WARNING: This weeks topic can be considered sensitive to some readers.
Sexual assault is an assault of a sexual nature on another person, or any sexual act committed without consent. The term sexual assault is used, in public discourse, as a generic term that is defined as any involuntary sexual act in which a person is threatened, coerced, or forced to engage against their will, or any sexual touching of a person who has not consented. This includes rape (such as forced vaginal, anal or oral penetration), inappropriate touching, forced kissing, child sexual abuse, or the torture of the victim in a sexual manner.
Sexual assault can be verbal, visual, or anything that forces a person to join in unwanted sexual contact or attention. Examples of this are voyeurism (when someone watches private sexual acts), exhibitionism (when someone exposes him/herself in public), incest (sexual contact between family members), and sexual harassment. It can happen in different situations: in the home by someone you know, on a date, or by a stranger in an isolated place.
The law generally assumes that a person does not consent to sexual conduct if he or she is forced, threatened or is unconscious, drugged, a minor, developmentally disabled, chronically mentally ill, or believe they are undergoing a medical procedure.
Some examples of sexual assault include:
Someone putting their finger, tongue, mouth, penis or an object in or on your vagina, penis or anus when you don’t want them to;
Someone touching, fondling, kissing or making any unwanted contact with your body;
Someone forcing you to perform oral sex or forcing you to receive oral sex;
Someone forcing you to masturbate, forcing you to masturbate them, or fondling and touching you;
Someone forcing you to look at sexually explicit material or forcing you to pose for sexually explicit pictures; and
A doctor, nurse, or other health care professional giving you an unnecessary internal examination or touching your sexual organs in an unprofessional, unwarranted and inappropriate manner.
In 2005, 92 percent of rape or sexual assault victims were female; those 16-19 years old had the highest rate of sexual victimization of any age group. A total of 191,670 rapes and/or sexual assaults were experienced by victims 12 years old or older (Shannan M. Catalano, 2005).
Of female sexual assault victims, 73 percent were assaulted by someone they knew, and 26 percent were assaulted by a stranger. Thirty-eight percent of women assaulted by a known offender were friends or acquaintances of the rapist, and 28 percent were intimate partners (Shannan M. Catalano, 2005).
Under 39 percent of all rapes and sexual assaults were reported to law enforcement (Shannan M. Catalano, 2005). Sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes, with males being the least likely to report a sexual assault (RAINN, 2005).
Recent research has found that rape survivors who had the assistance of an advocate were significantly more likely to have police reports taken and were less likely to be treated negatively by police officers. These women also reported that they experienced less distress after their contact with the legal system (Rebecca Campbell, 2006).
Between 1999 and 2000, all rapes, 39 percent of attempted rapes, and 17 percent of sexual assaults against females resulted in injuries. Most victims did not receive treatment for their injuries (Callie Rennison, 2006).
In 2004, there was a 50% increase in victim compensations paid for forensic sexual assault exams compared to 2003 (National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards, FY 2004).
More than 50% of all rape/sexual assault incidents were reported by victims to have occured within 1 mile of their home or at their home.
4 in 10 take place at the victim’s home.
2 in 10 take place at the home of a friend, neighbor, or relative.
1 in 12 take place in a parking garage.
43% of rapes occur between 6:00pm and midnight.
24% occur between midnight and 6:00am.
The other 33% take place between 6:00am and 6:00pm.
- The average age of a rapist is 31 years old.
- 52% are white.
- 22% of imprisoned rapists report that they are married.
- Juveniles accounted for 16% of forcible rape arrestees in 1995 and 17% of those arrested for other sex offenses.
- In 1 in 3 sexual assaults, the perpetrator was intoxicated — 30% with alcohol, 4% with drugs.
- In 2001, 11% of rapes involved the use of a weapon — 3% used a gun, 6% used a knife, and 2 % used another form of weapon.
- 84% of victims reported the use of physical force only.
Possible Physical Effects of Sexual Assault:
Possible Emotional/Psychological Effects of Sexual Assault:
- Social withdrawal
- Numbing/apathy (detachment, loss of caring)
- Restricted affect (reduced ability to express emotions)
- Difficulty concentrating
- Diminished interest in activities or sex
- Loss of self-esteem
- Loss of security/loss of trust in others
- Impaired memory
- Loss of appetite
- Suicidal ideation (thoughts of suicide and death)
- Substance Abuse
- Psychological disorders
Victims of sexual assault often experience a number of common effects. These may include:
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Anger and rage
- Difficulty concentrating
- Anxiety and panic
- Self-blame, guilt, and shame
- Emotional numbing
If an Individual is Sexually Assaulted
It is important that the victim of sexual assault understand that no matter where they were, the time of day or night assaulted, what they were wearing, or what they said or did, if they did not want the sexual contact, then the assault was in no way their fault. Persons who commit sexual assault do so out of a need to control, dominate, abuse and humiliate. Sexual assault is the articulation of aggression through sex, and has little to do with passion, lust, desire, or sexual arousal.
