Ways to Reduce your Risk of Sexual Assault

It's On Us Pledge

Avoiding Dangerous Situations

While you can never completely protect yourself from sexual assault, there are some things you can do to help reduce your risk of being assaulted.


  • Be aware of your surroundings. Knowing where you are and who is around you may help you to find a way to get out of a bad situation.
  • Try to avoid isolated areas. It is more difficult to get help if no one is around.
  • Walk with purpose. Even if you don’t know where you are going, act like you do.
  • Trust your instincts. If a situation or location feels unsafe or uncomfortable, it probably isn’t the best place to be.
  • Try not to load yourself down with packages or bags as this can make you appear more vulnerable.
  • Make sure your cell phone is with you and charged and that you have cab money.
  • Don’t allow yourself to be isolated with someone you don’t trust or someone you don’t know.
  • Avoid putting music headphones in both ears so that you can be more aware of your surroundings, especially if you are walking alone.

What should I do if I am sexually assaulted?

Sexual assault is a crime of motive and opportunity and the majority of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim. Ultimately, there is no surefire way to prevent an attack. If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, it’s not your fault. You are not alone. Help is available 24/7 through the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800.656.HOPE, and online atonline.rainn.org.

Safety Planning


For many people who have been affected by sexual assault, current and long-term safety can be an ongoing concern. Safety planning is about brainstorming ways to stay safe that may also help reduce the risk of future harm. It can include planning for a future crisis, considering your options, and making decisions about your next steps. Finding ways to stay and feel safer can be an important step towards healing, and these plans and actions should not increase the risk of being hurt.


Safety planning when someone is hurting you:


  • Lean on a support network. Having someone you can reach out to for support can be an important part of staying safe and recovering. Find someone you trust who could respond to a crisis if you needed their help.
  • Become familiar with safe places. Learn more about safe places near you such as a local domestic violence shelter or a family member’s house. Learn the routes and commit them to memory. Find out more about sexual assault service providers in your area that can offer support.
  • Stay safe at home. If the person hurting you is in your home, you can take steps to feel safer. Try hanging bells or a noise maker on your door to scare the person hurting you away, or sleep in public spaces like the living room. If possible, keep the doors inside your house locked or put something heavy in front of them. If you’re protecting yourself from someone who does not live with you, keep all the doors locked when you’re not using them, and install an outside lighting system with motion detectors. Change the locks if possible.
  • Keep computer safety in mind. If you think someone might be monitoring your computer use, consider regularly clearing your cache, history, and cookies. You could also use a different computer at a friend’s house or a public library.
  • Create a code word. It might be a code between you and your children that means “get out,” or with your support network that means “I need help.”
  • Prepare an excuse. Create several plausible reasons for leaving the house at different times or for existing situation that might become dangerous. Have these on hand in case you need to get away quickly.


Safety planning when someone is stalking you:


  • Tell someone you trust. Stalking shouldn’t be kept a secret. Tell your parents, loved ones, a trusted adult, or the local police to determine if a report can be made.
  • Be prepared to reach out. If possible, keep your cell phone charged and have emergency contact numbers programmed ahead of time. You may want to save these contacts under a different name. Memorize a few numbers in case you don’t have cell phone access in the future.
  • Change your routine. Be aware of your daily routine and begin to alter it overtime. Switch up the way you commute more often, taking different routes or different modes of transportation.
    Visit the Stalking Resource Center for more ways to stay safe.


Safety planning when leaving the person hurting you:


  • Make an escape bag. Pack a bag that includes all important papers and documents, such as your birth certificate, license, passport, social security card, bills, prescription drugs, and medical records. Include cash, keys, and credit cards. Hide the bag well. If it’s discovered, call it a “hurricane bag” or “fire bag.” If you are escaping with children, include their identifying information as well.
  • Prepare your support network. Keep your support network in the loop. Let them know how to respond if the perpetrator contacts them.
  • Plan a destination. If you’re not going to stay with someone you know, locate the nearest domestic violence shelter or homeless shelter.
  • Plan a route. Then plan a backup route. If you are driving, have a tank of gas filled at all times. If you rely on public transportation, know the routes departure times. Many public transportation systems have mobile apps that update their schedules and arrival times.
  • Important Safety Note: If the dangerous situation involves a partner, go to the police or a shelter first.


