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.
Parents are surrounded by messages about child sexual abuse. Talk shows and TV news warn parents about dangers at school, in the home and on the Internet. Despite all the media coverage, parents don’t get much advice about how to talk to their children about sexual abuse and how to prevent it.
Talk to your children about sexuality and sexual abuse in age-appropriate terms.
- Talking openly and directly about sexuality teaches children that it is okay to talk to you when they have questions.
- Teach children the names of their body parts so that they have the language to ask questions and express concerns about those body parts.
- Teach children that some parts of their body are private.
- Let children know that other people should not be touching or looking at their private parts unless they need to touch them to provide care. If someone does need to touch them in those private areas, a parent of trusted caregiver should be there, too.
- Tell children that if someone tries to touch those private areas or wants to look at them, OR if someone tries to show the child their own private parts, they should tell a trusted adult as soon as possible.
- All children should be told that it’s okay to say “no” to touches that make them uncomfortable or if someone is touching them in ways that make them uncomfortable and that they should tell a trusted adult as soon as possible.
- This can lead to some slightly embarrassing situations, such as a child who then says they don’t want give a relative a hug or kiss! Work with your child to find ways to greet people that don’t involve uncomfortable kinds of touch.
- Talking openly about sexuality and sexual abuse also teaches children that these things don’t need to be “secret.” Abusers will sometimes tell a child that the abuse is a secret. Let your children know that if someone is touching them or talking to them in ways that make them uncomfortable that it shouldn’t stay a secret.
- Make sure to tell your child that that they will not get into trouble if they tell you this kind of secret.
- Don’t try to put all this information into one big “talk” about sex.
- Talking about sexuality and sexual abuse should be routine conversations.
Be involved in your child’s life.
- Be interested in your child’s activities.
- Ask your child about the people they go to school with or play with.
- If your child is involved in sports, go to games and practices. Get to know the other parents and coaches.
- If your child is involved in afterschool activities or daycare, ask them what they did during the day.
- Talk about the media.
- If your child watches a lot of television or plays video games, watch or play with them.
- Many TV shows (for example, CSI or Law and Order) show sexual violence of different kinds.
Some video games (for example, Grand Theft Auto) allow the user to engage in sexual violence.
- Use examples from TV or games that you have watched or played together to start up conversations about sexuality and sexual abuse.
- Know the other adults that your child might talk to.
- Children sometimes feel that they cannot talk to their parents.
- Know the other trusted adults in your child’s life.
- Make time to spend with your child.
- Let your child know that they can come to you if they have questions or if someone is talking to them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable.
- Be sure to follow up on this! If your child comes to you with concerns or questions, make time to talk to them.
When you empower your child to say “no” to unwanted touch and teach them that they can come to you with questions and concerns, you take critical steps to preventing child sexual abuse.
To learn more about child sexual abuse and talk to someone who can help, contact
1-800-656-HOPE or visit: online.rainn.org
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:
- Sexual activity in the context of a professional treatment, evaluation, or service
- Seual activity with the implication that it has therapeutic benefit
- 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.
- Sexual dysfunction
- Anxiety disorders
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
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.