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) 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.) or 202-470-5546 (outside the U.S.).
    • 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 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.) or 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

Effects of Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is a personal and destructive crime. Its effects can be psychological, emotional, and/or physical. They may be brief in duration or last a very long time. While there is not one "normal" reaction to sexual assault, here are some of the more common effects that sexual assault victims may experience.

Depression

There are many emotional and psychological reactions that victims of rape and sexual assault can experience. One of the most common of these is depression.

The term "depression" can be confusing since many of the symptoms are experienced by people as normal reactions to events in their life. At some point or another, everyone feels sad or "blue," and these feelings are perfectly normal, especially during difficult times. But, this also means that recognizing depression can be difficult since the symptoms can easily be attributed to other causes.

Depression becomes something more than just normal feelings of sadness when the symptoms last for more than two weeks.

Therefore, if you experience five or more symptoms of depression over the course of two weeks, you should consider talking to a medical professional about what you are experiencing.

The symptoms for depression include:

  • Prolonged sadness or unexplained crying spells
  • Change in appetite with significant weight loss (without dieting) or weight gain
  • Loss of energy, persistent fatigue or lethargy
  • Significant change in sleep patterns (insomnia, sleeping too much, fitful sleep, etc.)
  • Loss of interest and pleasure in activities previously enjoyed, social withdrawal
  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness or inappropriate guilt
  • Pessimism or indifference
  • Unexplained aches and pains (headaches, stomachaches)
  • Inability to concentrate, indecisiveness
  • Irritability, worry, anger, agitation or anxiety
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide

If you are having suicidal thoughts, don't wait to get help.

Call Safe Helpline at 877-995-5247 (the phone number is the same inside the U.S. or via DSN), or the National Veterans Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) at any time (Veterans press 1).

Depression can affect anyone of any age, gender, race, ethnicity, or religion. Depression is not a sign of weakness, and it is not something that someone can "snap out of."

Please note that content on this site does not constitute medical advice, and Safe Helpline is not a medical expert. If after reading this information you have further questions, please contact a local doctor or hospital.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are complex conditions that arise from a combination of long-standing emotional, psychological, interpersonal, and social issues. People with eating disorders often use food and the control of food as an attempt to deal with or compensate for feelings and emotions that may otherwise seem overwhelming.

Causes

Sexual assault or abuse can have an effect on the victim’s perceived body image and affect their eating habits. For some victims, self-starvation, bingeing, and purging may begin as a way to cope with the trauma of the assault or to feel in control of a certain aspect of their lives. But, ultimately, the damage caused by eating disorders can worsen their physical and emotional health as well as their self-esteem.

Factors stemming from sexual abuse that may result in an eating disorder include:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of inadequacy or lack of control in life
  • Depression, anxiety, anger, or loneliness
  • Difficulty expressing emotions and feelings

Help a Friend

While each situation is different, there are some general guidelines to consider if you know or suspect someone you love is suffering from an eating disorder:

  • Set aside time to meet with your loved one to discuss your concerns openly, honestly, and in a supportive way.
  • Avoid placing shame, blame, or guilt on your loved one regarding his or her actions or attitude.
  • Stay away from accusatory statements; use words like “I feel”, “I wish”, and “I hope.”
  • Remind your loved one that you care and want to support him or her in any way you can.

Eating disorders include:

  • Anorexia Nervosa
    • A serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss.
    • Four primary symptoms: resistance to maintaining body weight, intense fear of weight gain, denial of the seriousness of low body weight, and loss of menstrual periods in girls/women.
    • Warning signs include: dramatic weight loss, preoccupation with weight and food, refusal to eat certain foods, frequent comments about feeling “fat,” anxiety about gaining weight, denial of hunger, development of food rituals, consistent excuses to avoid mealtimes, rigid exercise regimen despite weather or fatigue, withdrawal from usual friends and activities.
    • Health consequences: abnormally slow heart rate and low blood pressure, reduction of bone density (osteoporosis), muscle loss and weakness, severe dehydration, fainting, dry hair and skin.
  • Binge Eating Disorder
    • Eating disorder characterized by recurrent binge eating without the regular use of compensatory measures to counter the binge eating.
    • Four primary symptoms: frequent episodes of eating large quantities of food in short periods of time, feeling out of control over eating behavior, feeling ashamed or disgusted by the behavior, eating when not hungry and eating in secret.
    • Health consequences: high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, heart disease, diabetes mellitus, gallbladder disease.
  • Bulimia Nervosa
    • Serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by a cycle of bingeing and compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting designed to undo or compensate for the effects of binge eating.
    • Three primary symptoms: regular intake of large amounts of food accompanied by a sense of loss of control over eating behavior; regular use of inappropriate compensatory behavior such as self-induced vomiting or laxative abuse or fasting; extreme concern with body weight and shape.
    • Warning signs: disappearance of large amounts of food in short periods of time, frequent trips to the bathroom after meals, rigid exercise regimen despite weather or fatigue, unusual swelling of cheeks or jaw area, calluses on the back of the hands and knuckles, discoloration or staining of teeth, withdrawal from usual friends and activities.
    • Health consequences: electrolyte imbalances that can lead to irregular heartbeats and possibly heart failure, inflammation and possible rupture of the esophagus from frequent vomiting, tooth decay and staining from stomach acids released during vomiting, chronic irregular bowel movements and constipation as a result of laxative abuse, gastric rupture.

