Sexual Abuse or Assault (Rape)

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Sexual Abuse or Assault (Rape)

Topic Overview

Sexual abuse or assault (rape) can happen to anyone. If this has happened to you, you are not to blame. Sexual abuse is any type of sexual activity that is done against your will. It can be nonviolent sexual abuse, such as nontouching sexual exposure (like being forced to look at sexual pictures) or unwanted or forced sexual touching. Or it can mean a violent sexual assault, such as rape or attempted rape. The attacker may be a stranger, someone you do not know well, a close friend, or a family member (incest). Many victims of abuse or assault know their attacker.

Teens and young adults may be at risk for becoming victims of sexual assault or violent behavior in situations where certain drugs are used.

It is often hard for people to talk about sexual abuse or assault. The abused person often feels shame or guilt and may be too afraid of the abuser to say anything. But it is important to seek help and then continue to get help for as long as you need it. Talk to the police or to a health professional, such as a doctor, nurse, or counselor. Or call a local rape crisis center. Any of these people can help you get medical treatment, deal with your feelings, and take steps to stop the abuser or rapist.

Nonviolent sexual abuse

Sexual abuse can be something spoken or seen, or it can be anything that forces a person to join in unwanted sexual contact. This type of abuse may occur over and over. Examples of nonviolent sexual abuse include forcing a person to:

  • Look at a naked body or naked genital area.
  • Watch, look at, or be a part of sexual pictures.
  • Watch a sexual act, such as masturbation.
  • Be touched (fondled).

Violent sexual assault

Violent sexual assault is any forced sexual contact where something is put into (penetrates) the vagina, anus, or mouth. Violence or fear is used to force the person to have sex. Examples of violent sexual assault include:

  • An object placed into the vagina or anus.
  • Forced oral sex.
  • Forced sexual intercourse (rape).

Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor or get other help.

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Home Treatment

If you feel threatened or need immediate help:

  • Call 911.
  • If you have been assaulted:
    • Call the police immediately, or call a health professional such as a doctor, nurse, or counselor.
    • Remember the assault (rape) was not your fault.
    • Find a safe environment—anywhere away from the attacker.
    • Preserve evidence of the attack—do not change clothes, eat, drink, smoke, bathe, brush teeth, or clean up in any way. Write down all the details about the attack and the attacker.
    • Get medical attention. Even with no physical injuries, it is important to determine the risk of pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis B, or HIV. To preserve evidence, ask the hospital to do a special exam (called a forensic medical exam). If you think you may have been drugged, ask that a urine sample be taken.
    • Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline toll-free (1-800-656-HOPE or 1-800-656-4673) for free, confidential counseling.
  • Call the National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline toll-free (1-866-331-9474) or (1-866-331-8453 TTY).
  • Find local resources that can help in a crisis. Your local rape crisis center or hotline, YMCA, YWCA, police department, mental health clinic, or hospital can help you.
  • Be alert to warning signs, such as threats or drunkenness, so that you can avoid a dangerous situation.
  • If a child tells you that he or she has been sexually abused or assaulted, stay calm. Tell the child that you believe him or her and that you will do your best to keep him or her safe. Report the abuse or assault to the local police or a child protective services agency. For more information, see the topic Child Abuse and Neglect.

If you have been a victim of abuse and continue to have problems related to the abuse, you may have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For more information, see the topic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Symptoms to watch for during home treatment

If you are concerned that sexual abuse or assault has occurred, call your doctor to decide if and when you should see a doctor or get other help.


Reduce your chance for sexual abuse or assault:

  • When you go to a party, go with a group of friends. Arrive together, watch out for each other, and leave together.
  • Do not leave your beverage unattended or accept a drink from an open container.
  • Be aware of your surroundings at all times.
  • Do not allow yourself to be alone with someone you do not know or trust. Do not get a ride from someone you do not know.
  • Think about how intimate you want to be in a relationship, and clearly state your limits.

Reduce the chance of your child being sexually abused or assaulted:

  • Teach your children that it is against the "rules" for adults to act in a sexual way with children. Use examples.
  • Teach your children that it is okay to say no and that it is okay to leave the situation if they are uncomfortable.
  • Teach your children that their bodies are their own and that it is okay if they do not want a hug or other contact that might make them uncomfortable.
  • Speak to your children about using the proper names for their body parts. Informed children are better able to talk to you about someone acting in a sexual way with them.

Organizations such as Planned Parenthood can help you learn more about reducing your chances of being a victim. Contact Planned Parenthood toll-free at 1-800-230-PLAN (1-800-230-7526) or online at

Preparing For Your Appointment

To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.

If you have made an appointment with your health professional, you may be able to get the most from your visit by being prepared to answer the following questions:

  • Has anyone forced you to have sexual activities?
  • Has the sexual abuse increased recently? When was the last forced sexual contact?
  • Has a child, family member, or friend been forced to have sexual activities? When did it occur? What action was taken?
  • Has the abuser threatened violence against your children or other people? Is he or she violent toward your children?
  • Is the person who harmed you using any illegal drugs or alcohol?
  • Does the person who harmed you have access to guns or other violent weapons?
  • Do you have any risk factors that increase your chance of becoming a victim of sexual abuse or assault?

Other Places To Get Help


National Sexual Violence Resource Center
123 North Enola Drive
Enola, PA  17025
Phone: 1-877-739-3895 toll-free
(717) 909-0710
Fax: (717) 909-0714
TDD: (717) 909-0715
Web Address:

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) provides information on research and policy related to sexual violence intervention and prevention. The NSVRC is a partner with state, territory, and tribal anti-sexual assault coalitions and allied organizations. The Center does not provide direct services to sexual assault victims but supports those who do, such as coalitions; rape crisis centers; national, state, and local agencies; and allied programs.

Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN)
2000 L Street NW
Suite 406
Washington, DC  20036
Phone: (202) 544-3064
Fax: (202) 544-3556
TDD: 1-800-656-HOPE (1-800-656-4673) National Sexual Assault Hotline
Web Address:

The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) is the nation's largest anti-sexual assault organization. RAINN created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline, which provides victims of sexual assault with free, confidential services. RAINN also provides important information about sexual assault prevention, recovery, and prosecution.

Stop It Now!
351 Pleasant Street
Suite B-319
Northampton, MA  01060
Phone: (413) 587-3500
Fax: (413) 587-3505
TDD: 1-888-PREVENT (1-888-773-8368)
Web Address:

Stop It Now! helps adults accept the responsibility to recognize, acknowledge, and confront the behaviors that lead to the sexual abuse of children. The organization offers adults tools they can use to prevent sexual abuse—before there’s a victim to heal or an offender to punish. In collaboration with a network of community-based Stop It Now! programs, the organization reaches out to adults who are concerned about their own or others’ sexualized behavior toward children.

Related Information


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerWilliam H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerH. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last RevisedDecember 23, 2011

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