Sexual assault is when someone is made to engage in sexual behaviour against their will. It includes rape, attempted rape and any other kind of forced sex act.
Women are much more likely than men to be sexually assaulted, but it also happens to men. Often, the person who commits the assault is someone you know.
Sexual assault is never your fault. Recovering from a sexual assault can take time, but there is help for you, even if it happened a long time ago.
A note on child sexual abuse
Child sexual abuse occurs when a child under 16 years old is used by an adult or older child in a sexual way. Children don’t usually report the abuse directly, especially as it tends to be carried out by someone they trust.
Look out for these things:
changed behaviour around sleeping and eating
behaving like a younger child, for example, bedwetting
knowing more about sex than other children their age
depression or withdrawal
complaining about feeling unwell when they have no physical illness.
If you suspect a child is being abused, contact Child Youth and Family on 0508 FAMILY (0508 326 459) where you can speak to a trained social worker.
After an assault
Remember, if you have been sexually assaulted, it’s not your fault. The responsibility for sexual assault lies with the person who did it. It doesn’t matter whether you had been drinking, were out late at night, what kind of clothes you were wearing or if you had agreed to go out on a date with them.
It’s normal to feel upset, scared, angry, numb or shut down, and you might also feel disbelief, humiliation, disgust, guilt, regret, self-blame and want to keep it a secret.
It helps to talk about what has happened with a counsellor or psychotherapist. You can do this straight away or many years later.
It’s your choice whether or not to report your sexual assault to the police. If you decide to, you can take someone with you as a support person.
Getting help from your doctor
It’s a good idea to see your doctor so they can treat any injuries, protect you against unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections and collect medical evidence in case you decide to report the assault to the police.
If you are over 16 years old, you can see a doctor without having to report your assault – many are not reported and it’s up to you whether you do or not.
Your doctor will ask questions and do a physical examination and may take swabs. You can say no to any part of the examination. They may prescribe medication to stop an unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted infection.
You may need to go to a follow-up appointment with your doctor to see if the medications have worked and to talk about what support you need.
Looking after yourself
Take good care of yourself while you are recovering by:
getting plenty of sleep
eating nourishing food
doing gentle exercise
spending time with close friends
doing relaxing activities, such as baths, walks, good books and soothing music
avoiding alcohol and drugs.
As well as any injuries and distress at the time, over time you might start to experience PTSD, depression, anxiety or thoughts about suicide. If this happens, it’s important to get help.
Where can I get support?
Contact one of these specialised organisations for support:
ACC sensitive claims One of the funding options for counselling is through ACC, you can find out more about this here or talk to our team who can support you through this process. NZ PoliceAdvice about what you can do after an assault Rape Crisisnon-profit, community agency that supports survivors of sexual violence progress towards healing. National Call Line 0800 88 33 00 Rape Prevention Educationoffer free support and counselling to survivors of rape and sexual abuse. Sexual Abuse Help Foundationalso provides survivor support in Wellington and Auckland, as a larger agency they work with people of all ages and genders and have a 24hr crisis support line. Auckland: 09 623 1700 Wellington: 04 801 6655 Sexual Abuse Prevention Networkprovides education and advice with the goal of ending sexual abuse. The HarbourThis is an online information hub for survivors, for those who have harmed and for family and friends.
Fergusson DM, McLeod GFH, Horwood LJ. Childhood sexual abuse and adult developmental outcomes: Findings from a 30-year longitudinal study in New Zealand. Child Abuse & Neglect. 2013 Sept; 37(4): 664–674 [Abstract]
Sexual assault can happen to anyone, but it’s never the victim’s fault. Everyone can play a part in stopping a sexual assault by looking out for each other and knowing how and when to intervene. Keeping yourself safe is just as important as helping someone in trouble, so it’s good to have some ideas about what to do if you see someone at risk.
Here are our top five tips for helping prevent a sexual assault:
1. Keep an eye on your friends
When you’re out with friends, make sure you stay together and come home together. Don’t let a friend go home with someone they don’t know. Keep an eye on who your friends are talking with and if you think a friend is getting into an uncomfortable situation, try to interrupt. This can be as simple as going over and asking them to come to the bathroom with you.
2. Be aware of other people around you
You might notice someone on their own who has had too much to drink, or you might see someone walking by themselves at the end of the night. Check if they are okay and offer to walk with them or call them a taxi.
3. Trust your instincts
Sometimes you get a gut feeling that “something isn’t right”. If you see someone in trouble, ask them directly “are you okay?” or “do you need some help?”. If they are someone you don’t know or the situation makes you uncomfortable, a group of you can talk to them together.
4. Know that you can make a difference
It can be hard to interrupt a situation, especially if it’s with people you don’t know. But remember, you can make all the difference between someone getting home safely and someone being a victim of a sexual assault.
5. Call the police
If you witness a sexual assault or if you see a situation that you don’t feel comfortable intervening in, call the police.
This page will be of most interest to health professionals (doctors, nurses, therapists, specialists, etc) and those interested in more detail.
Take a brief history to help decide on next steps and attend to any acute mental or physical health concerns.
If the sexual assault occurred with the past 36 hours, it is important to preserve forensic evidence, even if they aren’t sure yet where they want to report the assault.
Attend to potential pregnancy and STI risk.
Advise of specialist support services and ACC-subsidised counselling
For adolescents, consider confidentiality and privacy, assess safety and decide about reporting to Child Youth and Family (CYF)
Consider possible sexual assault if a patient has sexual or genital health concerns, requested emergency contraception, been physically assaulted, been drunk or drugged, or unconscious or injured.