Get Help

The most effective and long-lasting treatment for eating disorders is a form of therapy or counseling, along with attention to medical and nutritional needs.

Each treatment will vary according to the patient’s particular issues, needs, and strengths.

  • Psychological counseling – a licensed health professional addresses both the eating disorder symptoms and the underlying forces that contributed (in this case, sexual assault)
  • Outpatient therapy – support groups, nutritional counseling, and/or psychiatric medications under careful supervision
  • Hospital-based care – necessary when an eating disorder has led to physical problems that may be life-threatening, or when it is associated with severe psychological or behavioral problem.

If you or someone you know is having trouble with an eating disorder after a sexual assault, contact the Safe Helpline. Click to begin an online chat session or call 877-995-5247 (the phone number is the same inside the U.S. or via the DSN).

Additional Resources

National Eating Disorders Association

Academy of Nurtrition and Dietetics

BodyImageHealth.org

Eating Disorders Anonymous

Footnote:

1: National Eating Disorders Association. 2009. http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/index.php

Please note that content on this site does not constitute medical advice, and Safe Helpline is not a medical expert. If after reading this information you have further questions, please contact a local doctor or hospital.

Reducing Your Risk of Sexual Assault

There are many steps you can take to help reduce your risk of being sexually assaulted. We also have some tips on how to look out for buddies and keep them safe.

Active Bystander Intervention

One of the most effective methods of preventing sexual assault is bystander intervention. What is Active Bystander Intervention?

  • This approach encourages people to identify situations that might lead to a sexual assault and then safely intervene to prevent an assault from occurring.
  • Active Bystander Intervention discourages victim blaming by switching the focus of prevention to what a community of people can do collectively.
  • The approach also allows for a change in cultural expectations by empowering everyone to say or do something when they see inappropriate or harmful behavior.
  • This method of intervention places the responsibility of sexual assault prevention on both men and women.

How to Intervene

There are three components to Active Bystander Intervention.

  • Recognizing when to intervene.
    • Some people might be concerned that they are being encouraged to place themselves in jeopardy to stop crimes in progress. This is not the case. There are many situations and events that occur prior to a sexual assault that are appropriate for intervention. Active bystander intervention encourages people to watch for those behaviors and situations that appear to be inappropriate, coercive, and harassing.
  • Considering whether the situation needs attention.
    • The Department of Defense has chosen to link “duty” with sexual assault prevention. Service members need to understand that it is their moral duty to pay attention to situations that put their friends and co-workers at risk.
  • Deciding if there is a responsibility to act.
    • A great deal of research has been done to understand the conditions that encourage people to get involved. There are situational factors that influence a person’s willingness to act. These include the presence of other witnesses, the uncertainty of the situation, the apparent level of danger or risk to the victim, and the setting of the event. Personal characteristics of the bystander also contribute to a decision to act.

Help Someone You Know

When choosing what form of assistance to use, there are a variety of ways to intervene. Some of them are direct, and some of them are less obvious to the perpetrator:

  • Making up an excuse to get the potential victim out of a potentially dangerous situation.
  • Letting a friend or co-worker know that his or her actions may lead to serious consequences.
  • Never leaving the victim’s side, despite the efforts of someone to get the victim alone or away from you.
  • Using a group of friends to remind someone behaving inappropriately that his/her behavior should be respectful.
  • Taking steps to curb someone’s use of alcohol before problems occur.
  • Calling the authorities when the situation warrants.

Understanding how to safely implement the choice

Safety is paramount in active bystander intervention. Usually, intervening in a group is safer than intervening individually. Also, choosing a method of intervention that de-escalates the situation is safer than attempting a confrontation. However, there is no single rule that can account for every situation. Service members must use good judgment and always put safety first.

Footnotes

1. Information on Bystander Intervention was provided by the Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office from: www.sapr.mil

Risk Reduction and Prevention Safety

Common sense, situational awareness, and trusting your instincts will reduce your risk of being sexually assaulted.

Following the tips below may decrease your chances of being attacked:

  • If you consume alcohol, do so in moderation.
  • Do not leave your beverage unattended or accept a drink from an open container.
  • When you are with someone, communicate clearly to ensure he or she knows your limits from the beginning. Both verbal and nonverbal (body language) communication can be used to ensure the message is understood.
  • If you go on a date with someone you do not know very well, tell a close friend what your plans are.
  • You have the right to say "No" even if you:
    • First say “Yes,” and then change your mind;
    • Have had sex with this partner before;
    • Have been kissing or “making out"; and
    • Are wearing what is perceived to be “provocative” clothing.
  • Always have extra money to get home. Have a plan for someone you can call if you need help.
  • If you feel uncomfortable, scared or pressured, act quickly to end the situation. Say "Stop it" and leave or call for help.
  • When you go to a party, go with a group of friends. Arrive together, watch out for each other and leave together.
  • Be aware of your surroundings at all times.
  • Do not allow yourself to be isolated with a person you do not know or trust.
  • Travel with a friend or in a group.
  • Walk only in lighted areas after dark.
  • Keep the doors to homes, barracks, and cars locked.
  • Know where the phone is located.

As with any violent crime, there’s nothing you can do to guarantee that you will not be a victim of sexual assault. If you are sexually assaulted, remember that it is not your fault.

There are resources available to you 24/7 through Safe Helpline. Click to begin an online session or call 877-995-5247 (the phone number is the same inside the U.S. or via the DSN).

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