If you are in a domestic violence situation and need help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800.799.SAFE(7233). You can also visit their website to learn more about safety planning.

In a Social Situation


While you can never completely protect yourself from sexual assault, there are some things you can do to help reduce your risk of being assaulted in social situations.


  1. When you go to a social gathering, go with a group of friends. Arrive together, check in with each other throughout the evening, and leave together. Knowing where you are and who is around you may help you to find a way out of a bad situation.
  2. Trust your instincts. If you feel unsafe in any situation, go with your gut. If you see something suspicious, contact law enforcement immediately (local authorities can be reached by calling 911 in most areas of the U.S.).
  3. Don’t leave your drink unattended while talking, dancing, using the restroom, or making a phone call. If you’ve left your drink alone, just get a new one.
  4. Don’t accept drinks from people you don’t know or trust. If you choose to accept a drink, go with the person to the bar to order it, watch it being poured, and carry it yourself. At parties, don’t drink from the punch bowls or other large, common open containers.
  5. Watch out for your friends, and vice versa. If a friend seems out of it, is way too intoxicated for the amount of alcohol they’ve had, or is acting out of character, get him or her to a safe place immediately.
  6. If you suspect you or a friend has been drugged, contact law enforcement immediately (local authorities can be reached by calling 911 in most areas of the U.S.). Be explicit with doctors so they can give you the correct tests (you will need a urine test and possibly others).


What should I do if I am sexually assaulted?


Sexual assault is a crime of motive and opportunity. Ultimately, there is no surefire ways to prevent an attack. If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, it’s not your fault. You are not alone. Help is available 24/7 through the National Sexual Assault Hotlines at 1-800.656.HOPE, and online at rainn.org

If Someone is Pressuring You


If you need to get out of an uncomfortable or scary situation here are some things that you can try:


  1. Remember that being in this situation is not your fault. You did not do anything wrong, it is the person who is making you uncomfortable that is to blame.
  2. Be true to yourself. Don’t feel obligated to do anything you don’t want to do. “I don’t want to” is always a good enough reason. Do what feels right to you and what you are comfortable with.
  3. Have a code word with your friends or family so that if you don’t feel comfortable you can call them and communicate your discomfort without the person you are with knowing. Your friends or family can then come to get you or make up an excuse for you to leave.
  4. Lie. If you don’t want to hurt the person’s feelings it is better to lie and make up a reason to leave than to stay and be uncomfortable, scared, or worse. Some excuses you could use are: needing to take care of a friend or family member, not feeling well, having somewhere else that you need to be, etc.
  5. Try to think of an escape route. How would you try to get out of the room? Where are the doors? Windows? Are there people around who might be able to help you? Is there an emergency phone nearby?
  6. If you and/or the other person have been drinking, you can say that you would rather wait until you both have your full judgment before doing anything you may regret later.


What should I do if I am sexually assaulted?


Sexual assault is a crime of motive and opportunity. Ultimately, there is no surefire way to prevent an attack. If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, it’s not your fault. You are not alone. Help is available 24/7 through the National Sexual Assault Hotlines at 1-800.656.HOPE, and online at rainn.org

What Can Bystanders Do?


There are many things men and women can do to help prevent sexual violence.


If you see someone in danger of being assaulted:


  • Step in and offer assistance. Ask if the person needs help. NOTE: Before stepping in, make sure to evaluate the risk. If it means putting yourself in danger, call 911 instead.
  • Don’t leave. If you remain at the scene and are a witness, the perpetrator is less likely to do anything.
  • If you know the perpetrator, tell the person you do not approve of their actions. Ask the person to leave the potential victim alone.


Be an ally:


  • When you go to a party, go with a group of friends. Arrive together, check in with each other frequently and leave together.
  • Have a buddy system. Don’t be afraid to let a friend know if you are worried about her/his safety.
  • If you see someone who is intoxicated, offer to call a cab.


