The increased public conversation surrounding sexual assault, harassment, and abuse is an important step forward.

It’s helping lead a national and global movement that aims to address this prevalent problem.

It’s also letting people who have experienced sexual assault know they aren’t alone.

Approximately 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men experience sexual violence in their lifetime.

If you’ve experienced sexual assault, know that it isn’t your fault.

We hope this guide can serve as a resource in your time of need and answer any questions you may have about what to do next.

If you’ve been sexually assaulted, you may have many mixed emotions. You may also ask yourself many questions. All reactions are valid.

if you’ve been sexually assaulted
  • Consider your immediate safety. Call 911 if you believe you’re in direct danger. Leave any location or situation that doesn’t feel safe. Call a local or national resource center to seek shelter and assistance.
  • Find someone who can help you. This can be a trusted family member or friend. It can also be an advocate from a local crisis center.
  • Seek medical care. You can get treatment for injuries from a clinic, doctor’s office, or hospital emergency department. You can seek medical care without reporting what happened to law enforcement.
  • Consider getting a sexual assault examination, or a “rape kit.” This preserves potential DNA evidence. In the event you decide that you do want to proceed with official charges, this kit will be invaluable.
  • Write down what you remember. If you decide to report the assault, this information may be helpful to you and police officers.
  • Find mental health support. Your local crisis center can connect you with professionals skilled in this area of support.
  • Figure out your next steps. A sexual assault service provider can help answer any questions you may have. They can also connect you with resources you may need, including legal and medical options.

Many crisis hotlines and advocacy organizations can be reached at any time of day and night.

National Sexual Assault Hotline

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) uses the 24/7 National Sexual Assault Hotline to connect you to a trained staff member.

The advocacy group uses the first six digits of your phone number to route you to a local affiliate organization that can provide details about resources in your area.

This call is confidential. Staff members won’t report your call to law enforcement unless required to by the laws in your state.

Call: 800-656-HOPE (4673)

National Domestic Violence Hotline

People who are experiencing domestic violence or have questions about getting out of violent situations can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

This 24/7 confidential hotline connects you with trained advocates who can provide resources and tools to get you to safety.

They can also help concerned friends or family members.

Call: 800-799-SAFE (7233) or 800-787-3224 (TYY)

Loveisrespect

Instances of sexual assault can and do occur in intimate relationships, even long-term ones.

Loveisrespect is an organization that aims to help young people find support and local resources if they’re in an abusive or unhealthy relationship.

The confidential hotline is open 24/7.

Call: 866-331-9474

Safe Helpline: Sexual Assault Support for the Department of Defense (DoD) Community

Sexual assault and harassment in the military has been an ongoing issue for the U.S. Department of Defense.

In response, the DoD joined with RAINN to open the Safe Helpline, an anonymous and confidential 24/7 hotline for members of the DoD community affected by sexual assault.

This hotline offers peer-to-peer support. They can answer questions, provide self-care exercises, and connect you with local resources.

Identifiable information about individuals who call the helpline isn’t provided to the DoD.

Call: 877-995-5247

National Deaf Domestic Violence Hotline

The Abused Deaf Women’s Advocacy Services and National Domestic Violence Hotline provide deaf Americans with 24/7 video phone calls via the National Deaf Domestic Violence Hotline.

You can sign with advocates who are trained to help deaf individuals who have experienced sexual assault. They can provide crisis intervention, a plan of action for safety, referrals to local organization, and more.

Video call: 855-812-1001

International assistance

For Americans living abroad:

  • If you’ve experienced sexual assault while living abroad, call the U.S. Department of State, Office of Overseas Citizens Services at +1-202-501-4444.
  • You can also contact your local embassy or consulate. They can help you navigate local laws and find resources.

For people outside of the United States:

  • Much of the information in this guide is meant for American audiences. However, many countries have organizations that provide assistance and resources to people who have experienced sexual assault.
  • If you search your country’s name with “sexual assault assistance,” you’re likely to find organizations that are ready to and capable of helping you navigate the emotional, physical, and legal aspects associated with sexual assault.

Many organizations provide online chats, forums, or texting options. These choices may be useful if you need to seek help discreetly.

If you’re worried about being monitored

Be sure to look for “Quick Exit” tabs on these sites. These buttons allow you to quickly leave a site if you’re worried about being seen. They’re often at the top and bottom right of your screen.

If you think your search history may be monitored, make sure you clear your browsing history. You can also use your browser’s incognito (private) mode. It won’t track your online activity.

National Domestic Violence Hotline

The confidential National Domestic Violence Hotline Chat Service connects you with a trained advocate.

