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How to Prevent Sexual Assault: 7 Risk-Reducing Tips

According to statistics, eight out of 10 rapes are committed by someone known to the victim. Sexual predators don’t always fit the description of the stranger in a trench coat hopping out of a van at the playground. They often hold positions of trust and authority such as a family member, daycare worker, teacher, coach, doctor, classmate, or employer.

In this helpful guide, you’ll find tips on how to prevent sexual assault—or at least greatly reduce your risk of victimization—in various scenarios, as well as what to do if you or a loved one has been sexually assaulted. 

1. How to Prevent Sexual Assault From Family Members

Maintain a stable family structure.

Research indicates family structure is the biggest risk factor in child sex abuse cases. Children who live with biological parents are most protected, while children living with a single parent and live-in partner are at 20x higher risk of sexual abuse by a family member.

Limit alone time with children.

Family members are responsible for 50% of kids under six who are molested. Particularly when children are young, parents should supervise their interactions with older members and friends of the family.

Educate kids early.

Educating children is the most important step you can take to prevent child sexual abuse. In any situation, kids should know the names of their private parts and understand that their private area should remain just that, private. Discuss healthy boundaries, when it’s okay to say “no” to an adult, and how to recognize early warning signs that they are not safe. For older children and teens, keep a pulse on their computer usage. And be sure to talk to your kids about sexual abuse.

Create an open sharing network.

Make sure your child understands you are always available to talk about anything. You especially want to know if an adult asks them to keep something secret from you. Create a safety network that includes trusted adults a child can go to for help—people like parents, neighbors, grandparents, siblings, coaches, teachers, doctors, or police officers. Make a habit of asking your child about his or her day before bed each night to keep the channels of communication open.

2. How to Prevent Sexual Assault at Daycare

Do your research before choosing a daycare.

Visit the Child Care Aware website for information on state licensing, inspection reports, past history of violations, criminal background checks, and quality ratings. Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions: who will be in contact with your child? How are these people vetted before hiring and during their tenure? How are background checks done? How do children spend their day, and who is with them? What steps are taken to limit abuse at toileting or diaper changing time? Get references from other parents sending their kids there.

Know about mandated reporter laws.

In California, daycare workers are required to report known or suspected child sex abuse to law enforcement within 24 hours. All people who work with children are mandatory reporters and should have some training on how to recognize signs of child abuse. Ask directly about this training to be sure your daycare provider understands this legal duty.

Remain vigilant.

Don’t let up your guard once you’ve made a decision. Keep an eye out for new people or changes in routine. Ask questions if your child’s clothes are changed, if you notice an unexplained bruise or scratch, or if your child’s behavior seems different. Find out why employees leave, and keep in touch with other parents at the daycare. Check to see if you are able to drop in to observe while daycare is in session.

Talk to your child.

Ask your child what they did, who they spent their time with, and how they felt during the day. Withdrawal, fear, sadness, and anger can happen for a variety of reasons but, in retrospect, many parents say these indicators were early signs of abuse.

3. How to Prevent Sexual Assault at the Doctor’s Office

Know your rights.

It is your right to have another office staff member in the room during breast or pelvic exams when possible. The doctor should be able to explain the reason for any part of an examination or procedure. You have the right to end an examination at any time if you feel pain or emotional discomfort. Ask for an examiner of a different gender if that makes you more comfortable. It is unacceptable for a physician to ask invasive personal questions about sexual activity outside of normal healthcare considerations.

Photo of a stethoscope

Understand the Garman Guidelines.

According to these widely accepted standards, medical professionals must allow patients to disrobe and dress in private, offering gowns and drapes. Patients should not undress fully if those parts do not require examination. It is not acceptable for medical examiners to touch a patient’s genitals without gloves.

Get the inside scoop.

You can investigate a medical doctor’s record on the Medical Board of California website. Understand that, as of July 1, 2019, SB 1448 requires physicians who are disciplined for sexual misconduct (and other serious offenses) to inform their patients, as well as their insurance companies and employers.

4. How to Prevent Sexual Assault at School and Youth Sports

Get to know the professionals who will be around your child.

Ask to meet with teachers and coaches before the school year starts. Seek opportunities where you can show up and observe. Be a presence at practices, games, and special event days at school. Know the signs of sexual grooming and don’t ignore your parental instincts as you observe academic and youth sport environments. Children are less likely to be targeted if the perpetrator sees there are vigilant, actively involved adults surrounding them.