If someone you know has been assaulted:


  • Listen. Be there. Don’t be judgmental.
  • Be patient. Remember, it will take your friend some time to deal with the crime.
  • Help to empower your friend or family member. Sexual assault is a crime that takes away an individual’s power, it is important not to compound this experience by putting pressure on your friend or family member to do things that they are not ready to do yet.
  • Encourage your friend to report the rape to law enforcement (call 911 in most areas). If your friend has questions about the criminal justice process, talking with someone on the National Sexual Assault Hotline, 1-800-656-HOPE can help.
  • Let your friend know that professional help is available through the National Sexual Assault Hotline, 1-800-656-HOPE and the National Sexual AssaultOnline Hotline.
  • If your friend is willing to seek medical attention or report the assault, offer to accompany them wherever they need to go (hospital, police station, campus security, etc.)
  • Encourage him or her to contact one of the hotlines, but realize that only your friend can make the decision to get help.


Get Involved:


  • By speaking out and educating ourselves and others, we can help to decrease the number of sexual assaults.
  • Become knowledgeable about the issue and share your knowledge with others. Start by signing up for RAINN’s monthly newsletter.
  • Volunteer for RAINN or your local rape crisis center and help educate your community about preventing sexual violence.

Computer Safety


Computer Safety

Below are some valuable ways to manage your personal information online, as well as tips for following safe browsing procedures.

Find a Safe Computer

Please take a moment to think about whether your computer is safe. This is particularly important if the person abusing you may have access to your computer.

If other people can access your computer, please take a moment to think about whether your computer is safe. This is particularly important if the person abusing you may have access to your computer.

If you have any reason to think that your computer may not be safe due to Spyware, Keystroke Logging, Viruses, or someone monitoring your computer use in some other way, please consider finding a safer computer in your area and accessing the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline from there.

If you need help finding a safer computer try these places:

Find your local library:

  • Library Locator can help you to find a local public library that may have computers with free internet access.
  • Public Libraries.com can help you to find a local public library that may have computers with free internet access.

Find a community computer center:


Edit Privacy Settings on Facebook

Review steps you can take to manage your personal information on Facebook.


Log in to your Facebook account. Browse to the right and click the Account tab.


Once you click Account, the following selections will appear:


Click on Account Settings


From here you can modify any of your account settings. For example, you can go to Password and click Change. You can then create a more secure password for your account. You can also select a Security Question that makes it more difficult for someone to change your account log in. Scroll to Privacy and click Manage.


It is recommended that your settings do not allow account access to everyone. Try to maintain it to friends only, as indicated above. Once you have modified your privacy settings to your liking, click Apply These Settings. If you want to choose specific information that is viewable or blocked, you can click Customize Settings. The screenshot is indicated below.


Ideally, you should set these to be visible to Friends Only for privacy purposes. Once you have set your preferences, you can return to any page.

Return to My Account page and click Account Security.

Your Facebook page and account are now secured to the preferences that you have selected, and will offer you a greater level of privacy, if you have chosen to do so. Remember, it is always recommended that you limit the people that can access your information on ANY type of social networking site. Allowing access to only trusted friends and creating strong account security is a good first step.

Click Change and you can be notified of any account activity.


 How to Edit Privacy Settings on Twitter

Review steps you can take to manage your personal information on Twitter.


Sign into your account by going to Twitter.com, browsing to the right and clicking theSign In tab.


Input your login info.

Once you login, click on your Twitter screen name to reveal a drop down menu and the following will appear:


Click on Settings.


From here you can edit and modify a number of account settings. Scroll down and you will find areas you can edit privacy settings such as Tweet Location, Tweet Privacy, andHTTPS ONLY.



  • Adding a location to your Tweets can leave you exposed to predators. If you choose to check this box, please make sure you are aware of who is following you and feel comfortable with them knowing where you are.
  • When you protect your Tweets you are prohibiting them from being seen by the public. This is a good option if you only want to tweet to a specified group of people.
    NOTE: Tweets posted prior to protecting your Tweets may still be publicly visible in some places.
  •  Selecting HTTPS ONLY will help protect your account information by using a secure connection where possible to keep things encrypted.