These professionals can provide real-time information about local resources as well as answer any questions you may have.

Chat now: thehotline.org

National Sexual Assault Online Hotline

The National Domestic Violence Hotline connects you to a trained staff member through their website’s confidential chat feature.

The staff members won’t ask identifying information, and the chat won’t be saved.

However, they’re required to disclose your name and location to local law enforcement if you’re under 18 years old.

They may also be required to contact law enforcement if they have reason to believe you may attempt suicide. Laws vary by state.

Chat now: online.rainn.org

Loveisrespect

The trained peer advocates at Loveisrespect can provide confidential support, education, and resources to young adults who have experienced sexual assault.

People who are concerned about a loved one can also use the organization’s chat feature to seek help.

Chat now: loveisrespect.org

Loveisrespect text service

Text your comment or question and a trained peer advocate will text you back.

If you have a smartphone, they can provide links to resources, information, and organizations that might be able to help you.

Message and data rates apply.

Chat now: Text loveis to 22522.

DeafHotline

The DeafHotline provides confidential instant messaging for deaf individuals who have experienced sexual assault.

You can also email deaf advocates at nationaldeafhotline@adwas.org.

Chat now: thehotline.org

Sexual assault is a broad term. It encompasses many experiences.

Your individual experience is valid.

This guide may help you understand the events you experienced so you can communicate it more clearly.

It may also help you understand the variety of behavior that isn’t tolerable and possibly illegal.

Sexual assault is:

An umbrella term that encompasses many types of sexual activity, contact, or behavior that’s performed without explicit and enthusiastic consent.

The legal definition of sexual assault can vary by state.

These activities include (but aren’t limited to):

  • rape
  • attempted rape
  • harassment
  • fondling
  • unwanted touching, either over or under clothes
  • incest
  • child sexual abuse
  • molestation
  • unwanted oral sex
  • flashing
  • forced posing for sexual pictures
  • forced performance for sexual video

Rape is:

Sexual intercourse or penetration with a sex organ that occurs without consent.

Consent is necessary in all sexual encounters. An ongoing relationship or a past history of intimacy doesn’t preclude either party from getting consent from the other person.

Likewise, no action provides consent except an explicit agreement. This includes other sexual acts like kissing or touching.

The absence of consent is sexual assault.

“Date rape” is a term used to define rape that happened when the individuals knew each other.

It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re “dating” the person who raped you; you may only be acquaintances. Rape can, however, take place in relationships.

“Stranger rape” is a term used to define rape that happens when the people involved don’t know each other.

Force is:

The use of intimidation factors to demand a person engage in sexual activity against their will.

Force may include:

  • blackmail
  • emotional coercion
  • manipulation
  • threats
  • intimidation
  • the use or display of a weapon
  • physical battery or assault
  • immobilization or restriction

If you’ve experienced sexually assault, you may need medical care.

You can seek treatment at an after-hours clinic, regular doctor’s office, department of health, or emergency department.

The choice to seek medical treatment is yours alone.

If you want to undergo an examination for the purposes of pressing charges against the individual who assaulted you, you’ll need to seek out a facility that provides this service.

An advocacy organization can provide you with a list of facilities in your area.

They can also provide you with an assault advocate. If you’d like, this person can join you for your initial exam and any subsequent appointments.

You may also consider bringing a trusted friend or family member.

Many advocacy groups can also provide financial assistance or connect you to organizations that can.

Physical injury is:

Trauma or obvious harm to the body.

A healthcare provider will perform a complete and thorough physical exam, looking for signs of bruising, tearing, or other possible injury.

They can then provide recommendations for treatment.

A drug test is:

A way for doctors and law enforcement officials to determine if you were drugged before the assault.

Some drugs can interfere with your ability to think clearly and prevent you from giving informed consent.

Urine and blood tests can detect the presence of many of these drugs.

In order to get accurate results, these tests need to be performed as soon as possible after the assault.

An STI test is:

A blood, urine, or swab test that can detect the presence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Not all STIs will show up immediately after an assault. Some take several weeks to become detectable. You may need to follow up with a healthcare provider for additional tests later.

Medicine can prevent some STIs after exposure. A doctor can prescribe these preventive medications to you.

In most cases, you need to take these preventive medications within 72 hours of possible exposure.

A pregnancy test is:

A urine or blood test that can detect a pregnancy.

You must wait until after the first day of your missed period to get an accurate reading.

A “rape kit” is a term commonly used to describe an evidence collection process.

The proper term for a rape kit is a sexual assault forensic exam (SAFE).

