Sexual Abuse or Assault (Rape)

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Topic Overview

Sexual abuse or assault (rape) can happen to anyone. If this has happened to you, you are not to blame. Sexual abuse is any type of sexual activity that is done against your will. It can be non-violent sexual abuse, such as non-touching sexual exposure (like being forced to look at sexual pictures) or unwanted or forced sexual touching. Or it can mean a violent sexual assault, such as rape or attempted rape. The attacker may be a stranger, someone you do not know well, a close friend, or a family member (incest). Many victims of abuse or assault know their attacker.

Teens and young adults may be at risk for becoming victims of sexual assault or violent behaviour in situations where certain drugs are used.

It is often hard for people to talk about sexual abuse or assault. The abused person often feels shame or guilt and may be too afraid of the abuser to say anything. But it is important to seek help and then continue to get help for as long as you need it. Talk to the police or to a health professional, such as a doctor, nurse, or counsellor. Or call a local rape crisis centre. Any of these people can help you get medical treatment, deal with your feelings, and take steps to stop the abuser or rapist.

Non-violent sexual abuse

Sexual abuse can be something spoken or seen, or it can be anything that forces a person to join in unwanted sexual contact. This type of abuse may occur over and over. Examples of non-violent sexual abuse include forcing a person to:

  • Look at a naked body or naked genital area.
  • Watch, look at, or be a part of sexual pictures.
  • Watch a sexual act, such as masturbation.
  • Be touched (fondled).

Violent sexual assault

Violent sexual assault is any forced sexual contact where something is put into (penetrates) the vagina, anus, or mouth. Violence or fear is used to force the person to have sex. Examples of violent sexual assault include:

  • An object placed into the vagina or anus.
  • Forced oral sex.
  • Forced sexual intercourse (rape).

Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor or get other help.

Check Your Symptoms

Do you have a concern about sexual abuse or assault?
Answer the questions for the person you are concerned about, whether that person is you or someone else.
Yes
Concern about sexual abuse or assault
No
Concern about sexual abuse or assault
How old are you?
Less than 12 years
Less than 12 years
12 years or older
12 years or older
Are you male or female?
Male
Male
Female
Female
Are you in physical danger right now?
Yes
Immediate physical danger
No
Immediate physical danger
Yes
Sexual abuse or assault
No
Sexual abuse or assault
Was the assault recent enough that there may still be physical evidence?
For example, your body or clothes could have evidence of the assault that needs to be examined.
Yes
Physical evidence of recent assault
No
Physical evidence of recent assault
Has someone physically hurt or abused you?
Yes
Physical abuse
No
Physical abuse
Did the physical abuse occur in the past 24 hours?
Yes
Physical abuse occurred in the past 24 hours
No
Physical abuse occurred in the past 24 hours
Do you have a serious injury?
Yes
Serious injury
No
Serious injury
Is there someone who can safely take you to get emergency care right now?
Yes
Someone is available to help
No
Someone is available to help
Are you worried that someone you know has been sexually abused or raped?
Yes
Concerned about sexual abuse or assault of another person
No
Concerned about sexual abuse or assault of another person
Do you have concerns about any other type of abuse?
Abuse can be physical, sexual, or emotional. It also can include neglect.
Yes
Other concerns about abuse or neglect
No
Other concerns about abuse or neglect

Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:

  • Your age. Babies and older adults tend to get sicker quicker.
  • Your overall health. If you have a condition such as diabetes, HIV, cancer, or heart disease, you may need to pay closer attention to certain symptoms and seek care sooner.
  • Medicines you take. Certain medicines and natural health products can cause symptoms or make them worse.
  • Recent health events, such as surgery or injury. These kinds of events can cause symptoms afterwards or make them more serious.
  • Your health habits and lifestyle, such as eating and exercise habits, smoking, alcohol or drug use, sexual history, and travel.

Try Home Treatment

You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.

  • Try home treatment to relieve the symptoms.
  • Call your doctor if symptoms get worse or you have any concerns (for example, if symptoms are not getting better as you would expect). You may need care sooner.

Sexual abuse is any type of sexual activity that is done against your will. It can be:

  • Non-violent sexual abuse, such as unwanted touching or being forced to watch or look at sexual pictures.
  • Violent sexual assault, such as rape or forced oral sex.

Neglect is a form of abuse. It happens when caregivers do not protect the health and well-being of the person they are supposed to take care of.

Two common types of neglect are:

  • Child neglect. This happens when parents (or other caregivers) fail to provide a child with the food, shelter, schooling, clothing, medical care, or protection the child needs.
  • Elder neglect. This includes failing to provide an older person with food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and other basics. Neglect can include failing to pay nursing home or medical costs for the person if you have a legal responsibility to do so.

