Common reactions to experiencing sexual violence
- Wanting to be believed. Not feeling believed or worrying that you won’t be believed.
- Wondering if it’s your fault. Feeling shame, guilt, or like it is your fault. You may be going over the assault in your mind many times to try to figure out if you did something wrong. It was not your fault.
- Feeling alone. You may feel that you are the only person who has been through sexual assault, or you may worry that others will judge or misunderstand if you tell them.
- You may face disbelief that sexual violence affects LGBTQIA people. You may encounter people who mistakenly believe that this doesn’t happen to LGBTQIA people, which may make it harder to feel that your story is believed.
- It can be difficult to self-identify as a survivor. For many survivors it can be difficult to identify an experience as sexual violence. However, it can be challenging to identify as a survivor if the assault does not fit your idea of what sexual violence looks like or who may be involved with it.
- Telling someone might be difficult if you are not out yet. If you have not yet come out to friends or family about your gender identity or sexual orientation, you may feel less able to disclose sexual assault to them.
- You may not find support in some faith communities. Many survivors find strength and healing in their faith, but you may encounter difficulty finding the support you deserve if your faith community does not affirm your sexual orientation or gender identity.
Supportive things to say to a survivor
“I believe you” and “It took a lot of courage to tell me about this.” It can be extremely difficult for survivors to come forward and share their story. They may feel ashamed, concerned that they won’t be believed, or worried they’ll be blamed. Be careful not to interpret calmness as a sign that the event did not occur—everyone responds to traumatic events differently. The best thing you can do is to believe them.
“It’s not your fault” and “You didn’t do anything to deserve this.” Survivors may blame themselves, especially if they know the perpetrator personally or were under the influence of alcohol or drugs when the assault occurred. Remind the survivor, maybe even more than once, that they are not to blame.
“You are not alone” and “I care about you and am here to listen or help in any way I can.” Let the survivor know that you are there for them and willing to listen to their story if they are comfortable sharing it and that you do not judge them for what happened. Ask them if there are others in their life they also feel comfortable going to, and let them know about the help that is available through the National Sexual Assault Hotline.
“I’m sorry this happened” and “This shouldn’t have happened to you.” Acknowledge that the experience has affected their life. Phrases like “This must be really tough for you,” and “I’m glad you felt you could share this with me” help to communicate empathy.
Barriers to Reporting Sexual Violence in LGBTQIA Communities
Members of LGBTQIA communities in the U.S. face higher rates of sexual violence than the general population. This sexual violence is perpetrated both by non-LGBTQIA individuals—often coming in the form of hate crimes, which are crimes perpetrated specifically in response to someone’s identity—and also by other LGBTQIA individuals.
One of the main barriers facing LGBTQIA individuals is that, even if they want to get help, they may be reluctant to disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity to service providers when that disclosure may mean facing future discrimination or denial of services.
Some LGBTQIA survivors may also be reluctant to report because they fear that it will reflect badly on their community or for fear that they may be unjustly labeled as the perpetrator.
Another concern that may prevent LGBTQIA individuals from feeling comfortable seeking help is fear of having their sexual orientation or gender identity revealed without their consent—or being outed.
LGBTQIA survivors may choose not to report sexual violence because they don’t have access to resources. This is especially applicable for transgender survivors, such as cases in which transgender women can’t access services at shelters because their gender identity is not recognized and affirmed by shelter staff.
How do I report sexual assault?
You have several options for reporting sexual assault:
- Call 911. If you are in immediate danger, dial 911. Help will come to you, wherever you are.
- Contact the local police department. Call the direct line of your local police station or visit the station in person. If you are on a college campus you may also be able to contact campus-based law enforcement.
- Visit a medical center. If you are being treated for injuries resulting from sexual assault, tell a medical professional that you wish to report the crime. You can also choose to have a sexual assault forensic exam. To find an appropriate local health facility that is prepared to care for survivors, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline 800.656.HOPE (4673).
Additional Sexual Assault Service Providers:
- Family Services of Tulare County
- Kings Community Action Organization-Handford
- RCS of Fresno County
- Community Action Partnership of Madera County -Victim Service Center Department
If you need immediate support, you can reach your local RAINN affiliate at any time, 24/7, by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673).