Something Happened to Me (Ages 12-18)

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You may feel many of the same emotions—anger, fear, and shame—adult survivors do when disclosing to loved ones or reporting sexual assault. But if you’re under the age of 18, there may be unique disclosing and reporting processes to consider because you are still legally a minor.

To talk this through disclosure and reporting with someone who is trained to help, you can connect with a support specialist on the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at (y en español We’re here to help you.

How do I decide if I should report what happened to me?

It’s okay to feel nervous or scared about reporting assault. And whether or not you decide to tell someone what happened is always up to you. It’s natural to worry about how it will affect your family or friends, how much you might have to retell your story, or to feel intimidated by interacting with law enforcement.

You also might have conflicting feelings about reporting the perpetrator, particularly if they were a family member, friend, or romantic partner. You might be worried about damaging other relationships in your life by reporting. Only you can decide what is best for your situation, and learning more about the reporting process can help you make an informed decision.

If you learn about the reporting process and decide that you’re not ready to talk about what happened to you, that’s okay. You do not need to feel guilty. Each person’s experience and healing is unique, and what is right for others might not be right for you.

It’s also important to know that, for minors, once you tell an adult, reporting may be out of your hands. Particularly, if the person you tell is considered a mandated reporter.

Who are mandated reporters?

A mandated reporter is an adult who is required by law to report to law enforcement or child protective services when they think that a minor or other vulnerable person may be experiencing abuse.

Though it’s true that often teachers, medical professionals, and foster care workers are mandated reporters, the laws about who is a mandated reporter are different in every state. To find out what the laws are in the state where you live or where you experienced abuse or assault, go to RAINN’s state law database. Select your state in the left box and select “Mandatory Reporting: Children” in the right box.

What is the reporting process like?

The short answer is that the reporting process is slightly different in every state. If you contact a local sexual assault service provider, they can give you more information on the laws in your state and resources available to you. Below are some questions you may have about the reporting process.

Does my parent or guardian have to be involved in the reporting process?

The laws about whether your parent or guardian will be notified when you file a report vary from state to state. However, if an investigation is opened based on your report, your parent or guardian will likely be notified.

How to report?

If you decide to report what happened to you, you have a few options to consider. It is important to pick a way to report that feels most safe for you.

  • Call 9-1-1. If you are in immediate danger, dial 9-1-1. Help will come to you, wherever you are. At that time, law enforcement may intervene if they believe you are in danger. They also may begin an investigation at that time depending on the events, and what you are able to tell law enforcement when they arrive.
  • Call the National Child Abuse Hotline. You can report what is happening to you directly through the National Child Abuse Hotline at 800.422.4453. They may direct you to call law enforcement in order to make the report.
  • Tell a trusted adult who will help you report the abuse. If the adult you tell is a mandated reporter, such as a teacher or a nurse, they will know how to report the abuse to the proper authorities. If the adult you choose to tell is not a mandated reporter, they might find more information on reporting to be helpful. Even if they aren’t a mandated reporter, it could still be helpful to talk to a trusted adult to get their help with reporting. To brainstorm how you might have this conversation with a trusted adult in your life, reach out to RAINN through the online hotline.

Do I need to get a medical exam if I want to report?

No, you should not need to have a medical exam unless you choose to have one. However, there have been rare instances when a parent has consented to their child getting a forensic exam, even when their child has not consented to it. Parents have the legal right to make medical decisions for their children up to a certain age, and the exact age varies from state to state. This legal right also means that if you want an exam but your parent does not consent, you may not be able to have one. You can contact your local sexual assault service provider to learn more about the laws in your state.

There are two kinds of exams that investigators may want to have you do. One is a sexual assault forensic exam, in which they collect evidence from an assault that has occurred within the last 72 hours to be analyzed by a crime lab. The other is a pediatric medical exam, where a doctor is looking for other forms of evidence that they can collect—such as signs of injury or long-term abuse—even if it’s been longer than 72 hours.

If I get a sexual assault forensic exam, do I have to report?

If you’re under 18 and get a sexual assault forensic exam, the nurse is likely going to file a report of the abuse if she is a mandated reporter in your state. However, the report may not end up being investigated or continued further.

Should I get a sexual assault forensic exam, even if I don’t want to report right now?

Sexual assault forensic exams are important for gathering DNA evidence that could be used later on if you choose to report. However, these exams can be physically invasive and emotionally difficult. You can usually only get a sexual assault forensic exam done within 72 hours of experiencing assault, so if you think you may want to report later on and feel that you are okay to undergo the exam, then it may be something to consider doing.