If you have just been sexually abused or assaulted, try to preserve any evidence of the attack.

  • Do not change your clothes.
  • Do not bathe, shower, brush your teeth, or clean up in any way.
  • Do not eat or drink anything.
  • Do not smoke.
  • Write down everything you can remember about the assault and about the person who assaulted you.

Physical abuse may include:

  • Acts of physical violence, like hitting, pushing, shaking, slapping, kicking, pinching, choking, strangling, and burning.
  • Threats of physical violence against you, your family, or your pets.

Call 911 Now

Based on your answers, you need emergency care.

Call 911 or other emergency services now.

Seek Care Today

Based on your answers, you may need help soon.

Call your local hospital, clinic, or police department.

You may also call 911 .

Seek Care Now

Based on your answers, you may need help right away.

Call your local hospital, clinic, or police department.

You may also call 911 .

Home Treatment

If you feel threatened or need immediate help:

  • Call 911.
  • If you have been assaulted:
    • Call the police immediately, or call a health professional such as a doctor, nurse, or counsellor.
    • Remember the assault (rape) was not your fault.
    • Find a safe environment—anywhere away from the attacker.
    • Preserve evidence of the attack—do not change clothes, eat, drink, smoke, bathe, brush teeth, or clean up in any way. Write down all the details about the attack and the attacker.
    • Get medical attention. Even with no physical injuries, it is important to determine the risk of pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis B, or HIV. To preserve evidence, ask the hospital to do a special examination (called a forensic medical examination). If you think you may have been drugged, ask that a urine sample be taken.
    • Check your local phone book or provincial website for resources on getting help in your area.
  • Be alert to warning signs, such as threats or drunkenness, so that you can avoid a dangerous situation.
  • If a child tells you that he or she has been sexually abused or assaulted, stay calm. Tell the child that you believe him or her and that you will do your best to keep him or her safe. Report the abuse or assault to the local police or a child protective services agency. For more information, see the topic Child Abuse and Neglect.

If you have been a victim of abuse and continue to have problems related to the abuse, you may have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For more information, see the topic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Symptoms to watch for during home treatment

If you are concerned that sexual abuse or assault has occurred, call your doctor to decide if and when you should see a doctor or get other help.

Prevention

Sexual abuse and assault is never the victim's fault. But there are some things you can do that may help reduce your risk.

  • When you go to a party, go with a group of friends. Arrive together, watch out for each other, and leave together.
  • Do not leave your beverage unattended or accept a drink from an open container.
  • Be aware of your surroundings at all times.
  • Do not allow yourself to be alone with someone you do not know or trust. Do not get a ride from someone you do not know.
  • Think about how intimate you want to be in a relationship, and clearly province your limits.

Reduce the chance of your child being sexually abused or assaulted:

  • Teach your children that it is against the "rules" for adults to act in a sexual way with children. Use examples.
  • Teach your children that it is okay to say no and that it is okay to leave the situation if they are uncomfortable.
  • Teach your children that their bodies are their own and that it is okay if they do not want a hug or other contact that might make them uncomfortable.
  • Speak to your children about using the proper names for their body parts. Informed children are better able to talk to you about someone acting in a sexual way with them.

Organizations such as Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights can help you learn more about reducing your chances of being a victim. Call 1-888-642-2725 or check online at www.sexualhealthandrights.ca.

Preparing For Your Appointment

To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.

If you have made an appointment with your health professional, you may be able to get the most from your visit by being prepared to answer the following questions:

  • Has anyone forced you to have sexual activities?
  • Has the sexual abuse increased recently? When was the last forced sexual contact?
  • Has a child, family member, or friend been forced to have sexual activities? When did it occur? What action was taken?
  • Has the abuser threatened violence against your children or other people? Is he or she violent toward your children?
  • Is the person who harmed you using any illegal drugs or alcohol?
  • Does the person who harmed you have access to guns or other violent weapons?
  • Do you have any risk factors that increase your chance of becoming a victim of sexual abuse or assault?

Other Places To Get Help

Organizations

Action Canada for Sexual Health an Rights: Love Your Parts
http://srhweek.ca
Provincial and Territorial Helplines and Websites (Canada)

Many of the resources below provide help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in multiple languages. In an emergency, call 911.

Canada-wide resources

  • To find a suicide prevention crisis centre phone number or website in your province, visit the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention's webpage at http://suicideprevention.ca/thinking-about-suicide.
  • To find a rape crisis or women's centre phone number or website in your province, visit the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres' webpage at www.casac.ca/content/anti-violence-centres.
  • Kids and teens can call Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 (toll-free 24/7) or visit http://org.kidshelpphone.ca.