Blocking a user on Twitter
Blocking a user on Twitter will prevent them from following you and mentioning/replying to you in Tweets. Twitter does not notify a user when you block them. Please be aware that if you don’t protect your Tweets, they will still be visible to the users you block.

To block a user:

  • Go to the profile page of the person you wish to block.
  • Click the person icon (see below).
  • Select Block from the options listed in the drop-down menu.



Remember, it is always recommended that you not only limit the people that can access your information on ANY type of social networking site, but that you limit the information you provide.

Choosing options like protecting your tweets or hiding your location are good practices, but even better is to share no unnecessary personal information on social networking sites that you would be uncomfortable being seen publicly. Limiting the personal information you share is the best way to maintain your privacy online and stay out of potentially dangerous situations.

Clear History/Cache on Mobile Devices

Quick steps to clear your browsing history on iPhone and Blackberry mobile devices.




SelectSettings, then Safari.
Choose Clear History, then confirm Clear History.


Press Browser then select History.
Choose what time frame you wish to delete and click the red X.
Your browsing history is now deleted.

Clear History/Cache on Firefox for PC

Quick steps to clear your browsing history on Firefox (for PC).

From an open Firefox browser, click Tools.


Click Options and the following box pops up.


Within the drop down box Firefox will select which option you would like.
From there, click the Clear Recent History link.


Once you have selected which Time Range to Clear, click the link for Remove Individual Cookies.
Click Remove All Cookies to clear all of the cookies within your browser.


Clear History/Cache on Firefox for Mac

Quick steps to clear your browsing history on Firefox (for Mac).


Click on Firefox on the top and select Preferences.


Select the Privacy tab, and the following appears:


Choose the setting to manage your browsing history.
From here, you can also clear your recent history or remove individual cookies for further security.
The following screen-shots will walk you through this process.


Click Clear Recent History and select the time range to clear.


Click Remove individual cookies and select Remove All Cookies.


Select either Remove Cookie to remove individual cookies or Remove All Cookiesto clear all of your cookies.


To turn off Remember Passwords for Sites, simply click the check box next to it. If you want to keep it on, but set up exceptions for sites that you want to retain saved passwords for, then you can set that up through the Exceptions button on the right.




Clear History/Cache on Internet Explorer

Quick steps to clear your browsing history on Internet Explorer.


On an Internet Explorer 7 browser page, click on Tools.


Scroll down and click Internet Options and the following box will appear:


Click Delete and the Delete Browsing History menu will appear.


You can also set a specific time frame that you would like Internet Explorer 7 to save or delete browsing history.



Clear History/Cache on Safari

Quick steps to clear your browsing history on Safari.


lick Safari and scroll to Preferences.


On the General tab.


Click the Security tab and choose whether to block or allow cookies.


Once all settings have been set, go to History and scroll to Clear History.


To clear the cache, go to Safari and scroll to Empty Cache.


Click the Empty button and you are now ready to go.


How often does sexual assault occur?

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There is an average of 293,066 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year.—-1

Every 107 seconds, another American is sexually assaulted.


Here’s the math. According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS)–there is an average of 293,066 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year.

There are 525,600 minutes in a non-leap year. That makes 31,536,000 seconds/year. So, 31,536,000 divided by 293,066 comes out to 1 sexual assault every 107 seconds.

When do sexual assaults occur?

According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s NCVS study, rates of sexual assault (meaning, the number of victims per 1,000 people age 12 or older) fluctuate depending, in part, on the time of year. Summer has the highest rates of rape and sexual assault, while winter and fall the lowest. From 1993-2010, rape and sexual assault rates were on average 10% lower in the fall than the summer, 9% lower on average in the winter, and 6% lower on average in the spring.—2


The Unvictims

Sexual assault has fallen by 49% in recent years.—-3

Had the 1993 rate held steady, about 9.7 million Americans would have been assaulted in the last 20 years.

Thanks to the decline, the actual number of victims was about 4.2 million. In other words, if not for the progress we’ve made in the last 20 years, an additional 5.5 million Americans would have become victims of sexual violence.

