Have You Experienced Sexual Assault Or Abuse?

What To Do If You Were Sexually Assaulted Years Ago

Even if you experienced sexual assault long ago, you may suffer from trauma and emotional distress due to the event. Seeking professional help from a qualified therapist and an attorney can assist you in overcoming the experience and finding healing.

While the physical wounds from a sexual assault heal over time, the emotional trauma can last for years. Many sexual assault victims suffer in silence, especially if they don’t feel supported.

What should you do if you were sexually assaulted years ago? It’s important to realize that you have options, even if the abuse you suffered occurred well in the past. Trained therapists experienced in assisting victims of sexual assault can help you work through your feelings and guide you to recovery. In addition, you may still have the opportunity to pursue legal action for compensation.

At Helping Survivors, we have numerous resources for sexual assault victims. If you want to explore your legal options, we can connect you with a qualified sexual assault lawyer to evaluate your case.

What is Sexual Assault?

Sexual assault occurs when someone initiates sexual contact without your consent. Examples of sexual assault include fondling, groping, forced sexual intercourse, attempted rape, and rape. People who can’t legally consent due to age, disability, or intoxication may also suffer sexual assault.

What is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment consists of comments, slurs, or sexual advances, such as repeated requests for dates. Sexual harassment can also include unwelcome sexual gestures and comments. However, sexual harassment does not involve touching or contact like sexual assault.

What is Consent?

Three elements constitute consent in a sexual assault claim. For consent to occur, it must be informed, freely given, and made between two participants with the capacity to assent. In the legal sense, consent is revocable. Thus, if someone provides their consent to sexual intercourse but declines it later, they revoke the agreement.

Several examples of consent include saying yes to sexual activity and confirming someone’s interest before escalating physical intimacy.

Acknowledging the Experience

Sexual assault is very traumatic. Victims may find it difficult to reconcile the events, especially immediately after their ordeal. Some blame themselves even though sexual assault is never the victim’s fault.

It can take significant time to come to terms with what happened—even many years. The first step to moving past sexual assault is recognizing what happened. Think over the events and what led to them. It’s a good idea to seek support from a therapist who can help you process the sexual assault and work through your feelings.

It takes tremendous courage to experience sexual assault and overcome it, and a therapist can help you. It’s never too late to seek help and support.

Last Date Modified
February 26, 2024
Content Reviewed By:

Kathryn Kosmides
Managing Director | Helping Survivors

Steps to Take After Experiencing Sexual Assault or Battery

You can take several steps as you work through the experience of being assaulted and decide whether you want to take legal action against the perpetrator and any others involved.

Prioritize Your Well-Being

Your physical and emotional health is paramount following a sexual assault, even if it occurred years ago. Coming to terms with what happened may feel overwhelming. It’s essential to take proper care of yourself during this time. Avoid unhealthy coping activities such as drugs or alcohol, and focus on caring for your body through healthy foods and exercise.

Some people seek professional help from counselors or therapists. A therapist experienced in helping people overcome sexual assault can provide you with a listening ear and guidance as you work through your recovery. However, you may feel uncomfortable talking with a counselor. If so, that’s okay. Therapy isn’t suitable for everyone, and it’s your decision whether to undergo it.

Understanding the Impact

The emotional and mental harm you experience from sexual assault can last decades. Some victims don’t realize their behaviors or feelings result from a long-ago sexual assault. Common long-term effects of sexual assault are:

  • Poor sense of self: Victims may blame themselves for their abuse, particularly if the perpetrator was someone close to them, such as a family member or friend. Their self-esteem may crumble.
  • Acting out: Some survivors demonstrate inappropriate emotional responses to adverse events. They may be quick to anger, even if the situation is relatively minor.
  • Depersonalization: A feeling of depersonalization, in which the world appears unreal or dreamlike, can arise in sexual assault victims. They may feel a sense of not belonging and find it difficult to form relationships with others.
  • Mental health conditions: People who experience sexual assault may develop mental health conditions, such as bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Seek Professional Help

Seeing a counselor, no matter how long it’s been since your sexual assault, can help you work through the mental health issues you are experiencing. There is no shame in talking with a therapist. It’s an entirely safe space to discuss what you endured.

A therapist can provide valuable guidance to manage your emotions and feelings. They can help you recognize negative thought patterns that impact your successful recovery. Therapists can also connect you with resources, such as support groups in which you can interact with others who have experienced sexual assault. Sharing your experience with others going through similar situations helps victims understand they’re not alone.

Speaking with an attorney is a good idea, even if you’re unsure whether you want to pursue a legal claim. An attorney can evaluate your case and explain your legal options. Remember that you’re not obligated to take legal action if you don’t want to. Your attorney will leave the decision to you.

Reporting to Law Enforcement

If you decide to take legal action, you must report the sexual assault to the police. They are trained to investigate cases of sexual assault. They’ll ask you questions to understand what happened and who was involved. Once they have the information they need, they’ll follow up with the perpetrator. If they have enough evidence to make an arrest, they will.

Many times, sexual assault victims feel uncomfortable reporting what happened to the police. You may worry about retaliation from the perpetrator or feel you were at fault for the event. Those feelings are valid but realize you are the victim. You are not responsible for the actions of the person who harmed you.

If you feel uncomfortable talking to the police, consider bringing your attorney. An attorney can help you answer questions and provide additional information that may help the authorities in their investigation.

Preserve Evidence and Documentation

If the sexual assault occurred long ago, you may lack DNA evidence from the crime, particularly if you didn’t seek medical attention in the hours and days following the incident. Try to gather as much documentation as you can. Emails, texts, and other recorded transactions with the perpetrator can help support your claim. Pictures and videos can also help.

Your lawyer can advise you on the evidence you need to win your case, and they will also help you obtain it.

Sexual Assault Statute of Limitations

If you wait too long, you may be unable to pursue a sexual assault lawsuit. Your state’s statute of limitations determines how long you have to file a civil suit or criminal charges.

Every state’s statute of limitations for sexual assault lawsuits is different. A few states have no statute of limitations for sexual assault claims, while others have five- or ten-year timelines. Some only start the statute of limitations clock when a person discovers they were the victim of sexual assault, particularly in the case of childhood sexual abuse.

It’s best to speak with an attorney to determine whether your case falls within your state’s statute of limitations. Even if it’s been a while since the event, some states have special exceptions you may qualify for.

What Evidence is Important in a Sexual Assault Lawsuit?

Any evidence you have to support a claim of sexual assault is valuable. Common types of evidence include DNA examinations derived from a sexual assault medical exam, therapy session visits, and clothes you wore during the assault.

Written records, such as text messages, emails, or letters, can help support your claim. If there is any security footage from locations where the assault occurred, it can help substantiate the lawsuit. Statements from witnesses who saw you before or after the sexual assault may also be beneficial.

Want To Speak With A Lawyer?

Understand your legal rights and options as a survivor of sexual assault and abuse.