About Abuse

Sexual Assault / Rape

Updated: 
February 17, 2017

What can I do if I was sexually assaulted in the past?

Even if the sexual assault happened in the past, you may still be able to report the abuse to law enforcement if you want the offender to be held criminally liable.  Although an investigation that takes place months or years after the assault may have its legal challenges, police still can investigate past sexual assault if the statute of limitations on the criminal act has not already expired.  A statute of limitations is a legal time period for which a person can be prosecuted for committing a crime – each state has its own statute of limitations for each crime.  After the statute of limitations has run (expired), a prosecution is no longer possible, though you may still be able to take civil action.  However, depending on how long ago the assault happened and the age of the victim at the time of the assault, the statute of limitations for sexual assault may last many years.  RAINN has a link to each state’s statute of limitations on their website if you want to check out the statute of limitations for the state in which the sexual assault took place. If you are interested in pressing charges for a sexual assault that occurred in the past, you can read more on the RAINN website and you may want to contact a lawyer from our Finding a Lawyer page for legal advice.

You can also seek support and counseling for yourself for the trauma that the assault has caused.  Sexual assault, no matter when it happens can change your life.  It can change your view of yourself and others and influence your intimate relationships.  You may experience changes in your eating and sleeping patterns.  You may have nightmares or flashbacks about the assault or rape. Certain sounds, smells, or other sensory experiences may trigger these feelings and fears. You may be afraid of being alone, or you may fear being in crowds.  You also may experience ongoing fear that the offender may have infected you with a sexually transmitted disease that may not have been detected initially after the assault.

Whether you were abused by someone you knew or were assaulted by a stranger, you may have a difficult time dealing with the assault for many years afterwards.  As time passes, you may have a variety of feelings, thoughts, and reactions to what has happened that may not have occurred right after the assault --many rape and sexual assault victims do.  Whatever the circumstances, whatever your reactions or fears may be, support and help are available for you.  Local rape crisis or sexual assault program staff may be able to assist you, regardless of whether you decide to report the assault to the police.1

If you feel like you need support, you may consider:

1 See NYC Alliance against Sexual Assault