While we should be happy that we’re making progress, we are still a very long way from solving this problem. Every two minutes, another American is sexually assaulted.

Sign up to help RAINN fight sexual violence.

  1. U.S. Department of Justice. National Crime Victimization Survey. 2009-2013.
  2. U.S. Department of Justice. Seasonal Patterns in Criminal Victimization Trends. 2014.
  3. U.S. Department of Justice. National Crime Victimization Survey. 1993-2013.

Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse experience an array of overwhelming and intense feelings. These may include feelings of fear, guilt, and shame. Abusers have been known to tell children that it is the fault of the child that they are abused, shifting the blame away from the abuser, where it belongs, and placing it on the child. Along with this, abusers may threaten or bribe the child into not speaking up; convincing the child that he or she will never be believed.i The reaction of a survivor’s friends and family to the disclosure of the abuse also has the potential to trigger immense feelings of guilt, same and distrust, particularly if those individuals denied that the abuse was taking place, or chose to ignore it.

While each individual’s experiences and reactions are unique, there are some responses to child sexual abuse that are common to many survivors:—i

  • Low self-esteem or self-hatred
  • Survivors may suffer from depression
  • Guilt, shame and blame
    • Survivors may feel guilt or shame because they made no direct attempt to stop the abuse or because they experienced physical pleasure
  • Sleep disturbances / dblue ribbonisorders
    • Survivors may have trouble sleeping because of the trauma, anxiety or may directly be related to the experience they had as a child; children may be sexually abused in their own beds.
  • Lack of trust for anyone
    • Many survivors were betrayed by the very people they are dependent upon (family, teachers etc.) who cared for them, who insisted they loved them even while abusing them; learning to trust can be extremely difficult under these circumstances.
    • 93% of victims under the age of 18 know their attacker.—-ii
  • Revictimization
    • Many survivors as adults find themselves in abusive, dangerous situations or relationships.
    • Woman who were sexually assaulted before the age of 18 [are] twice as likely to report being raped as adults.—-iii
  • Flashbacks
    • Many survivors re-experience the sexual abuse as if it were occurring at that moment, usually accompanied by visual images of the abuse. These flashes of images are often triggered by an event, action, or even a smell that is reminiscent of the sexual abuse of the abuser.
  • Dissociation
    • Many survivors go through a process where the mind distances itself from the experience because it is too much for the psyche to process at the time. This loss of connection with thoughts, memories, feelings, actions or sense of identity, is a coping mechanism and may affect aspects of a survivor’s functioning.
  • Sexuality / Intimacy
    • Many survivors have to deal with the fact that their first sexual encounter was a result of abuse. Such memories may interfere with the survivor’s ability to engage in sexual relationships, which may bring about feelings of fright, frustration, or being ashamed.

Adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse often adopt coping mechanisms (or survival strategies) to guards against feelings of terror and helplessness that they may have felt as a child. These past feelings can still have influence over the life and present behavior of an adult survivor. Here are some common coping mechanismsi:

  • Grieving / Mourning
    • Many things were — childhood experiences, trust, innocence, relationships with family members. The survivor may feel a deep sadness, jealousy, anger or longing for something never had.
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
    • The abuse of substances can act as an escape from the intense waves of feelings, the terror and helplessness.
  • Disordered Eating / Eating Disorders
    • Compulsive control of food intake can be a way of taking back control over the body that was denied during the abuse.
  • Self-injury
    • There are many ways survivors have coped with the feelings that can cause emotional or physical injury on the self. Burning or cutting are some ways for a survivor to relieve intense anxiety, triggered by memories of the abuse


In most instances, the survivor never discussed the abuse with others while it was occurring. In fact, many survivors do not remember the abuse until years after it has occurred, and may never be able to clearly recall it. Usually, after being triggered by a memory, this individual learns how, as an adult, to deal with the effects of the abuse.

It is important to speak with someone, whether it be a friend or counselor, about the abuse and past and current feelings.

Community health centers, mental health clinics and family service centers may have counselors who have worked with survivors before. They may also be able to refer you to a self-help group.

