What is sexual assault?

Sexual assault is clearly defined. It is defined as any kind of sexual behavior/contact that is not freely consented by both parties, and that is obtained through any kind of force or intimidation. These can include:

• Violence
• Coercion
• Manipulation
• Threat
• Deception
• Abuse of authority (ie, a teacher or police)

This not only includes rape (intercourse) but also sodomy (anal sex) child molestation, incest, fondling, exposure, voyeurism, and even attempts to commit these acts. There are three main considerations in judging whether a sexual act is consensual or an assault. If any of these are “No”, it is likely sexual assault has happened.

• Are both people old enough to consent?
• Do both people have the capacity to consent?
• Did both agree to the sexual contact?

How prevalent is sexual assault?

Sexual assault is much more prevalent than might be thought. At least one in four women and one in six men are or will be victims of sexual assault in their lifetime. Child sexual abuse is surprisingly common. One in five children are sexually abused by their 18th birthday. These statistics may be even higher, as many victims (especially young ones) do not report it, through feelings of shame or fear. In fact, it is one of the most underreported crimes. A child is much more likely to be sexually abused by a recognized, trusted adult than a stranger. Statistically, 34% of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by a family member, and 58% are acquaintances of the child or family. Only 7% are strangers.

What kinds of damage do victims experience?

• Physical : Immediate physical effects can be pain and injuries, especially if force was used, which can include broken bones and bruises. Other physical effects can be STIs, nausea, vomiting, headaches, and pregnancy. Long-term physical effects may be disturbed sleep patterns, nightmares, insomnia, loss of appetite, and stomach pains.

• Emotional : Feelings of hopelessness, guilt, worthlessness, and shame are a part of the psychological damage that victims of sexual assault experience.

• Misunderstood : Often society holds prejudicial views of sexual assault victims, resulting in the victim not only experiencing the trauma of the assault itself but also the effects of negative stereotyping.

• Blame : Sexual assault is often stigmatized in our society, and because of that many victims suffer in silence, which intensifies their distress and feelings of disgrace. It seems odd, but society as a whole blames the very people who have been victimized for their suffering. This maintains a vicious cycle of traumatization, as victims who have experienced this negative reaction adjust much more poorly.

Survivors of sexual assault need to know it’s not their fault.

Victims of sexual assault need to hear that what happened to them is not their fault and they are not to blame. They did not ask for it, and they did not deserve it. They need to be told that they should not be silenced or pretend that nothing happened. Nobody had the right to violate them and they are not responsible for what happened. They are not worthless or ‘damaged goods’. They are victims who were sinned against, but despite all of the trauma and pain, there is hope. Healing can happen.