Sexual Assault: Sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim
Some forms of sexual assault include:
- Unwanted penetration of the victim’s body, also known as rape
- Attempted rape
- Forcing a person to perform sexual acts, such as oral sex or penetrating the perpetrator’s body
- Fondling or unwanted sexual touching
Sexual Violence: “umbrella term”
The issue, or more accurately, the crime of sexual assault, is part of a larger societal issue of sexual violence which is centered around a multi-layered oppression that is influenced by other forms of oppression such as sexism, racism, heterosexism, ableism, classism, etc. Sexual violence occurs on a continuum of beliefs and social norms ranging from sexist jokes, to sexual harassment; all the way along the continuum to rape/murder.
COERCION: UNWANTED SEXUAL ACTIVITY THAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU ARE PRESSURED, TRICKED, THREATENED, OR FORCED IN A NONPHYSICAL WAY
Consent is a skill. You get better as you practice. Here is a FREE CONSENT GUIDE.
Take this free quiz to test your knowledge about consent.
Coercion can make you think you owe sex to someone. It might be from someone who has power over you, like a teacher, landlord, boss, or partner in your relationship. No person is ever required to have sex with someone else.
Statistics about sexual violence are important because they help us understand what is happening in the world around us so we can better serve those that need help and learn more about how we can prevent sexual violence.
- Every 73 seconds an American is sexually assaulted.
- 1 out of 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime
- Approximately 3% of American men (1 in 33) have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.
- Ages 12-34 are the highest risk years for sexual violence
- Ages 12-34= 54% of victims
- 8 out of 10 cases of rape, the victim knew the person who sexually assaulted them.
Reasons Victims Choose to Report—or Not
Of the sexual violence crimes reported to police from 2005-2010, the survivor reporting gave the following reasons for doing so:
- 28% to protect the household or victim from further crimes by the offender
- 25% to stop the incident or prevent recurrence or escalation
- 21% to improve police surveillance or they believed they had a duty to do so
- 17% to catch/punish/prevent offender from re-offending
- 6% gave a different answer, or declined to cite one reason
- 3% did so to get help or recover loss
Of the sexual violence crimes not reported to police from 2005-2010, the victim gave the following reasons for not reporting:
- 20% feared retaliation
- 13% believed the police would not do anything to help
- 13% believed it was a personal matter
- 8% reported to a different official
- 8% believed it was not important enough to report
- 7% did not want to get the perpetrator in trouble
- 2% believed the police could not do anything to help
- 30% gave another reason, or did not cite one reason
How to Support an Adult Survivor of Sexual Violence
Seeking and receiving positive, affirming support from loved ones can make a huge positive impact on a survivor’s healing journey. As a support person, it can feel overwhelming and difficult to respond to someone’s disclosure of trauma. As a “secondary victim,” you also deserve support. Below are some suggestions that can help guide you.
Sexual violence is an act or acts of power and control exerted over and against the consent of the victim. Therefore, it is a vital part of the healing process for the survivor to control their decisions, pace, and the help that they seek or receive.
- Respect their journey, and respect their choices.
- Know that healing process is not linear.
- Do not pressure the survivor to pursue legal action; offer to support them in pursuing legal action if they want.
- Let the survivor control their story.
- Who they tell.
- What they tell.
- When and if they tell.
Whatever the survivor is experiencing is “normal.” If they want help, they deserve help, and support is available. Offer to help them connect to an advocate, therapist, or support group if they want to but express that they don’t know how to begin.
- For example, ask, “Experiencing X is normal. Would you like help getting support?”
Do not burden the survivor with managing your emotions. When someone you care about is hurt, it is normal to feel angry, sad, confused, scared, etc—but the survivor deserves to be able to focus on their own healing and processing, without having to be concerned about how you will react, or how this impacts you. Please seek safe, confidential support for yourself if you need a place to be able to process your loved one’s assault.
It is normal to feel like you don’t know “what to say.” Every relationship is different, and there are no perfect, “right words.” Here are some suggestions for where to start:
- Start by listening!
- “I believe you.”
- “Thank you for telling me / trusting me.”
- “This wasn’t your fault.”
- “You didn’t deserve this.”
- “I’m sorry this happened to you.”
- Avoid “Why didn’t you?”s
- When in doubt, ask!
- “How can I help?”
- “Would you like me to …?”
- RAINN: 1-800-656-4673
- Sexual Assault Crisis Line: 1-833-338-SASS.