Alberta

  • Provincial Health Information Line. HealthLink. Call 811 (toll-free 24/7) or visit https://myhealth.alberta.ca.
  • Family Violence Info Line. Call 310-1818 (no area code required, toll-free 24/7 in Alberta) or visit http://humanservices.alberta.ca/abuse-bullying/14839.html.
  • Child Abuse Hotline. Call 1-800-387-5437 (toll-free (24/7) or visit http://humanservices.alberta.ca/abuse-bullying.html.
  • Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton (SACE). Call 780-423-4121 (24/7) or visit www.sace.ab.ca.
  • Bully Free Alberta. Call 1-888-456-2323 (toll-free (24/7) or visit www.bullyfreealberta.ca.
  • Mental Health Help Line. Call 1-877-303-2642 (toll-free 24/7).
  • Addiction Services Helpline. Call 1-866-332-2322 (toll-free 24/7).

British Columbia

  • Provincial Health Information Line. HealthLinkBC. Call 8-1-1 (toll-free 24/7) or visit www.healthlinkbc.ca.
  • Domestic Violence Helpline. Call 1-800-563-0808 (toll-free 24/7) or visit www.domesticviolencebc.ca.
  • VictimLink BC. Call 1-800-563-0808 (toll-free 24/7) or visit www.victimlinkbc.ca.
  • Child Abuse Prevention Website: Helpline. Call 310-1234 (toll-free) or visit www.safekidsbc.ca/helpline.htm.
  • BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services. Call 310-6789 (tool-free) or visit www.bcmhsus.ca.
  • Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre of British Columbia. Call 1-800-784-2433 (toll-free 24/7) or visit http://crisiscentre.bc.ca.

New Brunswick

  • Provincial Health Information Line. Tele-Care 811: Call 8-1-1 (toll free 24/7) or visit www.gnb.ca/0217/Tele-Care-e.asp.
  • Emergency Social Services. During regular office hours (Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.), visit www2.gnb.ca/content/gnb/en/departments/social_development/about_us/emergency_socialservices.html to find the number for the office nearest you. After hours, call 1-800-442-9799 (toll-free).
  • Fredericton Sexual Assault Crisis Centre. Call (506) 454-0437 (24/7) or visit www.fsacc.ca.
  • Suicide Prevention CHIMO Helpline. Call 1-800-667-5005 (24/7) or visit www.gnb.ca/0055/index-e.asp.

Ontario

  • Provincial Health Information Line. Telehealth Ontario: Call 1-866-797-0000 (toll-free 24/7) or visit www.health.gov.on.ca/en/public/programs/telehealth.
  • Assaulted Women's Helpline. Call 1-866-863-0511 (toll-free 24/7) or visit www.awhl.org.
  • Distress Centres Ontario. Visit www.dcontario.org/help.html to find the phone number for a crisis line in your calling area.
  • Drug and Alcohol Helpline. Call 1-800-565-8603 (toll-free 24/7) or visit www.drugandalcoholhelpline.ca.
  • Mental Health Helpline. Call 1-866-531-2600 (toll-free 24/7) or visit www.mentalhealthhelpline.ca.

Saskatchewan

  • Provincial Health Information Line. HealthLine. Call 811 or visit www.health.gov.sk.ca/healthline.
  • Family Violence Outreach. Go to www.justice.gov.sk.ca/FVO for a list of community-based organizations and their contact information, or visit www.justice.gov.sk.ca/IVAP.
  • Child Protection. Go to www.socialservices.gov.sk.ca/child-protection.pdf for a list of local child protection offices and their contact information, or visit http://www.socialservices.gov.sk.ca/child-protection.
  • Mental Health and Addictions. Go to www.health.gov.sk.ca/treatment-services-directory for a list of local alcohol and drug treatment services and their contact information, or visit www.health.gov.sk.ca/alcohol-and-drug-services.

Yukon

  • Provincial Health Information Line. Yukon HealthLine: Call 811 or visit www.hss.gov.yk.ca/811.php. If you are calling from a satellite phone, you can dial 1-604-215-4700 to reach the Health Services Representative at HealthLink BC.
  • Family and Children's Services. Call 1-867-667-3002 or visit www.hss.gov.yk.ca/family_children.php.
  • Victim Services. Call 1-800-563-0808 (toll-free). Or visit the Department of Justice "Need Help? Phone Directory" at www.justice.gov.yk.ca/prog/cor/vs/phonedir.html.
  • Alcohol and Drug Services. Call 1-855-667-5777 or visit http://.hss.gov.yk.ca/ads.php.

Other provinces

Check your local phone book or provincial or territorial website.

Related Information

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerWilliam H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerH. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine

Current as ofJuly 6, 2015