‘Sexual assault’ covers a wide range of unwanted sexual behaviours that are often used by offenders as a way to assert power and control over their victims. There are many myths around what constitutes sexual assault, so find out the facts. If you’ve been sexually assaulted, you might experience a range of emotions and it’s important to know there are support services that can help you.
What is sexual assault?
Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual behaviour that makes a person feel uncomfortable, threatened or scared. It covers:
- Rape: forced, unwanted sex or sexual acts.
- Child sexual abuse: using power over a child to involve that child in sexual activity.
- Indecent assault: indecent behaviour before, during or after an assault.
Why do people sexually assault others?
Sexual assault isn’t always about offenders getting pleasure from sex. It can also be about them enjoying asserting power and control over someone. Some offenders have been abused themselves, but this isn’t always the case. Sexual assault is a serious crime and is never the fault of the victim.
Child sexual abuse
Child sexual abuse is a form of child abuse in which an adult or older adolescent abuses a child for sexual stimulation.[Forms of child sexual abuse include asking or pressuring a child to engage in sexual activities (regardless of the outcome), indecent exposure of the genitals to a child, displaying pornography to a child, actual sexual contact against a child, physical contact with the child’s genitals, viewing of the child’s genitalia without physical contact or using a child to produce child pornography.[
The effects of child sexual abuse include depression,] post-traumatic stress disorder,[ anxiety,[ propensity to re-victimization in adulthood, physical injury to the child, and increased risk for future interpersonal violence perpetration among males, among other problems.[Sexual abuse by a family member is a form of incest. It is more common than other forms of sexual assault on a child and can result in more serious and long-term psychological trauma, especially in the case of parental incest.]
Approximately 15 to 25 percent of women and 5 to 15 percent of men were sexually abused when they were children. Most sexual abuse offenders are acquainted with their victims. Approximately 30 percent of the perpetrators are relatives of the child- most often brothers, fathers, mothers, sisters and uncles or cousins. Around 60 percent are other acquaintances such as friends of the family, babysitters, or neighbors. Strangers are the offenders in approximately 10 percent of child sexual abuse cases.[
Studies have shown that the psychological damage is particularly severe when sexual assault is committed by parents against children due to the incestuous nature of the assault.Incest between a child or adolescent and a related adult has been identified as the most widespread form of child sexual abuse with a huge capacity for damage to a child Often, sexual assault on a child is not reported by the child for several of the following reasons:
- children are too young to recognize their victimization or put it into words
- they were threatened or bribed by the abuser
- they feel confused by fearing the abuser
- they are afraid no one will believe them
- they blame themselves or believe the abuse is a punishment
- they feel guilty for consequences to the perpetrator[
Many states have criminalized sexual contact between teachers or school administrators and students, even if the student is over the age of consent.
Hire a Good Lawyer
Don’t try to take this on by yourself. A good lawyer can help you to maintain and defend your innocence. If you know that you are not guilty of this accusation, it is best to hire a reputable and experienced attorney to defend you in a court of law.
While you may not be guilty, you should still be on your guard. You should be aware that the police officer relies on the court system to prove your innocence. There are many people who face severe charges for crimes they didn’t do. Take the circumstances very seriously and be proactive enough to find an aggressive attorney to come to your defense.
Be sure you have the necessary finances to secure an attorney. Remember, the attorney is only going to take your word that you are blameless and, along with the evidence, will provide you with the defense you need. Be sure not to leave out any details that will help the case.
Know the Law
Even though you may not have gone to law school, you should still have a good idea of what legal ramifications are related to your case. Ask questions and be closely involved with the process. Don’t leave everything up to the attorney.
Have character witnesses prepped and ready to help your case. Take notes during the trial, and communicate any concerns with your lawyer. Pay attention as much as possible during the trial, and let your attorney explain anything that you don’t understand. Accept the legal advice from your attorney as long as it is in your best interest. Lastly, do not modify your story. Instead, you should stick to it up until the end of the case.
Who are the perpetrators?
The majority of perpetrators are someone known to the victim. Approximately eight out of 10 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. Stranger rape can occur in several different ways:
- Blitz sexual assault: when a perpetrator quickly and brutally assaults the victim with no prior contact, usually at night in a public place
- Contact sexual assault: when a perpetrator contacts the victim and tries to gain their trust by flirting, luring the victim to their car, or otherwise trying to coerce the victim into a situation where the sexual assault will occur
- Home invasion sexual assault: when a stranger breaks into the victim’s home to commit the assault
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.
How sexual assault might affect you
Everyone reacts differently to sexual assault. All of the following responses are normal:
Shock and denial
You might think, ‘Did this really happen to me?’ or ‘Why me?’, and feel unable to accept that it actually happened.
You might experience fear of the offender, of being alone, or of not being believed.
You might find that you’re unable to talk about the assault, or to describe what it feels like to have been assaulted, out of fear of being judged.
You might feel unsafe or unable to relax.
You might feel sad or depressed.
Guilt and blame
You might ask yourself, ‘Why did I go there/allow it/not fight back?’
You might lose self-confidence, and feel ‘unworthy’, ashamed or ‘dirty’.
You might want to be alone, and to isolate yourself from family and friends.
Nightmares and flashbacks
You might have images and memories of the assault intrude on your daily life and sleep.
You might find that your mood changes quickly from anger and rage, to tears and despair, and back again.
Loss of confidence
You might worry about your ability to do your work or study, or lack confidence with friends or your partner.
Loss of trust
You might find it hard to trust people in your social circle or family.