Sexual Assault: What Is It, Myths & What To Do

Sexual assault is an injustice that runs rampant in the US and around the world. The sheer magnitude of the issue is jarring. Every 73 seconds, someone is sexually assaulted in the US. One in six women have experienced sexual assault in their lifetime. Nearly half of multiracial women and around 45% of American Indian/Alaska Native women experience some form of contact with sexual violence in their lifetime.

Sexual assault is an issue that affects every region, every city, and should be discussed in every home. Whether you live in an area that is urban, rural, or anywhere in between, it is vital that you are informed about sexual assault.

What is Sexual Assault?

RAINN, one of the foremost organizations in the fight against sexual assault, describes sexual assault this way:

“The term sexual assault refers to sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim. Some forms of sexual assault include:

  • Attempted rape
  • Fondling or unwanted sexual touching
  • Forcing a victim to perform sexual acts, such as oral sex or penetrating the perpetrator’s body
  • Penetration of the victim’s body, also known as rape

Sexual assault can be any sexual behavior or act which is threatening, violent, forced, coercive or exploitative and to which a person has not given consent or was not able to give consent. Reasons that someone might not be able to give consent include being unconscious, asleep, severely intoxicated, having a developmental disability or mental health issue that significantly impairs decision making.

If you’re in a relationship, or have a partner who is pressuring you into engaging in sexual activities you’re not comfortable with, this is one of the signs of sexual abuse.

Some other indicators of sexual assault include:

  • Refusing you contraceptives
  • Forcing you to engage in painful or uncomfortable sexual acts
  • Forcing you to perform sexual acts for money
  • Threatening you if you do not have sex with them

It is important to point out that even though you may have previously consented to intercourse with this person, you have a right to say no in the future.

Sexual Assault Myths

While most people have a general awareness of what sexual assault is, there are some commonly held misconceptions that are important to dispel.

Misconception 1: Sexual Assault Is Rape Only

While rape is certainly a type of sexual assault, rape is only one kind of abuse that a victim of sexual violence may be subject to.

Sexual assault refers to any kind of unwelcome sexual advance and does not have to reach the point of rape before it is considered assault.

Many victims may minimize their experiences if they don’t feel their assault is as “serious” as a rape. To be sure, any unwanted sexual act or advances violate the rights of the survivor and can result in just as much post-traumatic stress.

Misconception 2: Sexual Assault is Usually Committed by Strangers

While television and movies tend to depict a random attacker perpetrating sexual assault, more often than not, sexual assault victims know their attackers.

In fact, eight out of ten rapes are committed by a person the victim knows. Whether it is a partner, family member, or acquaintance, when perpetrators know their victims, an added level of complexity is added to this heinous injustice.

Many perpetrators may force their victims into unwanted sexual contact through manipulation and may avoid consequences because victims fear accusing someone they know.

It is important to realize that no relationship –  romantic, professional, or familial – justifies sexual assault. Many perpetrators take advantage of preexisting relationships in order to abuse vulnerable people. Though taking action against someone you know can be especially difficult, every perpetrator must be brought to justice and be held accountable for their wrongdoing.

Misconception 3: Sexual Assaults Occur in Dangerous Areas

While random and violent attacks in dangerous areas do happen, most sexual assaults actually occur at or near the victim’s home. Over fifty percent of sexual assault survivors report that they were at home, either sleeping or performing some other activity, when they were assaulted.

In recent years there has been an increase in awareness about the number of sexual assaults happening on college campuses. In fact 1 in 4 college females experience sexual assault.

What You Can Do

It cannot be said too many times: sexual assault is never the victim’s fault. Whether they were drunk, dating their abuser, or walking in an unsafe area, nothing can excuse a perpetrator’s actions.

That being said, there are certain precautions you can take to protect yourself against sexual assault.

As online dating gains popularity, more and more people are meeting strangers from the internet in real life. If you’re meeting someone for the first time, screen them and their online presence as carefully as possible. Meet in public places until they prove themselves trustworthy and never give out personal information like addresses.

Being prepared with small self-defense tools like mace or a personal alarm can be efficient devices to protect against random attackers. Taking a self-defense class can also help to protect you against attackers, sexual or otherwise.

Sexual assault is an issue that affects people everyday, all across the globe, resulting in anxiety, depression, and other symptoms related to PTSD. If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, reaching out should be your first step.

Traumatic experiences like sexual assault do damage to the heart, mind, and body. Recovery takes time and support. In addition to seeking a licensed counselor, TheHopeLine’s Hope Coaches are available to to encourage you, help you on your healing journey, support you in how to report your assault, and shower you with God’s love. God desires to fill you with purpose, value, love, and peace. He can release you from the shame felt by so many victims of sexual assault.

To learn more about issues like sexual abuse, emotional trauma, and abusive relationships, browse our library of podcasts, ebooks, and blogs. To learn more about warning signs of abuse and the path to recovery, find answers to questions like these:

  • How Can I Recover From Sexual Assault?
  • What Is PTSD?
  • What Can I Do About An Abusive Relationship?

FAQ on Sexual Assault:

How Important is Consent in a Relationship?

No matter how many times you’ve said “yes” to sex, touching, or physical intimacy in the past, you have the absolute right to say “no” next time. Whether you say “yes” or “no” is up to you, and in a healthy relationship, consent will always be a priority. You have the right to say “yes” or “no” according to your feelings, and so does your partner. Practice honest communication with your partner so that you are both aware of each other’s actual desires.

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