An Important Announcement from Garbo

What You Should Know About Using a Sexual Assault Hotline

April 4, 2022

Understanding the options available to you after experiencing sexual assault can be complex and confusing. 

Sexual assault hotlines exist to help you understand and navigate the various options available to you. 

But, calling, texting, or chatting online with a sexual assault hotline can be nerve wracking because most victims and survivors of sexual violence don't know what to expect when reaching out. 

This piece is designed to help you understand when and why to call a sexual assault hotline, the typical process, and answer questions you may have about the experience. 


What is sexual assault?

Before we get into the logistics of utilizing a sexual assault hotline, we wanted to take the time to define sexual assault for anyone who may be questioning whether what they experienced is considered sexual assault. 

Sexual assault includes any and all nonconsensual sexual acts. 


Some examples of sexual assault include: 

  • Rape
  • Attempted rape
  • Sexual harassment
  • Fondling
  • Unwanted touching - either over or under clothes
  • Incest
  • Child sexual abuse
  • Molestation
  • Unwanted oral sex
  • Flashing
  • Forced posing for sexual pictures
  • Forced performance for sexual video

While there are many forms of sexual assault, rape is often the most discussed type of sexual violence. Because many individuals question whether what they experienced was rape, we've designed a quiz to help better understand your experience and options available, including sexual assault hotlines. 


What is a sexual assault hotline?


A sexual assault hotline provides confidential support by connecting you with advocates and experts who help you understand the options available to you from support services to referrals to additional service providers. 

They are designed to help answer any and all questions you may have about sexual assault — whether it happened to you or a loved one. 

They are a safe place to get the emotional support you need while understanding local resources available to you. They provide confidential support through trained advocates and experts.

In the United States, the national sexual assault hotline is RAINN. They provide support via phone, text, and online chat available 24/7. 

There are also local resources and hotlines available which RAINN may refer you to to receive more direct support. 

You can use Chayn's global directory of hotlines and helplines to see the options available to you. 

Reasons to use a sexual assault hotline


Whether you experienced sexual assault recently or twenty years ago, hotlines are here to help. Even if you were not the one who experienced sexual assault or violence, you can still use hotlines to help your loved ones get the support they need. 


Some reasons to call a sexual assault hotline include understanding: 

All victims of sexual assault should know that they are not alone and that there are support services available to them in whatever decision they choose. 


Typical process for using a sexual assault hotline


Once you've decided that calling, texting, or chatting with a sexual assault hotline might help you better understand your options, understanding what the process looks like can help you better advocate for yourself.


Here's how to prepare and have a conversation with an expert or advocate at a sexual assault hotline: 


  1. Make the decision to call/text/chat with an advocate - This can often be the biggest step in getting help. We hope this guide helps you in this process. 
  2. Decide which hotline to call - There are national and local hotlines available to help guide you to support and services. RAINN is the United States' national hotline. Chayn has created a global resource list. A national hotline may direct you to a local hotline that can provide additional support. 
  3. Prepare for using a sexual assault hotline - You want to make sure you are in a safe space and ready to talk, text, or chat online with an advocate. Some people find writing down the questions they want answered prior to the conversation can help them focus in case they start feeling overwhelmed with emotions. Have a pen and paper (or a cell phone) for taking notes during the conversation of additional resources and referrals.
  4. Set aside the time - You can spend as much time as you need with an expert or advocate. Do not feel rushed. You may want to set aside some additional time after the call to check on your own mental health and do some self-care. 
  5. Reach out - Choose whatever option (call, text, or online chat) will work best for you. Know that hotline advocates are trained individuals who are here to support you in your healing journey. Whether you need someone to talk to or are looking for resources, you have people who want to listen and help.
  6. Have a conversation - After you reach out, you may get nervous or feel like this isn't the right thing to do. You don't have to do anything the advocate says and you can reveal as much or as little information as you wish. If you feel comfortable, sharing some personal details, which will be kept confidential, can help the advocate direct you to the right local resources including for LGBTQ+ individuals, different religions, or for folks who speak different languages.
  7. Follow through - The hotline will help you go through the various options available to you. They can not take any action for you (unless required by law, as seen with the mandatory reporting of child abuse). It is completely your choice on what you do next. 
  8. Call again if needed - Have another question? Did you follow through but the resource or referral they suggested isn't an option or is unavailable? You can call hotlines as many times as you need to get answers to your questions or just to have someone listen when you're struggling with your mental health. 

10 questions people have about using a sexual assault hotline

Asking for help is never easy—and deciding to use a sexual assault service like a hotline or crisis hotline can make anyone anxious and overwhelmed. 

