If a child or teen tells you they have been sexually abused or you suspect a child is being abused, call 9-1-1 or child protective services. If you are concerned there may be abuse happening to a child or in a family, call child protective services or seek professional help.
If you are concerned that an adult has been assaulted or an adult discloses sexual abuse, remember this: stay calm, listen compassionately, offer emotional support and offer to connect them with professional support. Reporting to the police is the victim’s choice. However, visiting the hospital for an exam (i.e., rape kit) as soon as possible preserves vital evidence if and when the victim decides to report to police.
If you are concerned about warning signs or someone’s behavior, the best response will depend on the particular situation, especially if children are involved.
If a child or teen reports abuse, call 9-1-1 or child protective services for local assistance immediately. Be sure to get support for yourself from other trusted adults who are not involved directly with the abuse. The national contacts below are available for anyone seeking information and resources about sexual abuse. If you are not sure of the number to call, you can call the police or visit the Child Welfare Information Gateway for contact information.
If a child hints at or discloses sexual abuse, your reaction is very important and could affect how the child feels about themselves later. What you say is as important as what you don’t say. Research shows that having an adult who listens, believes and supports a child through the disclosure process is key to the child’s resiliency and leads to better mental health outcomes. An adult’s willingness to listen may also impact the child’s willingness to talk about sexual abuse in the future and during a possible criminal investigation.
There are many reactions that survivors of rape and sexual assault — or sexual abuse as a child — can experience. For traumatic events in general, it is important to know there is not one “standard” reaction to the trauma of sexual abuse. Some people respond immediately, while others have delayed reactions — sometimes months or even years later. Some have adverse effects for a long period of time, while others recover rather quickly. Reactions can change over time.
Some who have suffered from trauma find the energy to help others with the challenge of coping, only to later become discouraged or depressed. The impact of sexual abuse and assault will be different for each person and may occur on several levels — physically, emotionally, spiritually, economically and mentally.
Survivors may experience some of the following responses:
There are several things you can do to help in the healing process and provide the support your friend, family or loved one may need.
Remember to take care of yourself — seek support if you need it. If you take care of yourself, you will be better able to support the victim/survivor. Your local rape crisis center will have resources for friends and families who care for survivors.
If you have just been sexually assaulted, here are some suggestions:
All victims of sexual assault or abuse should be treated with dignity and respect and not be judged based on race, age, class, gender, ability/disability, sexual orientation or gender identity. All victims should be considered victims of sexual assault, regardless of the offender’s relationship to them.
If you are over 18, you have the right to —
When reporting a sexual assault to the police —
If you are not an adult (and this may change from state to state), then your disclosure may trigger a report to the authorities. The purpose of this report is to protect you and others, and to get help for you and your family. More information can be found in the resources below.
As a survivor of sexual assault, you may experience some or all of these feelings —
This complex set of feelings is common and every survivor of sexual assault responds differently. Remember, you are not alone, you are not to blame for what happened and there are people who are there to help.
The national contacts below are available for anyone seeking information and resources about sexual abuse. In an emergency, dial 9-1-1 for local assistance immediately.
If you see warning signs of abusive behavior by a child or teen, call 9-1-1 or child protective services and report your concerns. Interfamilial sexual abuse can leave you confused, angry or alone. Know that many other families have endured this experience and have gone on to live healthy and happy lives.
If you see warning signs of sexually abusive behaviors but aren’t sure if you have enough information to make a report, you can call child protective services anonymously. If you don’t have enough information to report or you just have a gut feeling, don’t give up. You can choose to seek professional advice and/or start with the resources below. Here are some options:
Remember to reach out for help and that you aren’t alone. One of the biggest factors of resiliency in a child or teen is having someone who cares about them and is willing to go through difficult experiences with them. Your involvement can make a huge difference in the lives of everyone involved.
If you suspect an adult is sexually abusing a child or teen or someone discloses sexually abusive behavior toward a child or teen, call 9-1-1 or child protective services.
If you suspect that an adult is sexually assaulting another adult, and you are in a position to do so, offer support to the adult who is being harmed.
If you see warning signs of sexually abusive behaviors in someone you care about, but you don’t have any evidence of sexual abuse, consider the available options. Doing nothing might be easier, but it may also mean that someone might be harmed. Here are some options:
Remember to trust your gut and do not give up. If there are others who may be helpful, consider involving them as well. If more individuals are watching and also offering their support, the more likely you are to create a safer situation for everyone.