Sexual assault is any type of sexual conduct to which you do not agree. It can include touching (both directly and through clothing), molestation, rape, voyeurism (watching private sexual acts), exhibitionism (performing sexual acts in public), incest, and sexual harassment. it affects both men and women, and can happen anywhere, by anyone, at any time: at home, at work, on a date, by a stranger, during daylight, or at night.
Read our tip sheet Sexual Assault [PDF, 191Kb] for tips on how you can avoid becoming a victim of this crime, and what to do if you are ever attacked.
You don't have to be a victim; there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Here are some tips offered by the National Crime Prevention Council:
• Be aware of your surroundings - who's out there and what's going on.
• Walk with confidence; confidence implies strength.
• Know your limits when it comes to using alcohol. Guard your drink - never put it down and leave it unattended, and don't accept open drinks from people you don't know.
• Be assertive. Don't let anyone violate your space.
• Trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable in your surroundings, leave.
• Don't prop open self-locking doors.
• Lock your door and your windows, even if you leave for just a few minutes.
• Watch your keys. Don't lend them, leave them, or lose them, and don't put your name and address on the key ring.
• Watch out for unwanted visitors. Know who's on the other side of the door before you open it. If you don't know the person, don't open the door but acknowledge that you know someone is there.
• Be wary of isolated spots, such as underground garages, offices after business hours, and apartment laundry rooms.
• Avoid walking or jogging alone, especially at night. Vary your route, and stay in well-traveled, well-lit areas.
• Have your key ready to use before you reach the door - home, car, or work.
• Park in well-lit areas and lock the car, even if you'll only be gone for a moment.
• Drive on well-traveled streets, with doors and windows locked.
• Never hitchhike or pick up a hitchhiker.
• Keep your car in good shape with plenty of gas in the tank.
• If you have car trouble, pull over, lock the doors, and call for help on your cell phone. If you don't have a cell phone, put the hood up and put a banner in the rear window that says "Help. Call police." If you call for a tow truck, know the name of the company that will be coming to you, and don't get out of the car for anyone else.
If you're attacked
The number one thing you need to be concerned about is your safety. Depending on the attacker, the situation, and your capabilities, it may be better to fight back or it may be better to submit. Rememeber, submission does not mean permission - it may feel demeaning, but you need to ensure your safety.
Constantly reassess the situation during an attack or attempted attack. If one defense strategy doesn't work or stops working, try another. Some strategies include:
• Fighting back - kicking, hitting, clawing/scratching, biting, etc.
• Running away to a safe place, such as an open business or police station
• Negotiation (for example, offering your cash if the attacker lets you go)
• Stalling for time
• Distracting the attacker
• Screaming to draw attention
Some strategies may be more effective when used in combination, such as distracting the attacker so that you can run away, or stalling for time until a bystander is close enough for you to get their attention.
If you are ever a victim of rape, there are some very important things to do and not do immediately afterward:
• DO immediately call 911, or go directly to the nearest police, sheriff's or fire station, hospital, or rape crisis center. If you are uncomfortable doing so, don't know where the nearest one is, or are far away from one, go to the nearest safe place (such as a trusted friend's house or a nearby business) and call the police or sheriff's department.
• DON'T change clothes, bathe, douche, or clean up in any way until after law enforcement responds. Doing so will destroy valuable evidence that is needed to catch and convict your attacker.
• DO try to remember as many details as you can about your attacker, such as clothing, facial features, general physical description, unique features such as scars or tattoos, which direction they went after the assault, etc. It's natural to want to block out every possible memory related to an attack, but these details are critical for law enforcement.
• DON'T feel guilty or ashamed. This is not your fault - no one "asks" to be assaulted. Consider seeking counseling or other services to help you deal with the consequences of the assault.
• DO remember that most sexual assaults, particularly rapes, go unreported, and that the vast majority of attackers start small and work their way up to rape, continuing until they get caught. Without a report, they won't be caught - and will likely attack someone else.
Some more things to consider
• Choosing to carry a weapon for protection is a personal choice that you, and only you, can make. Some people don't feel safe without one, and others are uncomfortable with the idea. If you do choose to carry a weapon, such as pepper spray or a pocketknife, check with law enforcement to make sure that it's legal. Any weapon you choose to carry should be easy to use and familiar to you so you can use it effectively. Consider taking a specialized training course to learn how to safely and properly use your chosen weapon, as well as any special techniques that may be of use.
• Classes such as martial arts or general self-defense can give you invaluable skills and technique to defend yourself during an attack. Remember, sexual and other assaults can happen anywhere, anytime, and you may not have a weapon handy. A side benefit to such classes is improved fitness, not only making you look and feel better but also making you stronger and faster for an easier time fighting off an attacker or running away.
• Practice what you might say or do during an attack on a regular basis, whether in your head or in a role-playing situation, so that it becomes second-nature and is easier to implement in the event of an attack.