How to React if You are a Victim of Sexual Abuse


How to React if You are a Victim of Sexual Abuse

Article written with Fondation Marie-Vincent

If you have been sexually assaulted or you’re concerned about a friend or family member who has, your head may be teeming with thoughts and questions. It’s important to realize that you are not alone and that you are entitled to help and support at any time. By doing some research on the matter, you are taking an important step in the process. Here are some resources that will help you better understand what sexual abuse is and learn how to talk about it or help a friend or family member.


If you were sexually assaulted in the last 6 months, visit the designated centre providing medico-social services for sexual assault victims closest to your home. The workers there will welcome you and lend a non-judgmental ear.
If the assault occurred in the 5 previous days, go there quickly because you may need immediate care. This is also the maximum amount of time to collect certain evidence if you want to report your assailant.

Don’t hesitate to ask someone you trust to accompany you if you don’t feel comfortable going alone!

Have questions about what happened to you?

Feelings of uncertainty and ambiguity are the first signs that something is not normal and you’re right to listen to your feelings. Be aware that, even if you have doubts, you still have the right to talk about it and ask for help.

Determining whether it was sexual abuse 🤔

Sexual assault is any act of a sexual nature, with or without physical contact, performed without the consent of the other person. It may be: penetration or attempted penetration, oral-genital contact or being forced to do any of the following: kiss, fondle or masturbate someone, touch or be forced to be touched, look at pornographic material, take drugs or alcohol to have sexual relations, have sexual relations with another person or receive an unwanted photo or video of a sexual nature.

Being a victim of sexual violence means being forced to meet the needs of one’s abuser. It may be through the use of physical force, but not necessarily. You may find yourself living in fear and feeling coerced, intimidated or threatened, whether subtly or overtly. The abuser may use emotional manipulation or blackmail or may insist or make you feel guilty if you refuse.


Here are a few examples:

“If we don’t sleep together, I’ll be sad.”
“I’ll be frustrated and might go get it somewhere else.”
“Why did you come to my house if you didn’t want to have sex?”
“If you don’t feel like it, it’s because you don’t really love me.”
“If you do what I ask, I’ll take you shopping and buy you some nice clothes.”

These behaviours, called sexual coercion, are unacceptable.

Your consent should always be taken into consideration! Giving in to pressure and manipulation is not consenting.

Find out more about the different types of sexual violence

First steps to feeling better 💙

• Listening to your needs and emotions is the first step towards acting on your mental health and pulling through. You probably have many feelings at the same time: whether it’s anger, shame or sadness, all your emotions are valid and deserve to be listened to, as you would do with your best friend.

• Accept that what you experienced is in no way your fault.
Regardless of the circumstances, relationship or the attitude you had with your abuser, there is no justification for sexual assault. The perpetrator alone is responsible.

Important to know

Your reactions are specific to you.

There is no right or wrong way to react to an episode of sexual violence. Whether during or after the event, everyone reacts differently.

For example, when faced with danger, your brain can trigger a defense mechanism called freezing1 🧠: this state of paralysis keeps you from reacting, thus making it impossible to defend yourself.

How to talk about the acts of violence and to whom?

  • Take your time and go at your own pace. Going to get help requires a lot of strength—in fact, just getting as far as reading this article already took courage!
  • Talking about it to a professional may be scary, so if you’re not ready, don’t hesitate to talk about what you are experiencing and feeling with a trusted friend, a qualified youth worker at school or an adult you trust.
  • You can speak about it orally 🎤, write it down 🖍 (in a letter or a text message), use drawings 🎨 or refer to something in the news or a situation in a TV series that represents what you experienced and how you feel.

Whether you want to make a report or not, you can always find help here:

Resources to get the help you need


Speak with a Tel-Jeunes worker: it’s anonymous, free and accessible 24/7


1Muriel Salmona, psychiatrist, psychotraumatologist and president of the Traumatic Memory and Victimology Association.

With our partner


The Fondation Marie-Vincent supports children and teens who are victims of violence by offering them the services they need—all in one location. It helps prevent sexual violence by focusing on education and awareness, and by helping children with problematic sexual behaviours.

Check out their website