If you are an adult dealing with the effects of childhood sexual abuse, please remember that you are not responsible for the abuse and that you are not alone. You can overcome the effects the abuse may have on your life. Please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE) or visit the Online Hotline. It’s never too late to get help.

i—Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse. Dr. Carol Boulware, MFT, Ph.D. 2006.http://www.psychotherapist.net/adultsurvivors.html

ii—-U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. 2000 Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement. 2000.

iiiExtent, Nature, and Consequences of Rape Victimization: Findings From the National Violence Against Women Survey. U.S. Department of Justice: Office of Justice Programs: National Institute of Justice. 2006. http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij


This product was supported by grant number 2009-D1-BX-K023 awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this product are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.


Discovering that you are being stalked, either in person, online, or via technology, can be unnerving. Learning more about stalking behaviors can help you notice them before they escalate and help you protect yourself.


What is stalking?
“Stalking is a pattern of repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, contact, or any other course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear,” according to the Department of Justice. Similar to crimes of sexual violence, stalking is about power and control.

Stalking laws and definitions differ from state to state. You can read more about your state’s laws by visiting the Stalking Resource Center. Stalking behavior can take many forms including:

  • Non-consensual communication, such as repeated phone calls, emails, text messages, and unwanted gifts
  • Repeated physical or visual closeness, like waiting for an someone to arrive at certain locations, following someone, or watching someone from a distance
  • Making threats against someone, or that person’s family or friends
  • Any other behavior used to contact, harass, track, or threaten someone

What is “the use of technology to stalk”?
One of the ways perpetrators stalk victims is through the use of technology. You may have heard the term cyberstalking to refer to these types of interactions. “Use of technology to stalk” is a broad term that is used to cover all forms stalking that rely on technology.

Some uses of technology to stalk include:

  • Using someone’s computer and/or spyware to track their computer activity
  • Posting threatening or personal information about someone on public internet forums
  • Persistently sending unwanted communication through the internet, such as spamming someone’s email inbox or social media platform
  • Video-voyeurism, or installing video cameras that give the stalker access someone’s personal life
  • Using GPS or other software tracking systems to monitor someone without their knowledge or consent

What are some common reactions to being stalked?
The DOJ uses “fear” to define the experience of being stalked, but there are other reactions that are just as important to consider. You might feel anxious, nervous, isolated, become stressed, or develop signs of depression.

How common is stalking?
Each year in the United States approximately 3.3 million people ages 18 and older are victims of stalking1. The majority of victims are young, between 18 and 24 years old, and know their stalker.

As technology and digital platforms continue to grow, so do the chances that someone could interact with you in an unwanted, sexual manner. Not all of these behaviors are considered stalking, but they can be violating and make you feel uncomfortable. Learn more about the different ways people can use technology to hurt others.

What should I do if I’m being stalked?
If you think you are being stalked, please know you are right to be concerned. Stalking may escalate in behavior. Consider the following tips to increase your safety and effectively report the crime.

  • Try to avoid the person stalking you. This can be difficult at times, especially if the person stalking you is close to you or your family.
  • If you are being stalked through communication technology, like email or text messaging, make it clear that you wish to stop contact. Once you’ve made it clear, do not respond to further communication.
  • Keep any evidence received from the stalker such as text messages, voicemails, letters, packages, emails, etc., but do not respond. You can do this by taking screenshots of conversations or even printing out email exchanges.
  • Inform family, friends, supervisors, and co-workers of the situation.
  • If you have children, create a code word that lets them know they need to leave the house or call the police.
  • Consider reporting the stalking to local law enforcement.
  • Keeping an accurate journal or log of all incidents connected to the stalking.
  • Become familiar with computer safety and ways to stay safe online

To learn more about stalking and safety planning visit the Stalking Resource Center.


  1. Shannan, C. (2012, September 1). Stalking Victims in the United States – Revised.http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/svus_rev.pdf

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment: unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature in which submission to or rejection of such conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s work or school performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work or school environment.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

2 Types of Sexual Harassment:
  1. Quid pro quo– When a perpetrator makes conditions of employment contingent on the victim providing sexual favors. This type of harassment is less common.
  2. Hostile environment– When unwelcome, severe and persistent sexual conduct on the part of a perpetrator creates an uncomfortable and hostile environment (e.g., jokes, lewd postures, leering, inappropriate touching, rape, etc.). This type of harassment constitutes up to 95% of all sexual harassment cases.


