The term sexual violence refers to any type of unwanted sexual behavior that results in emotional or physical harm. Examples include assault (rape, incest, grabbing/fondling), exploitation, exposure, making offensive jokes or comments, and obscene communication.
One in six women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. One in 33 men will endure an attempted or completed rape. These assaults are NEVER their fault. Sexual assault can happen to anyone regardless of gender, age, appearance, clothing, or social choices. After an assault, many people choose not to file a police report because they feel guilty, ashamed, or threatened. But, regardless of your decision to report, you did NOT deserve to be sexually assaulted and you DO deserve support!
Although responsibility for sexual violence ALWAYS rests with the perpetrator, people can take preventative steps to reduce the likelihood of victimization.
In situations with acquaintances or strangers:
• Trust your intuition. If someone gives you an uncomfortable feeling, there’s a reason for it!
• Adopt a “buddy system” with a trusted individual and regularly check-in with each other. Do NOT leave a location without your buddy!
• Avoid separating from the group.
• Prepare your own drinks and do NOT leave your drink unattended.
• Be ready to say “No” to unwelcome requests. Women are especially socialized to be cooperative and polite but this makes them more vulnerable!
“No, I have to wait for my friend before I leave.”
“No, I can’t go with you to another room. I want to stay here.”
“No, I want to make my own drink.”
• Be mindful of your drug and alcohol use and stay sober if possible.
• Arrange for your own transportation. Do NOT accept a ride from someone you recently met.
• Do NOT open your door to strangers or unanticipated visitors.
• Keep doors and windows locked. If possible, install security systems and/or deadbolts.
If you do become separated from a group:
• Call or text a trusted individual and let them know that you’re leaving your location. Tell them how long it should take you to get home and contact them when you do.
• Stay on well-lit, populated streets.
• Walk with confidence and do NOT appear distracted (i.e. Don’t focus on your cell phone.)
• Be very aware of your surroundings, especially in parking lots and garages.
• Once you enter your vehicle, immediately lock the doors.
• If you car stalls, lift the hood and turn on your flashers. Call the police or trusted roadside assistance provider and stay in the car with the doors locked. Do NOT accept assistance from a stranger.
In situations with a new sex partner:
• Acknowledge that even though clear communication can feel awkward, it is necessary step in preventing sexual violence.
• Determine your desires and limits and share them in advance.
• Discuss what it looks and sounds like when you signal a need to stop or slow down .
• Regularly check-in with your partner during sexual activity. Here are some suggestions of things you might say:
“I like when you touch me like that.”
“Do you like when I touch you like this?”
“Do you want me to touch you here?”
“Does this feel good?”
“Should we keep going or should we try something else?”
“What would make you feel good?”
DURING AN ASSAULT*
Remember: There is no wrong way to behave during an assault. Your only goal is to stay alive.
If you can remain calm, try to notice your attacker’s behavior. The way he behaves can guide what you do next.
If your attacker...
Appears insecure and awkward…
Reassures you of your safety…
Seeks positive feedback from you…
Uses a weapon to force your participation…
Your best response may be resistance. Screaming, crying, pleading, or praying aloud may dissuade the attacker. If these strategies appear to be working, you can try physical resistance as well. If these strategies cause him to become more aggressive, do NOT continue.
If your attacker…
Appears entitled, enraged, or rehearsed…
Avoids victim engagement and foreplay…
Uses explicit or obscene language…
Focuses on humiliation, degradation, and pain…
Your best response may be to become submissive or to attempt escape from or incapacitation of the attacker. Screaming and crying may escalate the situation and make the attacker more aggressive. Remember: If you choose to submit, you are still not to blame for the assault.
* This section specifically uses masculine pronouns to reflect behavioral science data on sexual assault perpetration. Although women also commit sexual assault, there are fewer of them, which means that researchers mainly collect data from men.
Source: Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics. (n.d.). Rapist types and methods of avoidance. Retrieved from http://uspp.csbsju.edu/crimpsych/cpsg-5.htm
AFTER AN ASSAULT
• Do NOT blame yourself. You are the victim of a crime. No one—not even a spouse or partner—has the right to pressure or force you into a sexual act.
• Do NOT wash or shower. If possible, avoid urination as well.
• Get medical attention. Even if you don’t want to pursue police action, it is important to treat injuries and to test for HIV/sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and pregnancy. Plus, rape kit results don’t have to be used immediately; you may change your mind about involving the police and if you do, you’ll want that valuable evidence. Maryland offers Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner (SAFE) programs at various hospitals. University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center in La Plata, Maryland has a SAFE program. Visit for a list of other Maryland SAFE Programs. NOTE: In 1993, CAP started the first SAFE/FNE program in the State of Maryland!
What to expect: During the exam, the nurse will look for things that might identify the attacker, such as hairs, fibers, and body fluids. The exam may include oral swabbing and photographs of visible injuries. An internal exam may be conducted on adolescent and adult women. You may be asked to give blood and hair samples. You may be given preventative treatment for STDs.
You may also be given emergency contraception (EC) if there is a risk of pregnancy from the assault. EC contains hormones like those found in birth control pills. They can prevent pregnancy when taken within 72 hours of sexual intercourse. EC is safe and effective in reducing the chance of pregnancy.
• Consider reporting the assault to the police. Your advocate or another support person can go with you to file a report in the county where you were assaulted. For investigative purposes, the sooner you report the sexual assault the better. The police will ask you questions, some of which may be difficult to answer, but it is important that you answer them fully and honestly. Telling the police about your sexual assault is difficult, but many survivors say that bringing their attacker to justice helped them to heal.
• Seek support. Sexual assault is very difficult to talk about but the aftermath is even harder to carry alone. If you can’t talk to family or friends, talk to a hotline counselor, therapist, or spiritual leader. Center for Abused Persons hotline counselors are available 24/7. Call us at 301-645-3336.
• Take care of yourself. Everyone is different and there is no single response to a sexual assault. Be on the look out for the following reactions and get help if you notice:
- Nervousness and anxiety
- Social isolation and withdrawal
- Change in appetite
- Sleeplessness and/or nightmares
- Emotional numbing
- Drug and/or alcohol abuse
- Relationship problems
- Physical complaints (e.g. headaches, stomachaches, other pains)
- Thoughts of death or suicide