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VHA Assault and Harassment Prevention Office


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How to Help or Support Someone Who Has Been Harassed or Sexually Assaulted

If You Are Experiencing an Emergency, Dial 9-1-1

What to Do

Make Sure the Experiencer* Is Safe

You might say something such as, “Are you safe? Do you need medical care?”


Let them discuss their experience in their own time, at their own pace. Don’t cross-examine or ask for specific details.


“It’s not your fault.”
“I’m sorry this happened to you.”


Provide nonjudgmental support. Don’t question the experiencer’s* account of the incident. “I believe you” is very powerful and impactful.

Don’t Blame

Don’t tell them what they should have done.

Get Help

  • If they need emergency medical treatment, tell them to call 9-1-1.
  • If they are physically hurt or need medical help, tell the experiencer to find the nearest hospital or VA health care facility and go to the emergency department for treatment. They should not shower so that any potential evidence can be collected.
  • If they need emotional support: Call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, press 1 (available every day, 24/7), or text: 838255. Also, they can find the nearest hospital or VA health care facility and go to the emergency department.
  • They can also find help in the community by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 (SAFE) or TTY 1−800−787−3224.

Let Them Decide Their Next Steps

Let them decide whether to report the incident and how they wish to proceed. This gives them back the sense of control that they may have lost.

Maintain Confidentiality

The individual is trusting you with their report; respect their privacy and don’t share the information with others unless they request your assistance with this.

Locate Resources

VA offers resources such as support and counseling services. Offer options and give the person as much control as they wish.

Educate Yourself

Use the resources mentioned above to learn how you can best provide support.

    Learn how to recognize harassment and assist those who have experienced harassment. Training is available to learn about the following:
  • Interrupt harassment if you see it.
  • Provide feedback to others that their behavior is inappropriate.
  • Directly reach out to those who have experienced harassment to offer support and information about how to report an incident.

Provide Continued Support

The effects of harassment and sexual assault may be lasting. Continue to provide support to the experiencer after the incident.

Take Care of Yourself

Assisting an experiencer can have an emotional impact on you as well. Find ways to reduce stress and incorporate self-care techniques into your daily routine. You can find some examples of self-care practices on the VA Whole Health Program website.

Effects of Harassment or Sexual Assault**

Experiencing harassment or sexual assault may cause a range of emotional, physical, or mental health concerns. Some of them might include:

Emotional effects:
  • Anger
  • Betrayal
  • Change in perception of when or how to set boundaries
  • Denial
  • Fear
  • Guilt
  • Humiliation
  • Isolation
  • Loss of trust
  • Minimizing the assault
  • Powerlessness and loss of control
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Shame
  • Violation
Mental health effects:
  • Amnesia
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dissociation
  • Flashbacks
  • Loss of motivation
  • Mood swings
  • PTSD
  • Panic attacks
  • Paranoia
  • Phobias
  • Substance abuse
  • Suicidal ideation
Physical effects:
  • Eating disturbances
  • Fatigue
  • Increased stress levels
  • Headaches
  • Localized pain
  • Numbness/anesthesia
  • Poor health
  • Sleep disturbances

* The individual who has been harassed or assaulted is known as the “experiencer.”
** Cited from RAINN, national anti-sexual violence organization. (Sexual Harassment | RAINN)