AUTHOR: ASHLEY BENEDICT
Note: This post is quite long due to a lot of important information that is rather difficult to condense. Please don’t let this discourage you from reading. The information in this post is extremely important and worth reading. Share this post with friends and family to help spread awareness during the month of April (and every other month) on sexual assault and prevention!
Types of Sexual Violence
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
What is rape?
For its Uniform Crime Reports, the FBI defines rape as “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”
What is force?
Force doesn’t always refer to physical pressure. Perpetrators may use emotional coercion, psychological force, or manipulation to coerce a victim into non-consensual sex.
Who are the perpetrators?
The majority of perpetrators are someone known to the victim. Approximately 7 out of 10 of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim, such as in the case of intimate partner sexual violence or acquaintance rape.
The term “date rape” is sometimes used to refer to acquaintance rape. Perpetrators of acquaintance rape might be a date, but they could also be a classmate, a neighbor, a friend’s significant other, or any number of different roles. It’s important to remember that dating, instances of past intimacy, or other acts like kissing do not give someone consent for increased or continued sexual contact.
In other instances the victim may not know the perpetrator at all. This type of sexual violence is sometimes referred to as stranger rape.
Survivors of both stranger rape and acquaintance rape often blame themselves for behaving in a way that encouraged the perpetrator. It’s important to remember that the victim is a never to blame for the actions of a perpetrator.
Child Sexual Abuse
Child sexual abuse is a form of child abuse that includes sexual activity with a minor. A child cannot consent to any form of sexual activity, period. Child sexual abuse does not need to include physical contact between a perpetrator and a child. Some forms of child sexual abuse include:
- Exhibitionism, or exposing oneself to a minor
- Masturbation in the presence of a minor or forcing the minor to masturbate
- Obscene phone calls, text messages, or digital interaction
- Producing, owning, or sharing pornographic images or movies of children
- Sex of any kind with a minor, including vaginal, oral, or anal
- Sex trafficking
- Any other sexual conduct that is harmful to a child’s mental, emotional, or physical welfare
What are the warning signs?
Child sexual abuse isn’t always easy to spot. The perpetrator could be someone you’ve known a long time or trust, which may make it even harder to notice. Consider the following warning signs:
- Bleeding, bruises, or swelling in genital area
- Bloody, torn, or stained underclothes
- Difficulty walking or sitting
- Frequent urinary or yeast infections
- Pain, itching, or burning in genital area
- Changes in hygiene, such as refusing to bathe or bathing excessively
- Develops phobias
- Exhibits signs of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder
- Expresses suicidal thoughts, especially in adolescents
- Has trouble in school, such as absences or drops in grades
- Inappropriate sexual knowledge or behaviors
- Nightmares or bed-wetting
- Overly protective and concerned for siblings, or assumes a caretaker role
- Returns to regressive behaviors, such as thumb sucking
- Runs away from home or school
- Shrinks away or seems threatened by physical contact
Sexual Assault of Men & Boys
Sexual assault can happen to anyone, no matter your age, your sexual orientation, or your gender identity. Men and boys who have been sexually assaulted or abused may have many of the same feelings and reactions as other survivors of sexual assault, but they may also face some additional challenges because of social attitudes and stereotypes about men and masculinity. The following list includes some of the common experiences shared by men and boys who have survived sexual assault:
- Anxiety, depression, fearfulness, or post-traumatic stress disorder
- Avoiding people or places that are related to the assault or abuse
- Concerns or questions about sexual orientation
- Fear of the worst happening and having a sense of a shortened future
- Feel like “less of a man” or that you no longer have control over your own body
- Feeling on-edge, being unable to relax, and having difficulty sleeping
- Sense of blame or shame over not being able to stop the assault or abuse, especially if you experienced an erection or ejaculation
- Withdrawal from relationships or friendships and an increased sense of isolation
Who are the perpetrators of sexual assault against men and boys?
Perpetrators can be any gender identity, sexual orientation, or age, and they can have any relationship to the victim. Like all perpetrators, they might use physical force or psychological and emotional coercion tactics.
How does being assaulted affect sexual orientation?
Sexual assault is in no way related to the sexual orientation of the perpetrator or the survivor, and a person’s sexual orientation cannot be caused by sexual abuse or assault. Some men and boys have questions about their sexuality after surviving an assault or abuse—and that’s understandable. This can be especially true if the you experienced an erection or ejaculation during the assault. Physiological responses like an erection are involuntary, meaning you have no control over them.
How will this affect my relationship?
Coming forward about surviving sexual assault or sexual abuse can be difficult. It requires a lot of trust and understanding on both parties. 1in6 answers some of the questions you might have about telling a partner.
