Sexual Assault 101

'Sexual Assault 101' Page

 

 

 

In Colorado, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 17 men will experience an attempted or completed sexual assault in their lifetime.[1]

 

 

 

 

What is sexual assault?
Sexual assault is defined as any unwanted, forced, or coerced sexual contact without the consent or against the will of another person.  It can range from inappropriate touching to penetration.

 

Who does sexual assault happen to? Where does sexual assault happen?
Anyone.  Everywhere.  Sexual assault survivors are men, women, straight people, gay people, children, the elderly, people with mental and/or physical disabilities.  Sexual assault happens in every community.

 

Victims of sexual assault are:[2]

  • 3 times more likely to suffer from depression
  • 6 times more likely to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol
  • 26 times more likely to abuse drugs
  • 4 times more likely to contemplate suicide

Myths and Facts

 

MYTH: Sexual assault is provoked by the victim.  Victims ask for it by their actions, behaviors, or by their dress.
FACT: Studies indicate that the majority of sexual assaults are at least partially planned in advance.[3]  Sexual assault is not a spontaneous crime of sexual passion.  It is a violent attack on an individual using sex as a weapon to defile, degrade, and destroy a victim’s will and control over their body. For the victim, it is a humiliating, traumatizing situation.

 

MYTH: Only certain kinds of women get sexually assaulted.  Only “bad girls” get sexually assaulted.
FACT: Rapists choose their victims without regard to physical appearance.  Victims are of every type, age, race, moral persuasion, and socioeconomic class.  Ages of reported victims range from 6 months to 93 years old.

 

MYTH: “Roofies” like GHB and Rohypnol are the most common date rape drugs.
FACT: Alcohol is the number one date rape drug used to gain control and power over the victim.[4]

 

MYTH: Husbands cannot rape their wives.
FACT: Anyone has a right to say no to their partner.  Sex is never “owed” to someone, despite their relationship status.

 

MYTH: Sexual assault is a minor crime affecting only a few women.  Its significance is exaggerated.
FACT:  Current reports indicate that, nationally, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will be sexually assaulted at some point in their lives.  However, less than 40% of sexual assaults are reported to the police.[5] 125,910 sexual assaults were reported in 2009.[6]

 

MYTH: Rape and sexual assault only occurs in large cities.
FACT: Sexual assault happens everywhere–in cities, suburbs, and rural areas.  Unfortunately, small communities are less likely to have the range of services available than in urban settings.

 

MYTH: Women frequently cry “rape” (i.e., there is a high rate of false reporting).
FACT: False reports make up only 2-8% of sexual assault reports, equal to or less than any other major crime.[7]  While some victims later recant, it’s important to remember that there are lots of reasons why victims of sexual assault never even report the crime or may be influenced to rescind initial accounts.

 

MYTH: Most sexual abuse of boys is perpetrated by gay men.
FACT: Sexual offenders come from all educational, occupational and cultural backgrounds. They are “ordinary” and “normal” individuals who sexually assault victims to assert power and control over them.

 

MYTH: It’s not rape unless the victim is threatened with a gun or a knife.
FACT: Sexual assault is defined as any unwanted, forced, or coerced sexual activity without the consent of or against the will of another person.  This definition includes acts which may occur while the victim is subjected to threats (to career, reputation, family, etc.), under the influence of drugs, or otherwise unable to give consent.

 

MYTH: Anyone could prevent a rape by fighting back if they really wanted to.
FACT: There are many reasons why a victim may not physically fight their attacker including shock, fear, threats or the size and strength of their attacker. Only the perpetrator can prevent a rape.

 

MYTH: The person who has been sexually assaulted is the only one affected by it.
FACT: Sexual assault not only affects the survivor, but also the survivor’s social support network. Friends and relatives of the survivor may also experience feelings of helplessness, guilt, shame, anger, loss of intimacy, and frustration.  Secondary survivors are encouraged to seek help if needed.

 

MYTH: Sexual assault occurs only among strangers.
FACT: Most sexual assaults are committed by someone the survivor knows.  An overwhelming number of victims had encountered or been acquainted with the perpetrator in some way; an estimated 73% of all rape and sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim.[8]  In many of the cases, the perpetrator was a close personal friend, a member of the family, or a friend of the family.  When considering this figure, it’s important to remember that these studies deal with reported cases of forcible sexual assault and that a survivor is more apt to report being sexually assaulted by a stranger than to press charges against a “friend” or relative.

 

Why Don’t All Victims Report to the Police?

Reporting an assault to police may seem like a natural step in resolving the issue.  However, many sexual assault victims don’t make an official report. Sexual assault is one of the most under-reported crimes – less than 40% of sexual assaults are reported to law enforcement.[9]

 

But why?

  • The victim may feel that she/he is to blame for what happened.
  • The victim may feel embarrassed about what happened.
  • The victim may believe that the justice system is uncooperative, inefficient, or victim-blaming.
  • The victim may not want the perpetrator to get in trouble.
  • The victim may not want her/his family to find out.
  • The victim may not recognize that she/he was raped.
  • The victim may have been threatened by the perpetrator.
  • The victim may fear retaliation by the perpetrator if she/he was to report.
  • The victim may fear that she/he will not be believed.
  • The victim may have already had a bad experience with the police.
  • The victim may know someone who reported and had a bad experience with the police.
  • The victim’s friends and/or family may not support reporting.
  • The victim’s friends and/or family are telling the victim it was not rape.
  • There may be cultural considerations that lead the victim to avoid the police at all costs.

 

At SAVA, we can help all victims of sexual assault, regardless of their decision to report. If the victim chooses not to report, she/he will still be welcome to meet with one of our therapists, attend a support group, and access any of our additional resources.

 

If the victim chooses to report, our advocates can sit with the victim as she/he reports to police, help navigate the process after reporting and explain the paperwork, and accompany the victim throughout the court proceedings.

 

 

 

[1] Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, 1998.

[2] Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network,

[3] Arizona Department of Public Safety, 2012.

[4] National Institute of Health, 2001.

[5] Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, 2009.

[6] Bureau of Justice, 2009.

[7] Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2009.

[8] Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, 2009.

[9] Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, 2009.