What to Do if You or Someone You Know has been Sexually Assaulted

What to do if you have been sexually assaulted:

  • Go to a safe location away from the perpetrator.
  • Preserve all evidence of the assault.
    • Do not bathe, wash your hands, brush your teeth, eat, or smoke.
    • If you are still at the location of the crime, do not clean or straighten up or remove anything from your surroundings.
    • Write down or audio record all the details you can recall about the attack and the attacker.
  • Reach out for help.

    Emergency Non-emergency

    If you or someone you know is in imminent danger, contact military law enforcement or local police immediately. Local police can be reached by calling 911 in most areas inside the United States.

    For a phone number for military law enforcement near you, please click here to go to Safe Helpline's search function, and insert your zip code; or call Safe Helpline. The staff can get a number for you.

    The military offers two reporting options. Unrestricted Reports allow you to participate in the military criminal justice process. Restricted Reports are kept confidential, and your chain of command and law enforcement are not notified.

    If you aren’t sure whether you want to report the crime or have questions about your options, Safe Helpline can help.

    • Safe Helpline can also connect you with the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC)/Victim Advocate (VA) on your installation/base, and other military and civilian resources in your area. To find this information you can search online or text your zip code or installation/base name to 55-247 (inside the U.S.) (Message and data rates may apply) or 202-470-5546 (outside the U.S.).
    • *Note: Message and data rates may apply.
    • Get help online or call 877-995-5247 (the phone number is the same inside the U.S. or via the Defense Switched Network [DSN]) or through the SHL mobile application.
  • Seek medical care as soon as possible. Even if you do not have any visible physical injuries, you may be at risk of acquiring a sexually transmitted disease (women may also be at risk of pregnancy).
    • Ask the health care personnel to conduct a sexual assault forensic examination (SAFE).
    • If you suspect you have been drugged, request that a urine sample be collected to preserve evidence.

It's never too late to get help. Even if the attack happened years ago, Safe Helpline can still help. Many victims do not realize they need help until months or years later. Click here or call 877-995-5247 (the phone number is the same inside the U.S. or via the DSN).

Learn more about preserving DNA forensic evidence and SAFEs.

How to help someone you know who has been sexually assaulted:

  • Ensure that the victim is at a safe location away from the perpetrator. If not, take the victim to a safe place.
  • Support the victim — be there and listen.
    • Avoid being judgmental, keep from second-guessing and resist placing any blame on the victim.
    • Be patient. Remember, it will take the victim some time to deal with the crime.
    • Other than safety and health-related questions, try to refrain from asking for details about the incident. Show interest in what the victim says and ask what you can do to help the victim.
  • If there is an immediate threat to the victim’s safety, contact military law enforcement or local police immediately. Work with law enforcement and the victim to protect the victim from the perpetrator and others acting on the perpetrator's behalf.
    • If the victim requires emergency medical care, call 911 (inside the U.S.) or your installation/base’s emergency medical care services. If the victim requires medical attention but not emergency care, help the victim get to a medical provider as soon as possible.
    • Offer to stay with the victim. Victims are often reluctant to be alone after enduring an attack. Accompany the victim to the hospital or other places if he or she so desires.
  • If the attack took place outside of military jurisdiction, assist the victim to report the sexual assault to law enforcement (call 911 inside the U.S.).
    • If someone you know has questions about reporting the crime and available options, getting information from Safe Helpline can help. Get help online or call 877-995-5247. The phone number is the same inside the U.S. or via the DSN.
    • Safe Helpline can also connect you with the SARC/VA on your installation/base, and other military and civilian resources in your area. To find this information you can search online or text your zip code or installation/base name to 55247 (inside the U.S.) (Message and data rates may apply) or 001-202-470-5546 (outside the U.S.).
  • Most military members have options about how to report the crime.
    • Unrestricted Reports allow the victim to participate in the military criminal justice process.
    • Restricted Reports are kept confidential, and military chain of command and law enforcement are not notified.
    • Note: There may be some exceptions and limitations. For example, when the victim reports the crime to someone in the chain of command, a Restricted Report may no longer be an option. If you are in the individual’s chain of command, you may have to report the matter. Learn more about reporting options. Please see your SARC or Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Victim Advocate (SAPR VA) for more guidance. To find the SARC nearest you, search the Safe Helpline Database.
  • Help to empower the victim.
    • Rape and sexual assault are crimes that take away an individual’s power. It is important not to compound this experience by putting pressure on the victim to do things that he or she is not ready to do yet.

Note: While there is no “right” or “wrong” way to recover from sexual assault, there are some unhelpful or self-destructive ways of coping. Don’t be afraid to suggest that the victim might need advice from someone skilled to help the victim with more productive coping strategies.

Some warning signs of unhealthy coping include: substance abuse, suicidal statements, increased behaviors with unhealthy outcomes (unprotected and/or anonymous sex, gambling, smoking, overeating, etc.) These could be signs that the victim needs to receive professional assistance.

Learn more about the effects of sexual assault.

Learn more about reducing the risk of sexual assault.

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