Intimate Partner Sexual Violence
A perpetrator can have any relationship to a victim, and that includes the role of an intimate partner. There are many different terms to refer to sexual assault committed by a person in a relationship with the victim, including: intimate partner sexual violence, domestic violence, intimate partner rape, marital rape, and spousal rape. No matter what term is used or how the relationship is defined, it is never okay to engage in sexual activity without someone’s consent.
How does sexual assault relate to domestic violence?
Sexual assault in a relationship rarely exists in a vacuum. It often occurs alongside other forms of abusive behavior. The majority of women who were physically assaulted by an intimate partner had been sexually assaulted by that same partner1. To learn more about dating and domestic violence, visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline website.
Why should I reach out?
If you have experienced sexual assault by an intimate partner, it can be challenging to come forward for many reasons. You may be concerned for your safety or the safety of your children, still have strong feelings for your partner, or aren’t convinced that what’s happening to you is really sexual assault. It’s understandable to feel this way.
Ending an abusive relationship is not something that you have to do alone. Reaching out for help from friends, loved ones, local organizations or law enforcement can help you through this process.
The term incest refers to sexual contact between family members. Laws vary from state to state regarding what constitutes crimes of incest, child sexual abuse, sexual assault, and rape. Regardless of state laws, unwanted sexual contact from a family member can have a lasting effect on the survivor. The majority of juvenile victims know the perpetrator, and approximately 34 percent of perpetrators in cases of child sexual abuse are family members.
Why is it difficult to tell someone about sexual abuse by a family member?
It can be difficult for an individual to disclose sexual assault or abuse when they know the perpetrator. It can be especially difficult if the perpetrator is a family member.
- They may care about the abuser and be afraid of what will happen to the abuser if they tell.
- They may also be concerned about other family members’ reactions, fearing they won’t be believed or will be accused of doing something wrong.
- They may have already tried to tell someone what happened, but the abuse was ignored or minimized.
- They have been told by the perpetrator that what is happening is normal or happens in every family, and they don’t realize that it is a form of abuse.
- They may not know that help is available, or they don’t know who to trust.
- They may be afraid of getting in trouble for telling, or that the abuser will follow through with threats.
Drug-Facilitated Sexual Assault
Drug-facilitated sexual assault occurs when alcohol or drugs are used to compromise an individual’s ability to consent to sexual activity. These substances make it easier for a perpetrator to commit sexual assault because they inhibit a person’s ability to resist and can prevent them from remembering the assault. Drugs and alcohol can cause diminished capacity, a legal term that varies in definition from state to state.
How does a perpetrator use drugs and alcohol?
Drug-facilitated sexual assault occurs in two ways: when the perpetrator takes advantage of a victim’s voluntary use of drugs or alcohol or when the perpetrator intentionally forces a victim to consume drugs without their knowledge.
Some victims blame themselves for drinking too much at a party or putting themselves in a potentially dangerous situation. It’s important to remember that if a sexual assault occurs under these circumstances, it is still not your fault. The blame falls on the perpetrator who took advantage of you.
- Alcohol is the most commonly used substance in drug-facilitated sexual assault.
- Prescription drugs like sleep aids, anxiety medication, muscle relaxers, and tranquilizers may also be used by perpetrators.
- Street drugs, like GHB, rohypnol, ecstasy, and ketamine can be added to drinks without changing the color, flavor, or odor of the beverage.
How will I know if I’ve been drugged?
Depending on the substance, the initial effects of a drug can go unnoticed or become apparent very quickly. If you notice any of the following warning signs in yourself or someone you know, reach out to someone you trust immediately. If you notice these symptoms in another person, you can take steps to keep that person safe.
- Difficulty breathing
- Feeling drunk when you haven’t consumed any alcohol or very limited amounts
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
- Sudden body temperature change that could be signaled by sweating or chattering teeth
- Sudden increase in dizziness, disorientation, or blurred vision
- Waking up with no memory, or missing large portions of memories
Many of these drugs leave the body quickly, within 12 to 72 hours. If you can’t get to a hospital immediately, save your urine in a clean, sealable container as soon as possible, and place it in the refrigerator or freezer. Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) to find a hospital or medical center that can provide you with a sexual assault forensic exam and test your blood and urine for substances.
Effects of sexual violence
Depression is a mood disorder that occurs when feelings associated with sadness and hopelessness continue for long periods of time and interrupt regular thought patterns. It can affect your behavior and your relationship with other people. Depression doesn’t discriminate—it can affect anyone of any age, gender, race, ethnicity, or religion. In 2012, an estimated 16 million adults experienced depression, according to the NIH.
It’s normal for survivors to have feelings of sadness, unhappiness, and hopelessness. If these feelings persist for an extended period of time, it may be an indicator of depression. Depression is not a sign of weakness and it’s not something you should be expected to “snap out of.” It’s a serious mental health condition and survivors can often benefit from the help of a professional.