To help you get help, we've asked a sexual assault hotline advocate from RAINN on the top questions people have about using a sexual assault hotline. 


1. Is it confidential? Will they know my location? 


All calls to hotlines are designed to be confidential. You can give them as much or as little information as you feel comfortable with. You don’t even have to provide your name or location.

If you are worried about giving your location away, we highly suggest calling a national hotline (do NOT use online chat as they may collect your IP address which will allow them to see your physical location). All hotlines should have privacy policies you can read for more information.



2. What services are provided? 


After experiencing sexual assault, it is hard to know how to react and repsond. You may be physically hurt, emotionally drained, or unsure of what to do next. Learning more about what steps you can take following sexual violence can help ground and support you in a difficult time.

Most sexual assault hotlines are designed to provide support, information, advice, or a referral to other service providers.

You can call or chat with someone if you just want to talk and have someone listen to your experience, ask questions like what it’s like to report to the police or have a sexual assault exam. You can also ask them for other support services should you need them, like domestic violence shelters or how to file a restraining order.


3. What if I’m not sure if I was sexually assaulted?


If you are not sure what you experienced was sexual assault, hotlines can help answer your questions about the experience and guide you to support services should you need or want them. You do not need to define your experience as sexual assault to receive help from a sexual assault hotline. While some people look for hotlines to tell them definitevely if what happened was sexual assault, most will not define your experience for you. They can validate your feelings of violation and connect you to support services.


Sexual assault can include:

  • Rape
  • Attempted rape
  • Sexual harassment
  • Fondling
  • Unwanted touching - either over or under clothes
  • Incest
  • Child sexual abuse
  • Molestation
  • Unwanted oral sex
  • Flashing
  • Forced posing for sexual pictures
  • Forced performance for sexual video

Garbo also offers a quiz to help you identify if your experience was sexual assault. 


4. Will they have to report to Law Enforcement if I disclose? What if it involves a minor or vulnerable adult? Are the hotline workers mandated reporters?


There are some instances where hotlines are required to report to Law Enforcement — most commonly this involves offenses involving children, elder abuse, or serious threats of suicide or harm to others. Each state and jurisdiction (county, city) may have different mandatory reporting policies. You can always ask the hotline what their reporting policies are.

If the hotline is fully anonymous, they may only be able to report if you have given them personally identifying information such as name, location, or school.


5. What happens after the call? Is there follow-up?


The hotline will most likely direct you to the services you immediately need — which could be a local advocacy group who can help you navigate the sexual assault exam experience or to healing resources.

What happens during and after the call is mostly up to you. Because of safety concerns, the hotline will most likely not be able to follow up with you. However, you can call a hotline as many times as you need throughout your healing journey to ask any and all questions you may have.


6. Who is answering the calls and how are they trained?


Hotlines are staffed by trained advocates — some of whom are employed by the hotline (or organization that runs the hotline) while others are volunteers.

For example, in 2020, volunteers contributed nearly 40% of the total hours spent supporting survivors and their loved ones on the National Sexual Assault Hotline provided by RAINN.

All employees and volunteers who answer calls, chats, or text messages are required to go through extensive training before they can engage with a survivor or their loved ones.


7. What happens if the call gets dropped?


If a call gets dropped you will need to call the hotline back as they do not call individuals back directly due to safety concerns. You may not be connected to the same individual so you may need to ask your questions again.


8. Do I have to call? Can I text or chat?


Many hotlines, especially national ones, provide the ability to either text or chat online alongside their telephone hotlines.


9. How many times can I reach out to a hotline or support service?


You can call hotlines as many times as you need to get the answers to your questions and have someone listen to your concerns.

If you have a negative experience with a certain hotline, we highly suggest either calling back to get a different advocate who can help or calling a different hotline.

The hotline does not take down your personal identifying information (PII) when you call — so they will not know you have called previously. This means you may have to explain your experience multiple times to ensure you’re getting the best answers to all of your questions.


10. What happens to my information after the call?


Hotlines and chat/text services are designed to be anonymous, confidential support for safety reasons.

You can provide as much or as little information to the hotline advocate as you want.

Chat lines and text lines are not supposed to save any information within the chat itself — and they often lay this out in their privacy policy (like RAINN does here).

At the beginning of the conversation, you can ask the individual what information they collect during a call and what happens to your information afterwards.


Support and Services are Available to You


Whether you’re questioning if what you experienced was sexual assault, your options, or just need someone to talk to, there are options available to you.

Using a national hotline is sometimes the best route to take as they can direct you to the right local services. These hotlines include RAINN, Victim Connect (including their list of national hotlines) and Trans Lifeline.

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