In the United States, 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of sexual abuse at some point in their lives. Sexual abuse can be rape, inappropriate touching, the abuser showing the victim pornography, or doing anything else sexually that the victim isn’t comfortable with. When someone says “no,” that means NO and if the other person forces them to do it anyway, that’s sexual assault.
In most sexual abuse situations, the abuser is someone the victim knows well. Of course, that isn’t ALWAYS the case; but usually it is a boyfriend or girlfriend, a teacher or coach, even a good family friend or a friend’s parent. Sometimes sexual assault is a one-time thing, and sometimes it goes on for weeks, months, or years… in either case, it is NOT okay and shouldn’t be kept a secret.
People who are being sexually abused usually develop low self-esteem, a feeling of worthlessness, have an abnormal/distorted view of love and sex, become withdrawn and mistrustful of adults, and can sometimes even become suicidal. If one of your friends starts acting this way, you should ask them what’s going on.
If someone is trying to get you to do something you’re uncomfortable with, even if you’re dating them, you can ALWAYS say no. Even if you’ve already started doing it, it’s okay to change your mind… even if you’ve already done it before, whether it’s been once or several times, you can STILL say no. They might try to manipulate you into doing it by saying “If you really loved me, you’d do it,” or “We’ve done it before, so you might as well”… don’t listen to them. If they really loved YOU, they wouldn’t want to make you do anything you don’t want to do. If they do something to you, IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT. It doesn’t matter how you look, how you’re dressed, what you say, where you are, or who you’re with. It’s never your fault.
If you are sexually assaulted, here’s what you need to do:
- Seek medical attention, preferably at the Emergency Room if you can. Make sure you go right away, don’t shower or change clothes first, so you don’t disturb any evidence that medical staff might be able to collect for the police. The medical staff can make sure you’re okay, and also do tests to see if you’re pregnant, if you were drugged, or if you got an STD. Have a friend or trusted adult go with you to make things easier.
- If you want to report the assault, call the police.
- Tell a friend or an adult so somebody knows what happened to you. They can help you figure out what to do, and find a safe place to stay if you need one.
- If you don’t feel like you can tell anyone, call a local service provider that helps sexual abuse victims or a national hotline. Some national hotlines you can call are: The National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (1-800-656-4673), the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline at 1-866-331-9474 and 1-866-331-8453, and the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).
If you find out that one of your friends is being sexually abused, or even if they won’t tell you but you think they are…
- Talk to them about it. Ask them if anyone is hurting them or forcing them to do anything inappropriate. Listen patiently, and without judgment; let them know it’s not their fault, and offer your support and encouragement in getting help.
- Try to get them to go to the hospital, offer to go with them.
- Report the assault to an adult you trust, even if your friend doesn’t want you to. Telling someone might save their life.