If you don’t consent to sex and someone forces you to do something sexual, this is sexual assault, abuse, and/or rape. Someone hurting you like this is never your fault.

What are sexual assault, abuse, and rape?

Sexual assault or abuse means any unwanted sexual contact. It’s when someone uses force or pressure (either physical or emotional) to get you to do something sexual. Rape is when someone forces or pressures you into having sex.

Every state defines crimes like "rape,” "sexual assault," and “sexual abuse” differently. Rape usually means forced vaginal, anal, or oral penetration by a body part or object.

Here are some examples of things that are sexual abuse or assault:

  • someone touching your breasts, butt, or private parts without your consent

  • someone showing you their genitals or making you touch them without your consent

  • someone rubbing their genitals against you without your consent (this sometimes happens in crowded areas like subways or buses)

  • someone forcing you to kiss them

  • someone holding you down and kissing, touching, or rubbing against you

  • someone smacking your butt without your consent

It doesn’t matter if the person doing those things is a family member, your friend, or even someone you’re dating — it’s still wrong. Everyone has the right to decide what happens to their own bodies. If you’re dating someone who doesn’t respect your boundaries, you may be in an unhealthy or abusive relationship.

If one of your teachers, a family member, your boss at work, or anyone much older than you does anything sexual with you, that’s sexual abuse — even if you agree to it. If a teacher or other adult in your life tries to touch or kiss you sexually or asks you to do anything sexual to them, tell another adult you trust as soon as possible. Often, abusers will make you feel like you’ll be in trouble if you don’t do what they want or if you tell anybody.  But what they’re doing is NOT okay — and no matter what you’ve said or done, it’s 100% their fault, not yours.

Rape, sexual abuse, or sexual assault can happen to anyone, no matter how old they are, or what race, gender, or sexual orientation they are. Some people believe it only happens to girls, but that’s not true. Most victims of sexual assault are female, but 1 out of every 5 victims is male.

For more information about rape, sexual abuse, or sexual assault, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) is a great resource.

How do you prevent sexual abuse, rape, or sexual assault? Don’t be sexual with anyone unless you know they want to. Ask for their consent first.

What should I do if someone sexually assaulted, abused, or raped me?

If you experienced sexual assault, abuse, or rape, you may be feeling shocked, scared, and uncertain of what to do next.

Here’s what to do right away:

1. Get to someplace safe as soon as possible. Your safety is important. Depending on where you are, you might want to get to an area with more people, or find someone to help you.

2. Once you’re in a safe place, don’t change anything on your body. You don’t have to decide right away if you’re going to talk with the police or press charges. But just in case you do, it’s super important that the police have the evidence that may be on your body. So don’t take a shower or bath or wash off any parts of your body. Also if you can, don’t go to the bathroom, comb your hair, eat, smoke, drink, or take any drugs. If you change your clothes, take the clothes you were wearing during the assault to the hospital or police department in a paper bag.

3. Tell a parent, guardian, or another adult in your life who you trust. They can help you figure out what to do next, which might include seeing a doctor or nurse for an exam or calling the police.

4. See a doctor or nurse. Medical care is important after a sexual assault. You can go to the emergency room or you may be able to go to your nearest Planned Parenthood health center.

The doctors and nurses who take care of people after sexual assault are usually specially trained. They know how to be gentle, caring, and sensitive. They will:

  • Examine you to see if you were harmed in any way

  • Give you medical care that may include emergency contraception (if there is a risk of pregnancy), tests for STDs, and medicine to help prevent HIV (post-exposure prophylactics).

  • Collect evidence, so you have the option to press charges if you decide that’s right for you. Evidence might include semen, hair, or skin cells from the person who assaulted you.

5. Get help from an expert.  The Rape Abuse and Incest National Network offers a 24-hour, 7-day a week hotline. They can tell you about your options and connect you with local resources. A rape crisis center in your area can help you find a doctor or nurse, counselor, and other support. Your nearest Planned Parenthood health center may also be able to help.

6. Decide if you want to talk to the police. Sexual assault is a crime, and you have the right to report it to the police if you want to. You can call them yourself or ask a rape crisis counselor or a parent, guardian, or someone else you trust to do it for you. The police will ask you questions, and they’ll also talk to you about whether or not you want to press charges.

If you choose to speak with the police, you may want to have someone with you for support. If a police officer asks to speak with you alone, you don’t have to unless you want to. You can have someone you trust like a family member or friend there, or have a trained advocate with you. RAINN may be able to connect you with one of these advocates.

7. No matter what, remember that what happened wasn’t your fault. Sometimes people think it’s their fault if the attacker is a friend, family member, or person they were dating. It’s still not your fault in any of those situations. Even if you started doing something sexual with this person but didn’t want to continue and they forced you anyway, it’s still not your fault. What you were wearing or drinking or how you were acting doesn’t make it your fault. You didn’t ask for this and you didn’t deserve it.

It can take a lot of time to feel safe again after abuse or sexual assault. Talking to a therapist or counselor who’s trained to work with sexual assault, abuse. and rape survivors can really help. So can connecting with other people who have been through the same thing, like a support group or with people you already know.

You’re not alone. Unfortunately, many people experience sexual abuse, assault, or rape at some point in their lives. You can get through this — and there are people who can help.

How can I help a friend who was sexually assaulted?

One of the biggest things you can do is to just be there. Here are some basic dos and don’ts for helping a friend who’s been raped, abused, or assaulted:

Do:

  • Listen to their story and believe them

  • Tell them that what happened wasn’t their fault

  • Share resources like RAINN, your nearest rape crisis service, or your nearest Planned Parenthood health center with them

  • Encourage them to talk with a trusted adult if they haven’t already

  • Offer to go with them to get help

Don’t:

  • Tell them how they could’ve avoided what happened

  • Tell anyone else what happened unless they ask you to

  • Pressure them into talking with the police

  • Threaten to hurt the person who hurt them

Dealing with any kind of sexual violence takes time. They might not even think of it as assault/abuse/rape right away. There’s no such thing as a “right way” for someone to react.  

It’s also really important to take care of yourself when you’re trying to be there for a friend who’s been hurt. Hearing about the sexual violence of someone you love, even when you’re not the one it happened to, can be really upsetting. RAINN has really great information on how hearing about this stuff might make you feel and how you can take care of yourself.

Got Questions? Chat with an Expert.

Chat online to get answers about pregnancy, birth control, emergency contraception, STDs, and abortion. 

Chat Now

More on Bullying, Safety & Privacy