Sexual assault is any type of sexual activity or contact that occurs without your consent. This includes rape (forced penetration) and unwanted sexual touching.
Sexual assault is always the fault of the perpetrator (person committing the assault). It is not only up to women to prevent sexual assault. Sexual abuse prevention is the responsibility of all individuals within the community.
You can take steps to stay safe, while enjoying an active and social life. The key is to learn more about the issue and follow practical tips to protect yourself and your friends.
According to health experts, we all have a role to play in helping to prevent sexual assault. Everyone should take steps to work against sexual violence in the community.
Speak up. If you hear someone making light of sexual violence or condoning it, speak up. If you see someone being harassed or assaulted, call the police right away.
Help create a safe workplace or school environment. Ask about workplace or school programs that deal with sexual harassment or assault. Know where to go to report harassment or violence against yourself or others.
Offer support. If you know a friend or family member who is in an abusive relationship, offer your support. Put them in touch with local organizations that can help.
Teach your children. Tell children that they get to decide who can touch them and where - even family members. Let them know they can always come to you if someone touches them inappropriately. Teach children to respect others and to treat other people the way they would like to be treated.
Teach teens about consent. Make sure teens understand that any sexual contact or activity needs to be agreed to by both people freely, willingly, and clearly. Do this before they start dating.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP KEEP FRIENDS SAFE
Bystander intervention is safely stepping in and taking action when you see someone at risk for sexual assault. RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) has these 4 steps for how to help someone at risk, while protecting your own safety.
Create a distraction. This may be as simple as interrupting a conversation or offering food or drinks at a party.
Ask directly. Ask the person at risk if they are in trouble and need help.
Refer to an authority. It may be safest to talk with an authority figure who can help. Enlist help from a security guard, bar bouncer, employee, or RA. If needed, call 911 or your local emergency number.
Enlist other people. You don't have to and probably should not take action alone. Have a friend come along with you to ask the person if they are OK. Or ask someone else to intervene if you feel they might be able to do so safely. Approach friends of the person at risk to see if they can help.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP KEEP YOURSELF SAFE
It's not possible to completely protect against sexual assault. However, it's important to know what steps you can take to keep yourself safe.
When out by yourself:
- Trust your instincts. If something doesn't feel right, try to remove yourself from the situation. It's OK to lie or make excuses if it will help you get away.
- Avoid being alone with people you do not know or do not trust.
- Be aware of where you are and what is around you. When you are out, do not cover both of your ears with music headphones.
- Keep your cell phone charged and with you. If needed, make sure you have cash or credit cards for a cab ride home.
- Stay away from deserted areas.
- Try to appear strong, confident, aware, and secure in your surroundings.
At parties or in other social situations, here are some common sense steps to take:
- Go with a group of friends, if possible, or keep in contact with someone you know during the party. Keep an eye out for one another, and don't leave anyone alone at a party.
- Avoid drinking too much. Know your limits and keep track of how much you are drinking. Open your own beverages. Do not accept drinks from someone you do not know and keep your drink or beverage close to you. Someone could drug your drink, and you would not be able to tell because you can't smell or taste date-rape drinks.
- If you think you have been drugged, tell a friend and leave the party or situation and get help right away.
- Do not go somewhere alone or leave a party with someone you do not know or feel comfortable with.
- Get to know someone well before spending time alone together. Spend the first few dates in public places.
- If you are with someone you know and your instincts tell you something is wrong, trust your feelings and get away from the person.
- Avoid taking rideshare transportation alone.
If you find yourself in a situation where you are being pressured into sexual activities you do not want, things you can do include:
- State clearly what you do not want to do. Remember, you do not have to do something you are not comfortable doing.
- Remain aware of your surroundings and how you can get away if needed.
- Create a special code word or sentence you can use with a friend or family member. You can call them and say it if you are being pressured into unwanted sex.
- If you need to, make up a reason why you need to leave.
You may want to consider taking a self-defense class. This may boost your self-confidence and provide useful skills and strategies for different situations.
Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network -- www.rainn.org.
WomensHealth.gov -- www.womenshealth.gov/relationships-and-safety
Sexual assault - prevention; Rape - prevention; Date rape - prevention
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Violence prevention: preventing sexual violence. www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/sexualviolence/fastfact.html. Updated February 5, 2021. Accessed February 16, 2021.
Cowley DS, Lentz GM. Emotional aspects of gynecology: depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, substance use disorders, "difficult" patients, sexual function, rape, intimate partner violence, and grief. In: Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, Lentz GM, Valea FA, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 9.
Linden JA, Riviello RJ. Sexual assault. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 58.
Review Date 12/2/2020
Updated by: LaQuita Martinez, MD, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Emory Johns Creek Hospital, Alpharetta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.