Variety of Circumstances
  • Survivor and harasser do not have to be of different genders; both can be men, both women, or they can be different genders.
  • Similarly, as with sexual assault, women can be perpetrators.
  • The harasser can be a supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
  • The survivor does not have to be the person that is directly harassed. It can be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
  • Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the survivor.
  • The harasser’s conduct must be unwelcome.
Common Emotional and Physical Reactions
  • Poor concentration at work
  • Stress on personal relationships
  • Fear/anxiety
  • Debilitating depression
  • Sleep/weight problems
  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Staff turnover
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Tarnished company reputation
  • Increased payouts for sick leave and medical benefits
  • Vulnerability to hostile confrontations
  • Legal and consultant costs
  • Lower staff productivity
  • Poor staff morale
  • Less teamwork
Options for Action
  • Say “No” clearly– Express in direct language (verbal or written) that behavior must stop.
  • Document the harassment– Keep a written log, keep track of dates, times, and behavior.
  • Get emotional support– Friends/family can be good outlets.
  • Document your work– Keep copies of performance evaluations and memos that attest to the quality of your work.
  • Explore company channels– Talk to a supervisor and/or contact the personnel officer or human resources department.
  • File a complaint– If the problem can’t be solved through company policy, you may choose to pursue a legal remedy.

Sexual Harassment in the Schools

Sexual harassment is not limited to offices and work arenas. Increasingly, sexual harassment is being displayed in our nation’s schools.

It Can Take Milder Forms
  • Looks
  • Jokes
  • Graffiti on bathroom walls
  • Comments about body parts
Or More Severe Forms
  • Physical intrusion into personal space
  • Grabbing
  • Brushed up against in a sexual way
Common Reactions
  • Less confident
  • More self-conscious
  • Ashamed
  • Embarrassed
  • Consequently lower grades

Learn more about the laws in your state through RAINN’s state database.

This section was adapted from materials provided by the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.

Sexual Exploitation by Helping Professionals

Sexual exploitation by a helping professional: sexual contact of any kind between a helping professional (doctor, therapist, teacher, priest, professor, police officer, lawyer, etc.) and a client/patient.

  • It is difficult for a client/patient to give informed consent to sexual contact or boundary violations because the helping professional holds a great deal of power over that client/patient.
  • 90% of sexual boundary violations occur between a male provider and a female client/patient (Plaut, S.M., 1997, p. 79).
  • Such behavior is regarded as unethical and, in every licensed profession, can be grounds for malpractice and possible loss of license.

There are three major types of sexual involvement between a client/patient and a professional:

  1. Sexual activity in the context of a professional treatment, evaluation, or service
  2. Seual activity with the implication that it has therapeutic benefit
  3. A sexually exploitative relationship

Why it is not acceptable behavior:

  • The helping professional starts from a position of great power over the client/patient and is expected to respect and maintain professional boundaries.
  • The professional has a responsibility to protect the interests of the client/patient and not to serve his/her own needs.
  • The client/patient has put his/her trust in that professional and the betrayal of that trust can have devastating consequences.

Within the Therapeutic Relationship:

  • Clients in therapy are the most susceptible because the client is already vulnerable and trusts the therapist t0 help her/him feel better.
  • Therapy relationships are particularly intimate, with clients sharing their innermost thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

Issue of Transference:

  • Transference- Way in which a client transfers negative/positive feelings about others to the therapist. Transference in and of itself is not a bad thing. In fact, it is necessary in all therapeutic relationships.
  • Countertransference- When the therapist projects his or her own feelings back onto the client.
  • Problem- When the therapist is unable to recognize transference and countertransference reactions and, instead, responds in a sexual manner.

