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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.

Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault. It is always the fault of the assailant no matter what your relationship is to the assailant, what you were wearing or doing, or what drugs or alcohol you ingested prior to or at the time of the assault.

Members of the MPD's Sex Assault Unit take every report of sexual assault very seriously and investigate each case as fully as possible.

Start by Believing

Start by Believing is a public awareness campaign uniquely focused on the public response to sexual assault.  Because a friend or family member is typically the first person a victim confides in after an assault, each individual’s personal reaction is the first step in a long path toward justice and healing. Knowing how to respond is critical—a negative response can worsen the trauma and foster an environment where perpetrators face zero consequences for their crimes.

Because rapists attack an average of six times, one failed response can equal five more victims. Start by Believing will lead the way toward stopping this cycle, by creating a positive community response, informing the public, uniting allies and supporters, and improving our personal reactions.  The goal is to change the world, and outcomes for victims, one response at a time.

 How You Can Protect Yourself

The following personal safety suggestions may reduce one's likelihood of becoming a victim of any violent street crime, such as robbery, assault or sex assault. While taking certain precautions may help reduce the risk of being targeted, if something does happen to you or someone you know, that crime is in no way your fault. Ultimately, the assailant is the only person responsible for sexual assault.

    Be Alert

  • Walk with confidence and purpose
  • Be aware of your surroundings—know who’s out there and what’s going on.
  • Remember that alcohol or other drugs may cloud your judgment. However, no matter what you've ingested, any assault is still the fault of the assailant.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • If you're wearing heels and want to run, ditch the shoes.
  • 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

Members of the MPD's Sex Assault Unit take every report of sexual assault very seriously and investigate each case as fully as possible.

  • Remember, a sexual assault is NEVER your fault.
  • 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.