Sexual Assault Awareness

Sexual Assault Awareness Month, observed each April, is a campaign that aims to increase awareness about the causes and risk factors for sexual assault and empower individuals to take steps to prevent it in their communities. The term “sexual assault” is an umbrella term that includes all of the following:

  • Rape/Attempted Rape
  • Drug-facilitated sexual assault
  • Molestation
  • Unwanted sexual contact of any other form
  • Sexual harassment
  • Incest
  • Child Sexual Abuse
  • Sexual violence, even with an intimate partner
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Human trafficking
  • Voyeurism

Each survivor reacts to sexual violence in her or his own unique way, such as:

  • Expressing emotions or preferring to keep their feelings inside. Talking about the assault soon after or waiting weeks, months, or even years before discussing the assault, if they ever choose to do so.
  • Experiencing physical responses to the trauma as an effect of the assault.
  • Developing coping mechanisms that could be harmful or unhealthy such as drug and alcohol use or self-injury, or healthy and therapeutic options such as journaling, expression through art and seeking therapy. Some survivors will display a mix of healthy and unhealthy ways of coping.
  • Deciding whether or not to pursue legal action.

It is important to respect each person's choices and style of coping with this, and any, traumatic event. For many, they will experience emotional and psychological responses to sexual assault.


Emotional Response to Sexual Assault:

  • Guilt, shame, self-blame
  • Embarrassment
  • Fear, anxiety, distrust
  • Sadness
  • Isolation
  • Lack of control
  • Anger 
  • Numbness
  • Confusion
  • Shock, disbelief
  • Denial

Psychological Response to Sexual Assault:

  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks, or re-experiencing the assault
  • Dissociation
  • Depression and other mood disorders
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Anxiety
  • Substance use or abuse
  • Phobias or fears
  • Low self-esteem
  • Thoughts of self harm, including suicide

How you can help

Effective communication is important to a survivor's well-being. If you are wondering what you can do, here are some suggestions

  • Remain calm. You may feel shocked or outraged, but expressing these emotions to the survivor may cause confusion or discomfort.
  • Believe the survivor. Make it clear that you believe the assault happened and that the assault is not her or his fault.
  • Give the survivor control. Control was taken away during the assault. Empower the survivor to make decisions about what steps to take next and try to avoid telling her or him what to do.
  • Be available for the survivor to express a range of feelings: crying, screaming, being silent, etc. Remember, the survivor is angry with the person(s) who assaulted her or him and the situation, not with you. Just be there to listen.
  • Assure the survivor of your support. She or he needs to know that regardless of what happened, your relationship will remain intact.
  • Avoid making threats against the perpetrator(s). Threats of harm may only cause the survivor to worry about your safety and risk of arrest.
  • Maintain confidentiality. Let the survivor decide who to tell about the assault.
  • Encourage counseling. Give the survivor the hotline number for the nearest rape crisis center, but let the survivor decide whether or not to call.
  • Ask before offering physical support. Asking “Can I give you a hug?” can re-establish the survivor's sense of security, safety, and control. Respect their answer, as physical touch may be difficult for them, even from a loved one.
  • Say what you can guarantee. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, such as saying the survivor will never be hurt again, or that the offender will be put in jail.
  • Allow the proper authorities to deal with the assault. Confronting the person who committed the sexual assault may be harmful or dangerous. Attempting to investigate or question others who may know about the assault may hamper a legal investigation. Leave this to the proper authorities.
  • Be patient and recognize that healing can take weeks, months, or years with advances and setbacks. There is no timetable for healing
  • Take care of yourself. If you need support for yourself, please contact your local rape crisis center for a confidential place to discuss your feelings.

What help is available for survivors:

  • The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline: Call 1-800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area. Cell phone callers have the option to enter the ZIP code of their current location to more accurately locate the nearest sexual assault service provider.
  • RAINN (Rape, Abuse, Incest & National Network) is the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization. is their website where you can chat online with a trained staff member who can provide you confidential crisis support 24/7. This website also offers an app feature that you can download on your mobile device:
RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network)
RAINN Mobile App - Support for Survivors & Loved Ones 
Sexual Violence Recovery Resources for Survivors and Loved Ones
Additional Sexual Violence Facts
Survivor Stories

The strongest people are not those who show strength in front of us but those who win battles we know nothing about.

~Jonathan Harnisch

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