Sexual assault has become a growing problem in the United States. It has become extremely important to teach others the signs of assault or sexual assault, learn what to do to try and prevent it, and to provide a safe space for those assaulted to report it. Reporting is particularly critical because sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes.
This article will show you what sexual assault is, how to report it, and the best ways to stay safe wherever you are.
What is Sexual Assault?
RAINN defines sexual assault as sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the consent of the victim. Sexual assault is not just rape, but also unwanted sexual touching, penetration of any kind without consent, and forcing one to perform sexual acts. It is never the victim’s fault. Sexual assault does not just happen to women, but can also happen to men and children.
For more information, visit:
Department of Justice: Sexual assault
Women’s Health: Sexual assault fact sheet
It is important to know the statistics of sexual assault and abuse. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center has a full pamphlet about sexual assault and the current statistics. It says one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives. One in 10 women and one in 45 men have been forced to perform penetrative sexual acts in their lifetime by an intimate partner. According to the US Department of Justice, only 30% of sexual assaults are reported.
Healthcare is also affected by sexual assault. Women who were sexually assaulted as children have higher premiums than those women who have not been assaulted in their youth.
One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually assaulted as children, and 34% of those assaulted are done by a family member. In statistics on assailants, 96% of the assailants are male, and 76.8% of those who assault children are adults.
To learn more, visit:
Bureau of Justice Statistics: Sexual assault statistics
The first thing to do to prevent abuse of any kind is to know the indicators, or signs, of the abuse.
While emotional abuse doesn’t leave any physical signs of injury, it leaves damage from within. Some people think it’s not abuse if there are no physical scars but that is not true. Domestic Shelters lists several indicators of emotional abuse that include, but are not limited to, public embarrassment, demanding to know one’s whereabouts, frequent calling or texting, calling the victim crazy, belittling accomplishments, cheating and then blaming the victim for the assailant’s indiscretions, or forbidding any communication with family and friends. If you notice your friend or family member pulling away, cutting off communication, seems nervous about getting home, or their partner is constantly checking on them, they may be emotionally abused.
For more information, go to:
Love is Respect: Types of abuse: Emotional
Stop Relationship Abuse: Emotional abuse
With physical abuse, you can have two groups of signs: Physical signs and behavioral signs. According to the Prevent Elder Abuse website, physical signs can include unexplained broken bones, bruises, burns from cigarettes, internal injuries with pain or bleeding from an orifice, or signs of traumatic hair or tooth loss. Behavioral signs can include implausible explanations of injuries, suspicious hospitalizations, family members giving implausible injury explanations, or delay of medical attention to injuries.
Other indicators that can be seen in a relationship can include jealousy, insults, taking money or refusing to give money, threatening to take away children, or pressuring to have sex or take drugs.
To learn more, go to:
National Domestic Violence Hotline: Warning signs and red flags
Break the Cycle: Warning signs
Prevention and Safety Tips
It is always possible to prevent assault or abuse, and it’s smart to know techniques to de-escalate a situation that may lead to assault. Network of Victim Assistance has some tips on preventing assaults of any kind; some include never walking alone at night, being aware of your surroundings, walking facing traffic, and stay in well-lit areas when possible. If you are assaulted, scream and attempt to run to safety.
Soar advises to go to parties with friends and to check in with each other. Also, practicing safe drinking is extremely important. Don’t accept any kind of drink from people you don’t especially know or trust and keep your drink with you at all times. You can also use a buddy system to let your friend know you are not comfortable with a situation unfolding.
For more information about this topic, visit:
National Crime Prevention Center: Violent crime and personal safety
Assault Prevention in Relationships
While the solutions to prevention are as complex as the act of sexual violence itself, there are ways to get help or prevent a situation from unfolding for those in an abusive relationship. The University of New Hampshire lists several prevention methods for those in an abusive relationship, such as calling 911 during the situation, creating a safety plan for leaving or staying in the relationship, attending support groups, or telling supportive family members and friends about the situation.
If you have a loved one who is in an abusive relationship, you can listen and be supportive. Let them know that they can trust you and that you will do what you can to help them.
To learn more about preventing assault in relationships, visit:
Break the Cycle: Relationship and dating abuse
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Prevention of sexual assault
Preventing Sexual Assault in College
While college is a very exciting and interesting time for young adults, it is also an important time to remain safe. The Know Your IX website shows that 19% of women and 6% of men will experience some form of sexual assault during their time on campus.
West Virginia University has some tips on how to stay safe on campus. When going to a party, you can make a plan before you go, stay with your friends, keep your drink with you at all times, and avoid clubs that charge men but let women in to drink for free.
While date rape is not 100% avoidable, there are things you can do to decrease the chances of it happening. Be aware of any controlling behavior your date might exude. This includes intimidating stares, degrading jokes, unwillingness to interact with you as a person, or the inability to take “no” for an answer. Know your sexual limits and define them clearly to yourself.
If your limits are being crossed, leave the date as soon as you can. Examine attitudes about money and power, such as if they pay for the date, does that make it harder to say no? Be sure to avoid secluded places and trust your gut feeling. If you have a bad feeling about a situation, trust your feeling and leave as soon as possible.
For more information, go to:
The University of North Carolina, Charlotte: Sexual assault prevention
Assault Protection for Children
Sexual assault can also happen to children. The Department of Social and Health Services
in Washington State gives some advice on how to prevent and determine child abuse and assault. You can volunteer your time and help vulnerable children and families, check and examine your own behavior towards your spouse and children, teach children that they have rights too, and report abuse if you see it or suspect it.
To learn more, visit:
ChildWelfare.gov: Child abuse and assault prevention
Kids First: Preventing abuse
What to Do Immediately After an Assault
Knowing how to prevent sexual assault is only half the battle. It’s also important to know what to do after an assault. The National Center for Victims of Crime says to find a safe place or safe people to be around, call local police and give them a description of what happened, and talk to people you trust. Any sexual assault can be traumatic. Be sure to get emotional support as well through therapy or support groups. Seek medical attention as soon as you can. You can also seek legal action if you choose.
For additional information, go to:
Hope Work: What to do after an assault
The Law Dictionary: How to press charges after an assault
Moving Forward After an Assault
The hardest thing to do after being sexually assaulted is having to move forward and heal. This is when having a support group or trusted friends and family members will be most important in helping you take the beginning steps to healing. According to the Marine Corps Community Services website, physical and emotional fallouts can occur. These can include feeling hopeless, being jumpy, having an upset stomach, trouble eating, failing to care for yourself, avoiding people and places related to the assault, blaming yourself, or withdrawing or feeling rejected. Victims might feel all, some, or none of these and other symptoms. Also, recovery is different for everyone, but always remember that you are not alone and that you will heal.
For more information visit one of the following websites:
College of St. Benedict and St. John: Sexual assault survivors guide
A Safe Place Nantucket: Moving forward after a sexual assault
Hotlines and Crisis Centers
If you are unsure of who to go to after an assault or attempted assault, you can always call one of the numerous hotlines set up to assist survivors with information or someone to talk to. You can find various hotlines and crisis centers at the websites below, should you need any help:
Safe and Proud offers great information on self-defense at: Self defense when an attacker has a weapon.
Broward Sherriff’s Office offers excellent general advice at: Preventing sexual assault.
Stop It Now offers information in detecting and preventing child abuse at: Preventing child sexual assault.