- Victim/survivors of child sexual abuse are about 3 times more likely to experience a major depressive episode as adults than non-victims
When should I get help?
You might have a difficult time coming forward about the possibility of depression because you think you’re just “feeling down.” If these feelings are interfering with your daily life, know that there is help available.
Flashbacks may seem random at first. They can be triggered by fairly ordinary experiences connected with the senses, like the smell of someone’s odor or a particular tone of voice. It’s a normal response to this kind of trauma, and there are steps you can take to help manage the stress of a flashback.
What helps during a flashback?
If you realize that you are in the middle of a flashback, consider the following tips:
- Tell yourself that you are having a flashback.
- Breathe. Take slow, deep breaths by placing your hand on your stomach and taking deep breaths.
- Return to the present by using the five senses.
- What do you see?
- What do you smell?
- What do you hear?
- What do you taste?
- What does it feel like?
- Recognize what would make you feel safer. Wrap yourself in a blanket, or go into a room by yourself and close the door. Do whatever it takes for you to feel secure.
How do I prevent flashbacks?
You may be able to take steps to prevent future flashbacks by identifying warning signs and triggers:
- Be aware of the warning signs, e.g., a change in mood, feeling pressure in your chest, or suddenly sweating. Becoming aware of the early signs of flashbacks may help you manage or prevent them.
- Identify what experiences trigger your flashbacks, e.g., a sensory feeling, an emotional memory, a reminder of the event, or even an unrelated stressful experience.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder that can result from a traumatic event. Survivors might experience uncharacteristic feelings of stress, fear, anxiety, and nervousness—and this is perfectly normal. With PTSD, these feelings are extreme, can cause you to feel constantly in danger, and make it difficult to function in everyday life.
- 94% of women who are raped experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms during the two weeks following the rape.
- 30% of women report PTSD symptoms 9 months after the rape.
- Victims of child abuse are about 4 times more likely to experience PTSD as adults than those who did not suffer from child sexual abuse
While all survivors react differently, there are three main symptoms of PTSD:
- Re-experiencing: feeling like you are reliving the event through flashbacks, dreams, or intrusive thoughts
- Avoidance: intentionally or subconsciously changing your behavior to avoid scenarios associated with the event or losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Hyper-arousal: feeling “on edge” all of the time, having difficulty sleeping, being easily startled, or prone to sudden outbursts
Sexual violence can lead to other issues for victim/survivors, such as:
- Sexually Transmitted Infections
- Substance Abuse
- Vicim/survivors of child sexual abuse are about 4 times more likely to develop symptoms of drug abuse than non-victims
- People who have been sexually assaulted are:
- 3.4 times more likely to use marijuana
- 6 times more likely to use cocaine
- 10 times more likely to use other major drugs
- Eating Disorders
- Studies suggest that the chance of getting pregnant from one-time, unprotected intercourse is between 3.1-5%, depending on a multitude of factors, including the time of month intercourse occurs, whether contraceptives are used, and the age of the female. The average number of rapes and sexual assaults against females of childbearing age is approximately 250,000. Thus, the number of children conceived from rape each year in the United States might range from 7,750—12,500.
- Sleep Disorders
- 33% of women who are raped contemplate suicide.
- 13% of women who are raped attempt suicide.
- Approximately 70% of rape or sexual assault victims experience moderate to severe distress, a larger percentage than for any other violent crime.
- If you suspect a child is being harmed, talk to the child directly using these conversation tips.
- If the victim is a minor or a vulnerable adult, you can report it to Child Protective Services, the Department of Human Services, or the police. In some instances, you may be required to report by law. Learn more about mandatory reporting laws from RAINN’s State Law Database.
- If someone tells you that they have been abused, take their words seriously. Let them know you believe them, and thank them for coming to you. Learn more about how to respond to a survivor.
- To speak with someone who is trained to help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at online.rainn.org.
- Visit the Online SupportLine.
- Consider therapy or other mental health support. You can use the Mental Health Treatment Locator function from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Find the center that is closest to you and best fits your needs.
- Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800.799.SAFE (7233) any time, 24/7, or chat online.
- Learn more about safety planning to brainstorm ideas for safety or escape.
For negative mental health effects
Depression: National Institute of Mental Health,National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mental Health Treatment Locator, Finding Optimism (mobile app and website that can be helpful for people who struggle with depression or anyone who wants to improve their mental health.)
Flashbacks: Flashbacks can worsen over time if you don’t address them. They can also be an indicator of PTSD. Managing flashbacks isn’t easy work for anyone. Many survivors have found success working with a professional to identify triggers and develop tools to help them through flashbacks when they do occur.
PTSD: You can learn more about PTSD at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) or Mayo Clinic.If you are currently a member of the military or have family members in the military, you can call the DoD Telephone Helpline at 877.995.5247 or visit DoD Safe Helpline online chat platform.