Learn what you can do in the event of sexual abuse

Help and Support for Victims

Counselor talking to young lady
Knowing or experiencing sexual abuse can be confusing and difficult to handle. Learn what to do in the event that you or someone you know is a victim of sexual abuse.

If you are a victim of sexual assault:1

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  1. Try to get to a place where you feel safe.
  2. Reach out for support.
  3. Call someone you trust, such as a friend or a family member. You are not alone; there are people who can give you the support you need.
  4. Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at (800) 656-HOPE—your call is free and is anonymous and confidential.
  5. Seek medical attention as soon as possible. Medical care is important to address any injuries you may have and to protect against sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy.
  6. Most important, know that the assault is not your fault.

You have the right to:

  • Be treated with respect and dignity.
  • Privacy. That means you can refuse to answer any questions about the sexual assault, your sexual orientation, your sexual history, your medical history (including HIV status), and your mental health history.
  • Have your conversations with a sexual assault counselor/advocate remain confidential.
  • Decide whether or not you want to report the assault to the police.
  • Not be judged based on your race, age, class, gender, or sexual orientation.
  • Have a sexual assault counselor/advocate accompany you to medical, law enforcement, and legal proceedings.
  • Request that someone you are comfortable with stay with you in the examination room.
  • Ask questions and get answers regarding any tests, exams, medications, treatments, or police reports.
  • Be considered a victim/survivor of sexual assault, regardless of the offender’s relationship to you.

If you are considering filing a police report:

  • Try not to bathe, shower, change your clothes, eat, drink, smoke, gargle, or urinate prior to the exam.
  • Seek medical attention for an exam and evidence collection as soon as possible after the assault.
  • Bring a change of clothes with you.
  • You have the right to have a sexual assault counselor/advocate with you during your medical exam.
  • Reporting to the police is your choice.

As a victim/survivor of sexual assault, you may have some of the following feelings:

  • Anger, fear, guilt
  • Loss of control, powerlessness, embarrassment
  • Depression, isolation, denial
  • Shame, disbelief, self-blame, emotional shock

You may experience some or all of the above feelings. This is natural and every victim/survivor of sexual assault responds differently. Remember, you are not alone, and you are not to blame for what happened.

How to Help2

If someone you care about is sexually assaulted, you may feel angry, confused, and helpless. There are several things you can do to help in the healing process and provide the support your loved one needs.

Two women sitting on a couch.  Upset woman is being comforted by the other woman.
  • Believe the victim/survivor unconditionally. Accept what you hear without judgment.
  • Reinforce to the victim/survivor that it is not his or her fault. Sexual assault is NEVER the victim/survivor’s fault. It is important not to ask “why” questions, such as “Why were you in that area at that time?” that suggest that he or she is to blame for the assault.
  • Understand that you cannot control how the victim/survivor feels or “fix” the problem. Everyone reacts differently to sexual assault and heals at his or her own pace. It is important that you not assume you know how he or she is feeling—almost any reaction is possible and completely normal.
  • Be a good listener and be patient. Let the victim/survivor know you are there for him or her when he or she is ready to talk. When and if the victim/survivor does want to talk about the assault, do not push for information. Let him or her tell you what he or she is comfortable sharing in his or her own time.
  • Help the victim/survivor regain a sense of control over his or her life. During a sexual assault, power is taken away from the victim/survivor. Support decisions and choices the victim/survivor makes without passing judgment. Try not to tell the victim/survivor what to do; instead, assist by presenting options and resources for him or her to make the decision that is right for him or her.
  • Respect the victim/survivor’s need for privacy. If the victim/survivor needs to be alone, respect that decision.
  • Do not suggest that the victim/survivor “move on” with his or her life and forget about the rape. The victim/survivor needs the opportunity to work through the trauma of the assault and begin the healing process.
  • Respect the victim/survivor’s right to decide whether or not to report the assault to the police.
  • Remember to take care of yourself—seek support if you need it. You will be better able to support the victim/survivor.

Need Help or Support?

The national contacts below are available for anyone seeking information and resources about sexual abuse. In an emergency, please dial 9-1-1 for local assistance immediately. General resources and materials can be found on this Website in the education section.

  • Child Help National Child Abuse Hotline
    By phone: (800) 4-A-CHILD
  • Darkness to Light
    By phone: (866) 367-5444. Toll-free helpline for individuals living in the United States who need local information and resources about sexual abuse.
  • National Center for Missing & Exploited Children
    By phone: (800) 843-5678. Available 24 hours a day. This Toll-free line is for reporting any information about missing or sexually exploited children. This number is available throughout the United States, Mexico, and Canada. The TDD Hotline is (800) 826-7653.
    Online: www.cybertipline.com. to the police.
  • National Center for Victims of Crime
    By phone: (800) 394-2255. Toll-free helpline offers supportive counseling, practical information about crime and victimization, and referrals to local community resources, as well as skilled advocacy in the criminal justice and social service systems.
  • Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network
    By phone: (800) 656-4673. Toll-free National Sexual Assault Hotline.
    Online: http://www.rainn.org/get-help/national-sexual-assault-online-hotline Instant-messaging format National Sexual Assault Hotline.
    Both hotlines are free and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and offer secure, anonymous, confidential crisis support for victims of sexual assault and their friends and families.

What to Do if a Child Discloses Sexual Molestation3

If a child hints at or fully discloses sexual molestation, how you react is very important. What you say is just as important as what you don’t say. Your actions now could later influence the child’s willingness to talk about it in the future and in court proceedings, investigations, and safety assessments.


    Mother yelling at upset daughter
  • Overquestion the child or demand details.
  • Underreact to or minimize the information.
  • Overreact to the information or panic.
  • Criticize or blame the child.


  • Listen and stay calm.
  • Respect the child's privacy and potential fear or uncertainty about telling.
  • Support the child and the decision to tell, no matter what he or she says.
  • Express love and support with words and gestures.
  • Explain to the child that he or she has done nothing wrong.
  • Help the child understand it was the offender's fault, not the child’s.
  • Remember that children seldom lie about acts of sexual exploitation.
  • Assure the child that he or she can come to you at any time and tell you anything.
  • Seek appropriate medical care for the child.
  • Mother comforting her upset daughter
  • Notify law enforcement (and other key adults in the child’s life not involved directly with the offense).
  • Alert the child-protection, youth-services, child-abuse, or other appropriate social-services organizations in cooperation with law enforcement.
  • Seek out counseling or therapy for the child and the entire family.

Often children do not disclose incidents of sexual exploitation. Children may even test an adult’s reaction before full disclosure. It is up to attentive adults to recognize hints and know the indicators of sexual abuse in children and teens.

RReferencesback to top

  1. Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services, Inc., "If You Have Been Sexually Assaulted.” (http://www.connsacs.org/seeksupport/assaulted.htm) (December 21, 2011)
  2. Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services, Inc., “If A Friend or Loved One Has Been Sexually Assaulted.” (http://www.connsacs.org/seeksupport/friend_assaulted.htm) (December 21, 2011)
  3. National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, “What to Do If a Child Discloses Sexual Molestation.” (http://www.missingkids.com/missingkids/servlet/PageServlet?LanguageCountry=en_US&PageId=1486) (December 21, 2011)