here.
  • Seek Support for Mental Health – Some victims of sexual assault find it helpful to speak to a counselor, therapist, or participate in a support group. Find a local therapist at Open Path Psychotherapy CollectiveInclusive TherapistsGood Therapy, or Psychology Today.
  • 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 strategies. To learn more about self-care, click here.

Visit our VictimConnect Resource Map for additional resources or contact the VictimConnect Resource Center by phone or text at 1-855-4-VICTIM or by chat for more information or assistance in locating services that can help you or a loved one after experiencing sexual assault.