The Violence Against Women Act requires states provide this exam free of charge.

The kit itself is a collection of forensic tools, papers, and containers. Trained staff use this kit to collect possible evidence from a crime scene, personal belongings, or clothes.

try to avoid:
  • using the restroom
  • showering or bathing
  • washing your hair
  • changing your clothes
  • brushing your hair

To begin, a specially trained medical professional will conduct a full physical exam, including a pelvic exam.

They may:

  • take samples of cells from your cheeks, anus, penis, or vagina
  • scrape under your fingernails
  • draw your blood
  • request a urine sample

The evidence collected during this forensic exam can be used to prosecute the person or persons who assaulted you.

To get the most evidence, you should have this exam within 72 hours of the assault.

There are many benefits to having this evidence collected, but you don’t have to do this if you don’t want to. You can also stop, pause, or skip parts of the exam at any point.

Collecting the data for a rape kit doesn’t mean you have to inform the police. The medical facility that has your kit can turn it over to law enforcement with an anonymous identification number.

They’ll give you this number so you can check for results and, if you do decide to talk to the police, help them connect the results with your case.

Law enforcement is required to store rape kits for a set amount of time. That length of time depends on state and local laws. Some store it for a few years, others for decades.

Some states will process the kit even if you don’t intend to press charges. The data could be added to a national database, which could help law enforcement officials around the country.

A rape kit doesn’t mean an official investigation

If you don’t want to talk to the police, you don’t have to. A rape kit doesn’t change that.

A rape kit is a way for you to preserve possible evidence in the event you decide you want to report.

Most states require law enforcement officials to hold the kits for several years. You have time to make a decision if you don’t immediately know what you want to do.

Sexual assault is a crime. Some may report it right away. Others may wait years before filing a report. Many people who experience sexual assault choose not to report it.

The choice to report what happened to you is yours alone.

Keep in mind that most states do have statutes of limitations. These prevent individuals from being charged with crimes that occurred before a certain date.

Each state’s statutes are different. It’s important to know yours. An advocacy group can help connect you to your local legal resources.

If you’re ready to report an assault

If the assault just happened, you can call 911. A law enforcement official will come to you or help you get to safety.

Some law enforcement officials may also help you find an advocacy group that can help you navigate the process and answer questions for you.

You can also call your local police department’s nonemergency line at a later time.

You can even visit the station to make a report. An officer will join you and begin the process.

If you want medical treatment first

You can go to a hospital emergency department, rape crisis center, or other clinic and inform them of what happened.

They’ll ask you if you’d like to report the crime. If you say yes, they can contact law enforcement officials.

What happens during a police report

An officer will begin by asking you what happened.

If you’ve written down any account of the events, these notes may be helpful here.

Tell the officer or investigator whatever you remember, even if you aren’t sure of whether it’ll be helpful to their investigation.

The officer will likely go on to ask you a series of questions. Answer them as best you can. Let them know when you don’t know an answer.

If you can, bring a trusted friend or family member with you. A local advocacy organization can also provide a trained staff member who will help you through the process.

Filing a police report can be difficult

Recounting the events of a traumatic assault may be emotional trying.

It may take several hours. You could also be called back for additional questioning.

If you don’t have a friend or loved one who can join you for this process, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline.

These advocates can help you through every step of the process, answering questions and providing any information or support you need.

What happens with a report

Right away, officers begin an investigation with the information you provide.

If you know the person who assaulted you, the police will likely bring them in for questioning. They’ll record the person’s recollection of events.

They may also request a DNA sample to compare to any DNA from a rape kit.

If you don’t know the person who assaulted you, investigators will work to put a name to the person. This is where detailed information can come in handy.

Police can retrace your steps, looking for possible eyewitnesses. In some cases, they may try to collect other evidence, such as video footage, that can corroborate your account.

Your investigating officer should provide you with a case number. You can use this number to inquire about the status of your report.

Your investigating officer may reach out to you with updates as the case progresses.

Evidence of the assault will be turned over to the local district attorney’s office. They can work with the police to decide if there’s enough evidence to press charges against the person who assaulted you.

At this point, you may be asked to come and speak with the district attorney’s office.

When reporting an assault is mandatory

In most states, healthcare providers and advocates are required by law to report an assault if the person is under 18 years old.

You may have several legal questions after a sexual assault.

You may want to ask about the process of filing a report and going through an investigation.

If the case goes to trial, you may want legal counseling, too.

Some legal resources are available free of charge. Others may provide services for discounted prices.

These three organizations and hotlines may be helpful.

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)

RAINN is a national anti-sexual violence organization.

