Warning: This article defines sexual assault and discusses examples of sexual assault.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. According to RAINN (the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the nation), sexual assault refers to “sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim.” This can include anything from unwanted touching to being forced to perform sexual acts on someone else, to rape. No matter the definition or act of sexual violence, it is never the victim’s fault.
How common is sexual assault?
Every 68 seconds, someone is sexually assaulted in the United States. Despite this violence being so terribly common, only 25 out of every 1,000 rapists end up in prison for their crime. Because this violence is unfortunately so common, Sexual Assault Awareness Month is important to draw attention to conversations around consent, supporting survivors, as well as how to report an assault. Sexual violence is an umbrella term that encapsulates all forms of sexual assault and abuse.
What constitutes sexual assault?
The exact definition of what legally constitutes sexual assault varies from state to state. Sexual violence includes sexual assault, intimate partner violence, incest, date rape, and child abuse. Other forms of sexual violence also include sexual harassment, stalking, coercion, revenge porn, plus several others. RAINN.org provides an immense amount of resources for survivors of sexual violence. They have statistics, examples, a free hotline, as well as other resources available for free.
Sexual assault can be a big topic, and it can be hard to know what you as an individual can do to help. You can be informed about consent and practice it with all of your sexual partners, you can be an active bystander and intervene if you see something that doesn’t seem right, and you can be there for people in your life who disclose surviving abuse.
What is consent?
Consent is when someone freely and completely agrees to something another person has proposed. In order to fully consent, the person consenting cannot be under the influence of any drugs or alcohol, they should not be coerced, and there should be no pressure whatsoever. The person is freely choosing on their own accord. Consent exists in everyday life and obviously in sexual relationships as well.
Consent is ongoing and can change at any time, meaning just because you’ve had sex with someone before does not mean you have to have sex with them again. You are allowed to change your mind at any moment during a sexual encounter, and you are allowed to communicate that to your partner. The legal definition of consent varies from state to state, and horrifically, Indiana does not have a legal definition of consent., which makes persecuting sexual assault crimes much harder than it should be.
How can you help prevent sexual assault?
Be an active bystander by intervening if you are out and observe something that seems unsafe or not quite right. Step in when you see something not quite right. RAINN has a wonderful page on what you can do as a bystander if you notice something escalating that seems dangerous. They use the acronym CARE to provide a guide for bystander intervention. Create a distraction, Ask directly, Refer to an authority, and Enlist others. If your intuition leads you to believe the dynamic between two people seems alarming or unsafe, trust that. Create a distraction such as interjecting yourself in the conversation, then when you have a moment with the person you are concerned about, ask them directly if they are safe. Ask if they know this person who keeps talking to them. Ask who they came with. Interjecting as a bystander can be scary, and you might even think, “Oh it’s nothing, I’m just overreacting.” It is much better to overreact than to let something slide that doesn’t seem right.
Be a source of support and love for survivors in your life. If a friend or loved one discloses they are a survivor of abuse, respond by saying something like, “Thank you for trusting me with this information. I love you. I’m here for you however you need me.” Ensure that they continue to feel safe sharing things with you by being supporting and showing you understand that sharing this information is a big deal. RAINN also has a wonderfully thorough page on its website with examples of how to respond in a supportive way if a loved one shares this information with you.
We should be talking about sexual assault prevention every month of the year, but having April as a reminder is a good place to start. If you are experiencing or have experienced assault, call the RAINN hotline at 800-656-4673. It’s free and confidential. They also have a live chat feature on their website. Check out the rest of the site for more tools, examples, and information on support. You are not alone, and it is not your fault.