Common Reactions:

  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Increased risk of suicide
  • Feelings of guilt, shame, anger, confusion, worthlessness
  • Loss of trust

Very Low Report Rate:

  • It is estimated that only 4-8% of survivors of sexual exploitation by helping professionals report the exploitation (Gartrell, N., et al.,1987 per TAASA, p. 168, 2004).
  • Often there is reluctance to report because of
    • Anticipated or real pain associated with pursuing the case
    • Fear that she/he won’t be believed.
  • It often takes several years for the client to recognize that she/he has been harmed.

3 Ways to Take Action:

  1. Licensing board complaints- Standards vary by state and profession. Possible punishments include suspension or revocation of a license or rehabilitation programs. In these cases the client’s confidentiality is protected in any public reports of the proceedings.
  2. Civil lawsuits- Client hires his or her own attorney and sues the therapist directly. Usually this is the only way to receive payment for damages. Procedures are public, and the burden of proof is on the client.
  3. Criminal proceedings- An option in some states. In these cases, the state prosecutes (State v. Therapist). The best possible outcome is a criminal sanction (probation, incarceration).

Additional Resources

Stop Educator Sexual Abuse, Misconduct and Exploitation (SESAME, Inc.)
Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP)

Learn more about the laws in your state through RAINN’s state database.

Plaut, S. Michael. “Boundary violations in professional-client relationships: overview and guidance for prevention.” Sexual and Marital Therapy, 12, 1, 1997.
Plaut, S. Michael. “Understanding and Managing Professional-Client Boundaries.” Handbook of Clinical Sexuality for Mental Health. Stephen B. Levine (ed). New York: Brunner-Routledge, 2003.
Texas Association Against Sexual Assault Sexual Assault Advocate Training Manual, 2004.


It was a scalding Texas Sunday not a cloud in the sky. My mother is taking my brother and me to the lake. We never went to the lake so I began to get excited about playing in the water. I also grew concerned, what did she have on her mind. Even at 6 years old I knew she always had an agenda. My brother was 3 years old and had no clue what the day would bring. We pulled up to the picnic tables on the far side of lake, nowhere near the water. She tells us our parents are getting  divorced. Not understanding what it meant I ask her to spell it for me. I kept repeating the spelling in my head so I could ask my friend.

I would find out sooner than later. We turned down our street, my grandfathers truck in front of  house with my father’s belongings. They were driving off as we rounded the corner. My parents relationship went from bad to hell My mother took every chance to tell us how much she hated my father. She married within six months, we called him Lucifer. He could get her closer to the white picket fence. We moved into a new house with a big back yard, things looked so normal on the outside. If people only knew the truth.

Custody was a nightmare, daddy would bring us home and she would throw things at him. One time she hit him in the head with the Sunday paper. This was the beginning of a twice a month cycle of harassment. After a couple of years we moved to the country population 137. It was almost a two-hour trip from my dad’s. One Thanksgiving my dad arrived 15 minutes early and she called the sheriff. My dad didn’t get out of the car, he knew he was early and she was crazy. It’s sad when parents separated or divorced talk bad about the other.

My mother did not abuse my brother. She physically and emotionally abused me from a young age.  Her grandmother and mother hated my dad. He forced her to get pregnant and I’m the mistake child. They would call our house ranting how I was mistake, ruined my mother’s future and how much they hated my father. We lived in a toxic environment because my mother was toxic.

The conflict between my parents reached a point where I had to pick up my brother to avoid fighting. My father was no angel but he never talked bad about my mother. My mother told me that daddy raped her and I was a mistake. She tells me several times a day, I hate your father and you’re just like him. At 9-10 years old it doesn’t take long to figure out your mother hates you because you’re just like your father.

I believed my dad raped my mother, I don”t know why. I held it in for years. I don’t know how we got to the topic. I was angry at my father and spit out what she had told me. The look in his eyes said everything. My father was so hurt and said I loved your mother.

When my father killed himself he had a lock box on the coffee table and papers spread everywhere. Their divorce papers were on the table, his Bible open to Job and a note pad with written words scattered on the page. No sentences, I did see the number for the suicide hotline and one of his oldest friends. Written in one corner was 11:00 and he died between 7-8 pm. I often wonder if it took him that long to pull the trigger or was he trying to fight his demons. There are tear stains in the book of Job.