Whatever the reaction, it may be helpful for the victim of sexual assault to call a friend, relative, partner, the police, or an advocate specifically trained in assisting victims of sexual assault. Some prosecutor’s offices, police departments, and every local sexual assault program have trained advocates who work with sexual assault victims and can provide a variety of services including:
- Accompaniment to the hospital, during the rape exam and to the police station;
- Information about reporting procedures and what to expect;
- Legal advocacy and court accompaniment;
- Emergency crisis intervention, counseling and referrals;
- Counseling for the victim’s partner, spouse or family;
- Assistance in finding care for children; and
- Information about sexually transmitted diseases, HIV and pregnancy testing.
Immediately after an assault, it is most important that the victim find a safe place, such as a neighbor or friend’s house, police station, or hospital. If the assault occurred in the home, the house should be secured as soon as possible by locking all the doors and windows. If a survivor is hurt, it is imperative to immediately dial 911 to request an ambulance or have a trusted friend or relative transport the survivor to the nearest medical facility for evaluation and treatment.
Reporting the Assault(s)
The decision to report a sexual assault lies within the discretion of the sexual assault survivor. If a sexual assault survivor plans to report the assault to law enforcement, it is crucial for evidentiary reasons that they do not:
- Shower, bathe, or douche;
- Throw away any clothes that were worn at the time of the assault;
- Brush or comb their hair;
- Use the restroom;
- Brush their teeth or gargle;
- Put on makeup;
- Clean or straighten up the crime scene; and
- Eat or drink anything.
Sexual assault affects not only the victim, but the loved ones and family of the survivor, as well as the community. Family members and friends many times not only have to help their loved one manage the aftereffects of the assault but also have to deal with their own feelings about the victimization of someone they care about. Those that live with the survivor may become concerned about their security and may have similar feelings and responses as those the survivor experiences. Family members in some communities can find support groups for loved ones of those who have been victims of sexual assault. The immediate neighborhood as well may be affected by the victimization of their neighbor and become more concerned about their personal safety. They may respond to the assault(s) by establishing a neighborhood watch program or installing better street lighting. Professionals in the community who have direct contact with the survivor may develop protocols, or guidelines for response, to sexual assault victims to ensure the needs of survivors are being addressed within their respective agencies.
To be of assistance to a survivor one should:
- Listen without judging;
- Let them know the assault(s) was not their fault;
- Let them know they did what was necessary to prevent further harm;
- Reassure the survivor that he or she is cared for and loved;
- Encourage the sexual assault victim to seek medical attention;
- Encourage the survivor to talk about the assault(s) with an advocate, mental health professional or someone they trust; and
- Let them know they do not have to manage this crisis alone.
- Take care at all times to identify people and situations that may lead to sexual assault. The chances of being a victim can be lowered by following these practices:
- Train in self-defense.
- Use common sense in choosing the people you associate with.
- Avoid potentially dangerous situations when outside or in your house (answering the door) and when interacting with strangers anywhere.
- Avoid intimate or solo contact with people that you do not know well.
- If a person is making unwelcome sexual advances, no matter how minor, take action in the earliest stages and make every effort to disassociate from that person.
- Use self-control when drinking alcohol.
- At social events, be careful about what you consume and who has access to your drinks.
- Avoid extreme intoxication in which you lose control, especially when you are not in a protected environment.
- Adopt an approach in dating and getting to know people that involves postponing being alone together, intimacy, and sexual interaction until you feel you have gotten to know the person very well.
- When intimacy is initiated between consenting parties, make limitations on what you want to do known, make them clear early in the encounter, and send clear messages to the other person about your feelings.
- Think about how you would react in an assault situation in advance and use that plan early and without reservation.
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Business: (520) 327-1171
Fax: (520) 327-2992
Su Voz Vale
101 W. Irvington, Office 4-A, Tucson, AZ 85714
Business: (520) 434-0195
Fax: (520) 434-0248
1790 W. Mastick Way, Suite D
Nogales, AZ 85621
Business: (520) 604-1843
24-hour Crisis Line: (520) 327-7273
Toll Free (Southern Arizona): 1-800-400-1001
TTY: (520) 327-1721
National Sexual Assault Hotline – 1.800.656.HOPE
Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)
2000 L Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036