Sexual Assault

The term sexual assault is used as a catch all, and therefore may have a variety of meanings. Usually the term sexual assault refers to a specific act of sexual violence. Sexual assault may refer to rape, incest, touching of intimate body parts, or other acts of sexual intrusion without consent. It refers to acts of sexual violence perpetrated against an adult or child, by a loved one, acquaintance or stranger. Each state legislature has its own legal definition of sexual assault.

Rape

Rape refers to sexual intrusion or penetration of the vagina, anus or mouth, with any object, without consent. The term rape is sometimes used synonymously with sexual violence and sexual assault.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is generally used to describe the sexual assault of children or other instances of sexual assault perpetrated by a person in a position of trust or intimacy.

Myths & Facts

Refuting myths and understanding facts is a crucial step toward demanding respect for survivors and insuring that they receive adequate and appropriate information and services. A leading factor that contributes to women's vulnerability to sexual assault is the lack of adequate information, and a shallow understanding of the causes of sexual assault. Myths about sexual assault, allow the view that sexual assault is someone else's problem, rather than an issue that affects everyone. Sexual assault is a community problem and a community responsibility.

MYTH:

RAPE IS PROVOKED BY THE SURVIVOR.

FACT:

Rape is not a sexually motivated act that happens to be forceful. For the survivor, it is a humiliating and often life-threatening situation. No person would ask for or deserve such an attack! Sex is used as a weapon to defile, degrade and destroy a survivor's will and control over her/his own body. RAPE IS NOT A SPONTANEOUS CRIME OF SEXUAL PASSION. IT IS A VIOLENT ATTACK ON AN INDIVIDUAL, USING SEX AS A WEAPON.

MYTH:

ONLY YOUNG ATTRACTIVE WOMEN ARE SEXUALLY ASSAULTED.

FACT:

Regardless of age, race, gender, economic background, or physical appearance, all of us are vulnerable to sexual assault. Women are at greater risk than men. Women as old as 96 years, and children as young as 6 months have been raped. There is no clearly defined group of people subject to attack.

Many people do not understand this fact, thinking that a "sexy" woman is somehow asking to be raped. However, the rapist is seeking a woman who seems vulnerable to attack, not necessarily "sexy". No woman is immune from assault.

By assuming that only young attractive women get assaulted, people tend to excuse a rapist's behavior and blame the women who are attacked. Another result of this myth is many women tend to feel invulnerable to rape. This feeling of invulnerability may lead to an increase in one's actual vulnerability to rape.

Rapists frequently test their victims by harassing or questioning them. They are looking for women who they think will be easy targets. Women who are aware of their surroundings, walk with confidence and appear as though they can defend themselves, and if harassed, respond assertively, all run a lower risk of being attacked. Thus, although all women are vulnerable to assault, it is possible to reduce vulnerability.

MYTH:

WOMEN "ASK FOR RAPE" BY THEIR CLOTHING, BEHAVIOR OR ACTIVITY.

FACT:

Rape is often seen as a punishment for women who dare to engage in activities which men take for granted -- walking alone at night, hitchhiking, or going to a bar alone. The notion that a woman's clothing or behavior provokes assault stems from a misconception of rape as sexual, rather than as a violent crime. The notion that a woman "asks for rape" implies that women want to be attacked, or somehow enjoy it.

Blaming the woman provides a convenient excuse for men's violent actions. Nothing a woman does justifies a violent attack upon her. Women should not be restricted in what they wear or where they go. It is the rapists' behavior that must be restricted.

MYTH:

THE RAPIST IS A STRANGER.

FACT:

About 80% of the time, college women are attacked by men they know, and often know well. Rapists are family members -- fathers, husbands, brothers, or friends of the family, neighbors, service repairmen, or acquaintances; or someone who the woman has met before. In fact, over 50% of sexual assaults occur in a woman's home or other sheltered facility.

The stranger myth leaves women totally unprepared when a trusted male friend or family member assaults them. Often women are more likely to feel their own behavior is somehow at fault, and thus will be afraid to take any action to make the man accountable for his violent behavior.

MYTH:

SEXUAL ASSAULT ONLY OCCURS IN LARGE CITIES.

FACT:

Sexual assault occurs in every environment; the city, suburbs, small towns and rural areas. While it is true there is a higher incidence of sexual violence in large cities, this is due solely to the large number of people who reside there. Wherever the sexual assault takes place, the survivor is uniquely challenged in her/his recovery.

MYTH:

A WOMAN CANNOT BE SEXUALLY ASSAULTED BY HER HUSBAND.

FACT:

Many people believe it is impossible for a woman to be sexually assaulted by her husband or partner. However, any act of sexual coercion is sexual assault, regardless of the survivor's relationship with the perpetrator.

This myth has its roots in the antiquated concept that a woman is the private property of her husband and is consequently at his sexual disposal. Although the laws vary, marital rape is now a criminal offense in almost half of the states. However, this remains the most difficult type of sexual assault to prove.

MYTH:

Every sexual assault is unique and the issue of resistance and submission should be evaluated individually. Resistance could deter an attack, or it could conceivably increase one's chances of injury and perhaps result in death. The person being attacked needs to do whatever she must to extricate herself from the situation while considering the element of surprise, the offender's probable greater size or strength, and the possibility of a weapon. The victim should rely on her instincts, and whatever she does to survive is correct for her. Even if she must submit, this does not imply consent and, in fact, may keep her alive.

MYTH:

MEN CANNOT BE SEXUALLY ASSAULTED.

FACT:

Men can be, and are, sexually assaulted. Male sexual assault is estimated to be about two percent of reported assaults. Nearly always, men are assaulted by other men. When assaulted, men are less likely to report to police and seek support services. This is due to the social stigma associated with men as rape victims and often interferes with recovery.

MYTH:

MOST REPORTED SEXUAL ASSAULTS ARE FALSE.

FACT:

Reported sexual assaults are true, with very few exceptions. FBI crime statistics indicate the false report rate for assaults to be only two percent, which is similar to the false report of other major crimes. The general misconception of a high rate of false reports of sexual assaults may be confused with observations of low conviction rates of offenders. Low conviction rates are not caused by high rates of false reports. They are caused by other factors including insufficient evidence to prosecute, dismissal of trial due to technicalities, and the reluctance of survivors to testify.

MYTH:

SEXUAL ASSAULT ONLY OCCURS IN DARK ALLEYS AND ISOLATED AREAS.

FACT:

A sexual assault can happen anywhere and at any time. In fact, surprisingly high numbers of assaults occur in places ordinarily thought to be safe, like homes, cars, residence halls and offices. Often, a rapist will manipulate a victim to gain access to a "safe" place because this location reduces his chances of being observed and subsequently apprehended. Also, women tend to avoid stereotypically dangerous situations such as dark alleys and isolated areas; hence, higher proportions of assaults happen in "safe" places than one would expect.