Skip to main content

What To Do After A Sexual Assault

Responding to a sexual assault first requires being able to identify when one has happened. Remember that sexual assault occurs if a participant does not consent to ANY part of a sexual act. (To be valid, consent must be a freely given, knowledgeable, and informed agreement without force, fear, or fraud. It can also be withdrawn at any time.)

If you have been sexually assaulted, know that what happened to you was not OK, and most importantly, it was not your fault. Also remember that there are people and organizations available to support you in your immediate next steps, as well as on your ongoing journey of healing. 

Here are a few steps to begin with. 

  1. Head somewhere safe. The most important thing in the aftermath of an assault is to get to safety. If your friends or roommates cannot provide you with the safety and support you need, find someone who can. We recommend involving an adult who you can trust. This person can support you as you learn what is available to you, weigh your options, and decide on your next steps.
  2. Share what you wish. You do not need to share anything that you do not want to share. Your assault is no less valid and real if you choose not to share many – or any – details. .
  3. Gather more information, not less. You deserve to know what options and resources are available to you to move forward. Remember that you do not have to immediately decide on everything at once. 
  4. Preserve what you can. Consider taking steps to preserve evidence of the crime. Avoiding showering, using the bathroom, changing clothes, or brushing your hair can help law enforcement collect the DNA evidence they need to pursue a case. Preserve all data that you can including social media, text messages, and emails, and consider writing down your memories of the event in case you need to refer to them later. Even if you are not clear about whether you want law enforcement to investigate your perpetrator, preserving evidence can help you keep your options open.
  5. Get help. Consider contacting the national sexual assault hotline by chat or phone (1-800-656-4673). They can direct you to your local rape crisis center. You can also talk through your options with a victim advocate—who will not report to law enforcement unless you tell them to.
  6. Consider receiving an examination. Opting to undergo a sexual assault forensic examination (commonly known as a “rape kit”) can help to collect and preserve evidence should you wish to report to law enforcement now or at a later date. To receive an examination, go to a hospital emergency room that has a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) on call.  In addition to being trained to support you in the aftermath of an assault, a SANE will note details you may not even be aware of, such as bruising, abrasions, or other injuries you may have not yet noticed. These examinations are most effective when they’re performed immediately following an assault, but can still be helpful in preventing STIs and caring for your well-being in the days afterward. 
  7. Know about your options after an examination. If you opt to undergo a forensic exam, know that you do not need to report the assault to law enforcement at the same time. You can decide to report the assault at a later date, so long as it is within the statute of limitations for your state. In this case, you will be provided with a code to use to handover your forensic exam results to law enforcement when you so choose.
  8. Consider reporting your assault to law enforcement. If you choose to report the assault on your own, remember that you can bring a trusted friend or family member with you. If you have already disclosed the assault to an adult, it is likely that they have already reported the assault on your behalf. (There are laws in place to protect minors that require any adult with knowledge of an assault or abuse of a minor to report the event to law enforcement. These laws are called mandatory reporting laws.) No matter if you are reporting on your own, or if you are meeting a detective after a report has already been made, know that you can take breaks as you need to. You also have the right to ask to speak with a higher-ranking officer if you feel your report is not being treated with sensitivity. You can learn more about reporting to law enforcement here.
  9. Be prepared for how the criminal justice system treats sexual assault. When deciding whether to go to law enforcement to report the assault, it is helpful to understand what could happen next. Once a survivor makes a report of an assault, law enforcement decides whether to bring charges against the perpetrator. These charges are typically filed by the district attorney’s office following a police investigation. In this case, the survivor of sexual assault is the chief witness (rather than the plaintiff) and their cooperation is needed to pursue a case.   
  10. Above all, remember: your assault was not your fault. You are worthy of love, compassion, and support. To help you remember this, repeat these key phrases: 

“I didn’t do anything to deserve this.”

“I deserve to feel safe.”

“I will heal on my own time.”

“I am worthy of love.”

“My feelings – all of them – are valid.”

“I am more than this trauma.” 

“There are loving, courageous people who support me (I just may not know them – yet).”

In need of more support? Reach out to the I Have The Right To team.

  • No products in the cart.