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How to protect yourself from sexual abuse

There are steps you can take to help protect yourself from abuse. These include creating and using a safety plan for risky situations, being aware of risks for abuse, and managing vulnerability associated with those risks. 

Safety planning

The increased independence you may experience during adolescence comes with a heightened need to look after and take care of yourself, including by having a safety plan to protect yourself from sexual abuse. Safety plans are a collection of actions that can help you prepare for, and defensively respond to, instances where your boundaries are threatened.

Safety planning prepares you for situations where your boundaries are threatened.

The time to have a plan is before something happens.

Safety plans can include actions like the following:

  • Identify your boundaries
  • Practice saying “no” with a clear and forceful voice
  • Defend your boundaries even with the smallest violation
  • Speak up if a relationship with a friend, peer, or adult begins to change and move in directions that make you uncomfortable. Trust your feelings
  • Say “no” if you find yourself doing things you do not feel right about and find a way to exit the situation
  • Recognize that you have a right to stop someone from doing something to you, even if you allowed the behavior to happen before
  • If you are going out:
  • Know everyone you are going out with
  • Know where you are going before you leave to go out
  • Identify ways of physically exiting a space once you arrive
  • Have a buddy and agree on a signal to alert them that you need help
  • If you are drinking, pour your own drink and monitor how intoxicated you are becoming
  • Have a backup plan in case your initial plan does not work

Know when you get out of a risky situation you are demonstrating to others that you are in control and have your own power. Even if it can be embarrassing to not go along with what other people are doing or wanting from you, protecting yourself makes you someone to be admired by others. 

When you get out of a risky situation you are demonstrating that you are in control and have your own power.


Acknowledging one’s own vulnerability to sexual abuse can be difficult (see How can I recognize risks?). But recognizing this vulnerability is an important component of protection as it can help you be aware of and identify things that may place you at increased risk of being abused.

Recognizing vulnerability can help you be aware of and identify things that may place you at increased risk of being abused.

If having a safety plan can be thought of as the first rule of protection, then having an awareness of vulnerability and risk is the second rule. 

How can I protect myself from sexual abuse? 

Manage vulnerability

  • Rule one. Have a safety plan
  • Rule two. Be aware of what can increase vulnerability 
  • Many, if not most, factors that increase one’s vulnerability to sexual abuse cannot be controlled because they are aspects of the person, family, or environment that cannot be changed

Protect yourself away from home

  • Travel with a buddy and have a safety plan together
  • Do not be alone with an adult at any time, including coaches, chaperons, or other youth’s parents

How to Protect Yourself from Sexual Assault

It is important to remember that sexual assault is never the fault of the victim. If you are sexually assaulted, know that it is not because of something that you did or didn’t do. There are steps that you can take to keep yourself safe in situations in which sexual assault is more likely.

Cheerful young friends

Know your alcohol limits. According to research, over half of sexual assaults committed against college students involve alcohol. Intoxication can make you significantly more vulnerable to assault by impairing your judgement or inhibiting your ability to fight off an attacker.

Keep an eye on your drink. An increasing number of sexual assaults occur when the perpetrator slips drugs into their victims’ drinks, causing them to feel sleepy or even pass out. To be sure that no one slips anything into your drink, take it into the restroom with you. Additionally, never accept a drink that has been given to you by someone else or that was taken from a communal alcohol source, like a punch bowl.

Trust your gut. If something about a person or location feels wrong, leave immediately. You might be subconsciously processing body language or other danger indicators without realizing it. Head in the direction of the nearest crowd, lighted area, or building. Talk loudly on your phone; many attackers don’t want to pursue potential victims who seem loud or aggressive.

Stay with your friends. Attend parties and other social gatherings with a group of people whom you trust. Look out for each other and make sure you all get home safely. If you do go out alone, always make sure at least one person knows where you’re going and avoid walking in unlit or non trafficked areas. Additionally, keep your cell phone charged and with you at all times.

Know your resources. Locate resources such as the campus health center, campus police station, and a local sexual assault service provider, so you know who to contact if you or your friends need help.

Be careful about posting your location. Many social media sites automatically post your location. Consider turning this function off.

Have a Plan B. If your phone dies, do you have a few numbers memorized? Do you have cash on you in case you can’t use a credit or debit card? Do you have your address memorized?

Be secure. Remember to lock your doors and windows when you’re sleeping. If you notice that the main door to your building is often propped open, notify security or a trusted authority figure.

It’s okay to lie. If something about a location or situation feels off to you and you want to leave immediately, don’t feel bad about making up an excuse. Your safety is your most important concern.

Be careful about what you post on social media. You may want to adjust your privacy settings so only people you know personally can see what you post.

Avoid 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.

In Social 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 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)

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 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 Assault Online 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.