Can I bring someone in the room with me during a sexual assault forensic exam?

Yes, it is federal law that you are allowed to bring in a victim advocate with you during the exam. A victim advocate is someone who can be with you during the exam to make sure your rights are not being violated, and to help you understand the process. Some medical facilities may say that you can’t bring anyone with you, but you can assert your right to have an advocate. You can ask your local sexual assault service provider to assign you an advocate for free.

If I report, will I be taken away from my family or foster family?

Again, this varies by state and also depends on how much physical danger the incident put you in, your relationship with the perpetrator, and whether the perpetrator is someone you live with. As a minor, if you report sexual abuse, law enforcement will decide whether they think it is safe for you to stay in your home during the investigation. For instance, if you are reporting abuse from someone you live with, they may try to find somewhere else for you to stay.

How many details do I have to tell?

You never need to share more details than you are comfortable with. However, the more you tell when reporting, the more likely it is that law enforcement will be able to move forward with the investigation. During an investigation, you will be asked to discuss details and repeat your story multiple times, and this process can be extremely uncomfortable and upsetting. It can help a lot to write out what happened to you beforehand so that you don’t have to recall and relive as much in the moment when you are talking with law enforcement. You can also call the National Sexual Assault Hotline 800.656.4673 or chat online at (y en español if you want to practice sharing your story anonymously before doing it with someone you know or with law enforcement.

What if I report and nothing happens?

It can be a difficult and frustrating experience if you go through the reporting process and do not receive justice for what happened to you. Remember that this doesn’t invalidate what happened to you, and doesn’t mean that you did anything wrong.

What if drugs or alcohol were involved?

Drug-facilitated sexual assault occurs in two ways: when the perpetrator takes advantage of a victim’s voluntary use of drugs or alcohol or when the perpetrator intentionally forces a victim to consume drugs without their knowledge. This can lead to a lot of issues related to reporting, such as a difficult time remembering details, feeling at fault for what happened, and fears of getting in trouble for using drugs or alcohol.

  • What if I willingly used alcohol or drugs, and then was assaulted? If you used drugs or alcohol before experiencing assault, that doesn’t mean you chose to be sexually assaulted. Whether these substances were in your system or not, you deserve to feel safe and to be able to make choices over what happens to your body. You cannot give consent if you’re incapaciated by drugs or alcohol.
  • Will I get in trouble for using drugs or alcohol if I report? It’s natural to feel worried. People may ask you questions about any drug or alcohol use that make you feel like it’s your fault. But remember, using drugs or alcohol as a minor doesn’t mean you deserved for this to happen. There may be some protections in place to prevent you from getting in trouble for drug or alcohol use if you report—such as patient privacy laws in medical facilities—but there have still been instances in which individuals who reported have faced consequences for using drugs or alcohol as a minor. Your local sexual assault service provider may have a better idea of how these laws are enforced locally.
  • What if I don’t remember everything? It is normal for it to be difficult to recall details of any sexual assault, particuarly a drug-facilitated sexual assault. Though memories of what happened might be fragmented, you can still report what occurred. Fewer details can sometimes make it less likely that an investigation will be opened, but evidence of drug-facilitation can sometimes be collected through a sexual assault forensic exam.

What if I want to disclose to someone before deciding if I want to report?

Telling someone that you’ve experienced sexual violence is 100% up to you. There is no one-size-fits-all that applies to survivors—each person’s story and healing journey are unique. Remember, deciding to tell your story doesn’t have to mean sharing every detail—it’s your decision to tell as little or as much as you’re comfortable with. You can find more information and resources about disclosing on RAINN’s page on telling loved ones about sexual assault.

What if someone reacts badly when I tell them?

You deserve to be listened to and supported when you choose to tell your story. However, the reality is that sometimes the conversation will not go the way you hope. Even with the best intentions, someone may not know how to react. That’s why it can be useful to practice how you want to tell someone about what happened. We can also help you think about who might be a safe person to talk to. To talk through your options with someone who is trained to help, you can connect with a support specialist on the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at (y en español

Reporting can be an uncomfortable process, and may not be something you want to pursue right now—and that’s your decision to make. You may hear positive or negative stories from other survivors about their reporting process. But just remember that each person’s story is different, and what was right for them might be different from what’s right for you. There is no one healing journey, and whether you choose to report now, later, or never, is up to you.

Want to learn more about healing after child sexual abuse? Access RAINN's eight-week learning series "Redefining Resilience" with topics such as understanding trauma, moving past shame, managing memories, and more.

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