Make your expectations clear.

A child should never travel alone with an adult, whether it’s a teacher or coach. If there is a teacher-child meeting, the door should be left open. If there is a tournament or out-of-town trip, arrange to be a chaperone. When it comes to text messages and emails between your children and teachers or coaches, ask to be copied on all communications.

Keep the lines of communication open.

Talking with children early in their lives about private body parts is key. Teach your child about consent. Let your children know it’s okay to assert themselves if an adult touches them or makes them feel uncomfortable. Your child should understand that sexual contact is illegal for minors, whether it involves an adult or peer. Children will likely be curious or experiment, so it is imperative that they know and understand the consequences.

5. How to Prevent Sexual Assault on College Campuses

Know your surroundings.

Develop a circle of trust, where the peers you’re going out with agree to leave no one behind. Never leave a drink unattended, drink from unopened containers, and keep track of your consumption. Know where to go if you or a friend needs help, whether it’s an emergency phone on campus, campus security hotline, or medical health provider. Stay alert of your surroundings, use escorts, and avoid using headphones in both ears if you have to walk alone on campus. Be careful about posting your location or dorm room number on social media. Consider back-up plans for sticky situations. Who can you call? Do you have an emergency credit card, spare key, or set of jumper cables?

Plastic cups used for beer pong

Understand your rights.

“Yes means yes” in California, and you have a right to be believed. You have a right to be informed of your school’s policies on sexual assault—which should include a written policy on sexual harassment, as well as a complaint process and timeline—available on the school’s website. You have a right to confidentiality when you report sexual assault. Your school should also have a Title IX coordinator you can contact if you feel you cannot obtain an education free from sexual discrimination or harassment.

Be aware of risk factors.

Sexual assault on college campuses is often prevalent among Greek life. In one study, a quarter of sexual assault victims belonged to a sorority. Other studies found fraternity men are three times’ more likely to commit sexual assault than their peers. Further, the use of drugs or alcohol increases the likelihood of rape by 50 percent.

6. How to Prevent Sexual Assault in the Workplace

Know what’s illegal.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act makes it illegal to sexually harass or discriminate against employees at work. Indecent propositions, indecent exposure, unequal treatment based on gender, and persistent leering are all prohibited by California law as well. If a hostile work environment is created, your employer could be held liable, as well as the individual perpetrator.

Speak up.

Let the perpetrator know you are uncomfortable with the conversation or behavior. Talk to a union member, supervisor, or human resources representative about your concerns. If your concerns are not sufficiently addressed, you can file a charge of discrimination with the federal EEOC or state Fair Employment Practices agency.

Be an empowered bystander.

One effective tactic being used on college campuses, in the military, and in the workplace is to encourage empowered bystanders to pay attention and intervene, as necessary. It can be difficult for a victim to speak up in the moment, but having a bystander near could help diffuse the situation.

7. How to Take Action If You’ve Been Sexually Assaulted

If you have been a victim of sexual assault in any of these situations or similar, there are legal actions you can take. While you may not have been able to prevent the sexual assault you experienced, seeking litigation could be the first step in making sure the perpetrator never assaults again. You may choose to press criminal charges, file a civil lawsuit, or both. No matter what path you choose to take, you don’t have to go at it alone.

San Francisco sexual abuse attorneys are standing by to help you and your family at Lewis & Llewellyn. You likely have mixed feelings about opening up to a complete stranger, but our experienced team has spoken to and helped scores of survivors of sexual abuse. The members of our firm are engaged advocates for social justice with ties to local outreach and survivor support groups.

The attorneys at Lewis & Llewellyn in California have a proven track record for winning tough sexual abuse cases—particularly those that involve suing large organizations or institutions. The members of our firm are engaged advocates for social justice with ties to local outreach and survivor support groups. You deserve to have a compassionate advocate who believes you and will navigate these complex systems on your behalf. Contact us today, or call +1 (415) 800-0590 to set up a free initial consultation.

DISCLAIMER: The information in this blog is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this blog or on this website should be construed as legal advice from Lewis & Llewellyn LLP. Neither your receipt of information from this website, nor your use of this website to contact Lewis & Llewellyn LLP creates an attorney-client relationship between you and the firm or any of its lawyers. No reader of this website should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this website without seeking the appropriate legal advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s jurisdiction.