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Sexual Assault—Reducing the Risk

What is Sexual Assault?

A sexual assault is about power, anger, and control. It is an act of violence and an attempt to degrade someone using sex as a weapon. Above all, sexual assault is a crime.

Sexual assaults can happen to anyone: children, students, wives, mothers, working women, grandmothers, the rich and poor, and boys and men. The assailants can be anyone: classmates, co-workers, a neighbor or delivery person, total strangers, outgoing or shy, often a friend or a family member. These crimes are often committed again and again, until the assailants are caught.

 How You Can Protect Yourself

    Use Your Head

  • Be alert—Walk with confidence and purpose
  • Be aware of your surroundings—know who’s out there and what’s going on.
  • Don’t let alcohol or other drugs cloud your judgment.
  • Trust your instincts—if a situation or place makes you feel uncomfortable or uneasy, leave.

    When You’re Indoors

  • Make sure all doors (don’t forget sliding glass doors) and windows have sturdy, well-installed locks, and use them. Install a wide-angle peephole in the door. Keep entrances well-lit.
  • Never open your door to strangers. Offer to make an emergency call while someone waits outside. Check the identification of sales or service people before letting them in. Don’t be embarrassed to phone for verification.
  • Be wary of isolated spots—apartment laundry rooms, underground garages, parking lots, offices after business hours. Walk with a friend, co-worker, or security guard, particularly at night.
  • Know your neighbors, so you have someone to call or go to if you’re uncomfortable or frightened.
  • If you come home and see a door or window open, or broken, don’t go in. Call the police from a cell phone, public phone or a neighbor’s phone.

    When You’re Outdoors

  • Avoid walking or jogging alone, especially at night. Stay in well-traveled, well-lit areas.
  • Wear clothes and shoes that give you freedom of movement.
  • Be careful if anyone in a car asks you for directions; if you answer, keep your distance from the car.
  •  Have your key ready before you reach the door—home, car, or office.
  •  If you think you’re being followed, change direction and head for open stores, restaurants, theaters, or a house with its lights on.

    When You’re in Your Car

  • Park in areas that will be well-lit and well-traveled when you return.
  • Always lock your car—when you get in and when you get out.
  • Look around and under your car and in the back seat before you get in.
  • If your car breaks down, lift the hood, lock the doors, and turn on your flashers. Call police on a cell phone, or use a Call Police banner or flares. If someone stops, roll the window down slightly and ask the person to call the police or a tow service.
  • Don’t hitchhike, ever. And don’t ever pick up a hitchhiker.

If the Unthinkable Happens

How does one handle a sexual assault? It really depends on a number of factors, such as your physical and emotional state, the situation, and the rapist’s personality. Just remember, there are no hard and fast rules, no right or wrong answers. Your goal is to survive.

  • Try to escape. Scream. Be rude. Make noise to discourage your attacker from following.
  • Use a whistle to alert others if you are threatened.
  • Talk, stall for time, and assess your options.
  • If the assailant has a weapon, you may have no choice but to submit. Do whatever it takes to survive.
  • If you decide to fight back, you must be quick, determined and effective. Target the eyes or groin.

Surviving a Sexual Assault

  • Remember, sexual assault is not your fault. Do not accept blame for being an innocent victim.
  • Go to a hospital emergency room or your own doctor for medical care immediately. The Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program at Washington Hospital Center ensures that a victim of a sexual assault (over the age of 17) will be in a private examination room while waiting to be seen, the wait will not be more than one hour, and the victim will be examined by someone specially trained in this area.
  • Don’t go alone. Ask a friend or family member to go with you, or call a rape crisis center or school counselor. The DC Rape Crisis Center — (202) 333-7273 — has a hotline staffed with caring, concerned individuals who can help.
  • Preserve all physical evidence. Don’t shower, bathe, change clothes, douche, or throw any clothing away until the police or counselor say it’s okay.
  • Get counseling to help deal with feelings of anger, helplessness, fear, and shame caused by rape. It helps to talk to someone about the assault, whether it happened last night, last week, or years ago.
  • You have been the victim of a crime and you should call the police. The sooner you tell, the greater the chances the rapist will be caught. But if you are uncomfortable about calling the police, contact a rape crisis center.