Sexual assault is any type of forced or coerced sexual contact or behavior that happens without consent. Sexual assault includes rape and attempted rape, child molestation, and sexual harassment or threats. In the United States, nearly one in five women has been raped and almost half of women have experienced another type of sexual assault. If you have been sexually assaulted, it is not your fault.
- What do I do if I’ve been sexually assaulted?
- How can I get help after a sexual assault?
- Does sexual assault have long-term health effects?
- How can I help someone who has been sexually assaulted?
What do I do if I’ve been sexually assaulted?
If you are in danger or need medical care, call 9-1-1. If you can, get away from the person who assaulted you and get to a safe place as fast as you can.
If you have been physically assaulted or raped, there are other important steps you can take right away:
- Save everything that might have the attacker’s DNA on it. As hard as it may be to not wash up, you might wash away important evidence if you do. Don’t brush, comb, or clean any part of your body. Don’t change clothes, if possible. Don’t touch or change anything at the scene of the assault. That way the local police will have physical evidence from the person who assaulted you.
- Go to your nearest hospital emergency room as soon as possible. You need to be examined and treated for injuries. You can be given medicine to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy. The National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) can help you find a hospital able to collect evidence of sexual assault. Ask for a sexual assault forensic examiner (SAFE) . A doctor or nurse will use a rape kit to collect evidence. This might be fibers, hairs, saliva, semen, or clothing left behind by the attacker. You do not have to decide whether to press charges while at the hospital.
- If you think you were drugged, talk to the hospital staff about being tested for date rape drugs, such as Rohypnol and Gamma Hydroxybutyrate (GHB), and other drugs.
- The hospital staff can also connect you with the local rape crisis center. The staff there can help you make choices about reporting the sexual assault and getting help through counseling and support groups.
- Reach out for help. Call a friend or family member you trust, or call a crisis center or hotline. Crisis centers and hotlines have trained volunteers and counselors who can help you find support and resources near you. One hotline is the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673). If you are in the military, you may also call the DoD Safe Helpline at 877-995-5246.
- Report the sexual assault to the police: Call 911. If you want to talk to someone first about reporting the assault, you can also call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673). A counselor can help you understand how to report the crime. Even though these calls are free, they may appear on your phone bill. If you think that the person who sexually assaulted you may check your phone bill, try to call from a friend’s phone or a public phone.
- Write down the details about the person who sexually assaulted you and what happened.
How can I get help after a sexual assault?
After a sexual assault, you may feel fear, shame, guilt, or shock. These feelings are normal. But sexual assault is never your fault. It may be frightening to think about talking about the assault, but it is important to get help. You can call these organizations any time, day or night. The calls are free and confidential:
- National Sexual Assault Hotline, 800-656-HOPE (4673). You can also chat with a trained hotline worker on the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline.
- National Domestic Violence Hotline, 800-799-SAFE (7233) or 800-787-3224.
Each state and territory has organizations and hotlines to help people who have been sexually assaulted.
Does sexual assault have long-term health effects?
Yes, sexual assault can have long-term health effects. People who have been sexually assaulted are more likely to report:
- Frequent headaches
- Long-term pain
- Trouble sleeping
- Poor physical and mental health
Other health effects can include:
- Severe anxiety, stress, or fear
- Abuse of alcohol or drugs
- Eating disorders
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- Self-injury or suicide
How can I help someone who has been sexually assaulted?
You can help a friend or family member who has been sexually assaulted by listening, offering comfort, and not judging. Reinforce the message that she or he is not at fault and that it is natural to feel angry, confused, or ashamed — or any combination of feelings.
Ask your loved one if she would like you to go with her to the hospital or to counseling. If she decides to report the crime to the police, ask if she would like you to go with her. Let her know that professional help is available. Let her know about the hotlines to call and talk to someone. Get more tips on helping a friend who has been sexually assaulted or abused in our Violence Against Women section.
For more information about sexual assault, call the OWH Helpline at 800-994-9662 or contact the following organizations:
- National Center for Victims of Crime Phone Number: 202-467-8700
- National Domestic Violence Hotline Phone Number: 800-799-7233
- National Sexual Violence Resource Center Phone Number: 877-739-3895
- Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network Phone Number: 800-656-HOPE (4673)