Department of Family Services – Domestic and Sexual Violence Services

Fairfax County, Virginia

CONTACT INFORMATION: Monday–Friday 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m.

TTY 711

12011 Government Center Parkway, Pennino Building, Floor 7, Suite 740
Fairfax, VA 22035

Toni Zollicoffer,

How to Talk About Sexual Violence

How to Talk About Sexual Violence

It can be hard to talk about sexual violence when it happens to you. It may be the most difficult to bring it up with people you are closest to, such as family, friends, or a romantic partner. Whether you choose to tell others right away, years from now, or not disclose at all, the decision is yours to make. But if you are thinking about telling someone what happened, consider these tips before you do.

two people holding hands walking down pathWhat should you say? What you choose to share about your story is up to you. If the person you’re telling asks for more details than you want to share, you can say, “I wanted to tell you this happened to me, but I don’t feel comfortable sharing any more details about it right now.”

Who should you tell? Again, this is your decision. But consider if the person you are planning to tell will be supportive or judgmental. Have they shared their own experience with sexual assault? Do they know the perpetrator, and if so, could this affect their reaction to your disclosure? Do they tell off-color jokes or dismiss other folks’ experiences with sexual violence? Do they blame survivors or ask what someone was wearing?

When should you disclose? It best if you have the person’s full attention. Don’t share if that person is about to leave the house, is about to fall asleep, or in the middle of a Zoom meeting with work colleagues.  Wait until there is ample time for you to discuss your disclosure and for the person to process what you have told them.

Where should you disclose? Choose a private place to tell them about what happened. If you think they might become angry or violent, a public location would be safer, and you could ask a trusted friend to come with you.

How should you disclose? You can tell someone in person, over the phone, or written in a letter. It is all about whatever makes you most comfortable. If you are concerned about being interrupted, being asked too many questions, or becoming emotional, writing a letter might be the best option.

No matter how you choose to tell someone, it is a good idea to set some ground rules first. You can say something like: “I’d like to tell you about something that’s hard for me to talk about and it would mean a lot to me if you would just listen and not ask any questions.”

Note: This article does not discuss reporting an assault to law enforcement. If you have questions about that reporting, you should speak with a Domestic and Sexual Violence Services advocate at the Domestic Violence Action Center before contacting law enforcement.

If you are younger than 18 or older than 65, be aware that some people are legally required to report what you tell them to the authorities; these people are called mandatory reporters. Who is considered a “mandatory reporter” varies by jurisdiction, but often includes teachers, childcare workers, eldercare workers, and some clergy. 

Learn more about sexual violence or Domestic and Sexual Violence Services.

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