What is sexual assault and abuse?

Sexual Assault and Abuse

Sexual assault: Overview

Sexual assault includes rape, attempted rape, and any other forced sexual contact. The assault may have been committed by a close friend or family member or by someone you don't know well.

Assault can hurt you physically. It also can hurt you emotionally. It is common to feel sad, scared, or guilty. Remember that the assault wasn't your fault. It is important to continue to get help and support for as long as you need it.

What are the signs and symptoms of sexual abuse?

Signs of sexual abuse may not be apparent without an examination of the genital area. These signs include:

  • Bruises, scars, chafing, or bite marks in the genital area.
  • Discharge or bleeding from the vagina.
  • Rectal or genital bleeding.
  • Anal tears or dilation.
  • Symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection (STI), such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, or HIV. These include vaginal or genital symptoms such as sores, warts, pain, or unusual discharge.

Abnormal vaginal bleeding may be caused by physical or sexual abuse that injures the abdominal or vaginal area. Vaginal bleeding in a child before the beginning of menstruation is abnormal. If a child has vaginal bleeding, talk to their doctor.

You may feel uneasy talking to the doctor about the issue of abuse, but it's important. Doctors have a professional duty and legal obligation to evaluate the possibility of abuse.

If you think your child has been sexually abused, call your child's doctor or contact the National Child Abuse Hotline and Referral Service at 1-800-422-4453. Adults need to protect young children because children cannot protect themselves.

How can you care for yourself after a sexual assault?

  • If you do not have a safe place to stay, tell your doctor.
  • Talk with a counselor or join a support group to help you deal with your feelings about the assault.
    • Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline for free, confidential counseling. The hotline is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-656-HOPE (1-800-656-4673).
    • Call the National Center for Victims of Crime. Help is available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., EST, at 1-855-4-VICTIM (1-855-484-2846).
  • Identify local resources that can help in a crisis. Your local police department, hospital, or clinic has information on shelters and safe homes.
  • If you were attacked by someone that you know, be alert to warning signs, such as threats or drunkenness, so that you can avoid danger.
  • Your doctor may have prescribed antibiotics to help fight any infection you may have gotten from the assault. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics. Avoid intercourse until you finish the medicine.
  • Your doctor may have prescribed medicine to help prevent a pregnancy. It is a birth control pill called a "morning after" pill. If your next period does not start within 3 weeks, call your doctor to see whether you should take a pregnancy test. Use a backup birth control method, such as spermicide and condoms, until you have a period.
  • Your doctor may have prescribed medicine to help prevent infection with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
    • Be sure to take all medicines exactly as directed.
    • Keep all follow-up appointments and get all follow-up tests.
    • You may have side effects from the medicine. Your doctor can tell you what to expect and what you can do to feel better.
  • Your doctor may have given you a shot to prevent hepatitis B, which is spread through sexual contact. If you have not had the hepatitis B vaccine before, you will need two more shots to complete the series.

Sexual assault: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You feel that you are in immediate danger.
  • You or someone you know has just been physically or sexually assaulted.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You are worried that you might be assaulted.
  • You are worried that a family member or friend might be assaulted.
  • You suspect that a child has been assaulted.

You can also call your local police department.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.

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