In addition to helping you find resources for medical treatment and counseling, RAINN can help connect you with legal counsel or support providers in your area.

National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC)

NSVRC is a nationwide support network of advocates and support organizations.

As part of their confidential services, NSVRC can provide an advocate to be with you during many stages of the process.

They can also make referrals for services, including legal counseling.

1in6

1in6 helps men who have been sexually assaulted or abused find advocacy and resources.

Their private, confidential online chat allows you to ask questions to trained staff.

If you don’t know where to start

It’s normal to feel overwhelmed by the judicial process and trial. Find someone you can trust to help you navigate the process.

Many advocates are willing to provide aid for free or discounted prices. If you aren’t sure where to begin, consider calling the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673).

This confidential hotline is available 24/7.

You may experience a lot of different emotions after an assault. This is normal.

You may feel comfortable talking with your friends or family members about the experience and finding comfort in their support and guidance.

You may also consider reaching out to a therapist or other mental healthcare provider for support.

A therapist is an umbrella term used to describe healthcare providers who offer mental health treatment, such as talk therapy.

The specific provider could be a psychotherapist, psychologist, social worker, or counselor.

Where to find a therapist or counselor

  • If you have insurance, call your insurance company. They can provide you with a list of approved providers in your area. This is a good place to start, as you know the services will be covered.
  • Call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 800-662-HELP (4357). This organization can provide you with referrals to local mental health care providers.
  • Contact RAINN. RAINN, a nationwide advocacy organization, can help connect you to independent sexual assault service providers in your area. You can also call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673).
  • Ask your local hospital. Patient outreach offices may provide patients with information on group therapy or independent therapy. These opportunities may be free or low-cost.
  • Look for free services on campus. If you’re a student and have been sexually assaulted, your university may offer counseling and mental health services at no cost to you.

What to look for in a therapist or counselor

  • Experience with sexual assault recovery. These providers are accustomed to dealing with many of the issues that come up during this type of recovery.
  • Compatible personality. An open, honest discussion is vital to the counseling or therapy process. If you don’t feel comfortable, you may withhold your feelings and thoughts. You may need to meet with different providers before you find one who you connect with.
  • Therapy philosophy. Counselors and therapists often have a philosophy or style of practice they prefer to use with clients. You may need to try different providers before you find a strategy you like.

Everyone’s recovery process is different. You’ll find recovery at your own pace and with your own unique set of tools.

There’s no right or wrong way to recover from sexual assault.

In the initial days and weeks after sexual assault, you may need regular time with a counselor or therapist. They can provide you with a toolbox of strategies for recovery.

For example, they can teach you to cope with anxiety and panic, two common issues after sexual assault.

As time passes, however, your needs may change. While you may find that you still need therapy or counseling, the type and frequency may shift.

Your therapist will want to teach you coping mechanisms and strategies to face long-term issues.

Anxiety disorders, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are among the most common mental health conditions affecting people who have experienced sexual assault.

In time, you’ll learn to build a system of support from professional advocates and providers as well as personal friends and loved ones.

This network is vital for long-term recovery.

It can be difficult to watch someone you care so much about experience and recover from sexual assault.

In the process of helping your loved one, also consider ways to help and protect yourself.

Don’t:

  • React in anger. An overly emotional reaction from you could make your loved one’s anxiety worse. It could also complicate any ongoing criminal investigations.
  • Pressure them. Unless your loved one is a minor, no one is required to report what happened. Your loved one doesn’t have to undergo a forensic exam, either. Be supportive of their choice.
  • Question them. In the days and weeks after the assault, they may feel overwhelmed. Your job is to support them and advocate for them. Questioning them, the events, or what led to the assault can be harmful.

Do:

  • Repeat affirmation. Continue to be supportive. Express your love and admiration for them. Continue to let them know you’re there to help and keep them safe.
  • Listen. Your loved one needs people who are willing to listen, but not judge. In the confusing hours and days after an assault, they’ll likely experience a wide range of emotions. You can and should be a sounding board and offer help.
  • Seek help. If your loved one is in danger or showing signs they’re contemplating suicide, call 911. Immediate attention from law enforcement officials is necessary and right in these cases.

Where you can find more information

The National Sexual Assault Online Hotline can be a resource for people who have experienced sexual assault as well as for their friends and family members. You can reach them at 800-656-HOPE (4673). They’re also available online via a confidential web chat.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence is an organization that aims to support people who have experienced domestic violence as well as their family members.

The Date Safe Project helps individuals learn about consent and sexual decision-making. It also provides resources for understanding how to help people who have experienced sexual assault as well as their family and friends.