“Break the silence!” For too long, sexual assault (and other forms of sexual violence) has been swept under the rug. Though it is considered largely taboo to talk about in our culture, as many as 1 in 3 women (and 1 in 7 men) will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetimes.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), a month specifically designed to help increase awareness of this awful crime. In my experience as a mental health counselor I have worked with several victims of sexual violence, and I have realized that many people are largely unaware of how these acts affect the victims, the predators, and society as a whole. Here are a few of the things I believe everyone should know about sexual assault.
6 Things To Know About Sexual Assault
1. Most Sexual Assaults Are Not Committed By Strangers
More often than not, individuals who are victims of sexual assault know the person who assaulted them. The predator may be an acquaintance, friend, coworker, parent, uncle, husband, or even sibling. While there are still countless stories about the dangerous strangers lurking in shadowed alleyways, the truth is that most acts of sexual violence are committed within preexisting relationships.
2. Sexual Assault Is Not A Sexual Act
Contrary to popular belief, rape is not a sexual act. Rape is an act of power. More specifically, it is a chance for the predator to exert his power over his victim. This is why standing up for yourself and fighting back can greatly increase your chances of getting away – most rapists are looking for easy targets who can be quickly overpowered. If you put up a fight, they may go looking for an easier victim.
3. If Consent Is Not Explicit, It’s Rape
Consent must be explicit, and if it has not been given, you’re not having sex – you’re being raped. In a legal sense, predators can never justify their actions by saying that consent was implied by the clothes the woman was wearing, by the fact that she went home with him, or even the fact that she engaged in foreplay with him. A woman has a right to engage in any sexual activity she desires, and she has an equal right to say no to any sexual activities she does not desire. (The same goes for men, too!)
4. Sexual Assault Causes More Than Just Physical Damage
Everyone is (or at least, should be) aware that sexual assault can have serious physical consequences, including STDs, unwanted pregnancies, bruises, and broken bones. However, many people underestimate the emotional damage caused by sexual assault. Victims often have a very hard time trusting new sexual partners (even those deserving of their trust), and may find it difficult to enjoy sexual activities (even in safe, supportive situations). Victims are also more likely to suffer from depression, alcoholism, suicidal thoughts, and/or post-traumatic stress disorder. Overcoming the emotional scarring caused by their assault can take months or even years.
5. The Majority Of Assaults Go Unreported And Unprosecuted
Despite the serious consequences caused by sexual assault, the fact remains that less than half of all instances of sexual assault are reported. People speculate many different reasons the majority of assaults are unreported and no one can agree on one, but I believe this is because there are many different reasons. Some women delude themselves into believing that their experience was relatively minor in the grand scheme of things and that it’s not worth reporting. Others are scared of the repercussions they may face if they report it. Still others are ashamed to admit such a thing could have happened to them… the list goes on and on.
6. EVERY Assault Should Be Reported
Despite these concerns and fears, I am here to offer encouragement and support to everyone who has been the victim of sexual assault. I look forward to the day when sexual assault becomes a thing of the past, but until then, I work diligently to help my clients overcome the emotional trauma caused by their experiences and encourage them to report the act, to make changes in their life, to remove themselves from dangerous situations. The purpose of Sexual Assault Awareness Month is to help break the silence, to help men and women alike gain the courage they need to stick up for themselves and their family members who are victimized by sexual assault.