Sexual assault occurs when one person is forced or coerced into participating in a sexual act to which he or she has not freely consented.
Consent shall be defined to mean positive cooperation in an act, or an attitude pursuant to an exercise of free will. The person must act freely and voluntarily and have knowledge of the nature of the act or transaction involved.
Sexual assault is never your fault. Consent is possible only when there is equal power. Giving in because of fear is not consent. Giving in or going along with someone to gain approval or to avoid being hurt is not consent.
What is it?
Sexual violence is any kind of sexual contact against person’s will and without consent. Sexual violence can happen to anyone, regardless of their sex, gender, race, class, age, size appearance, and sexual orientation. They are violent crimes used to exert power, humiliate, and control. Some commonly heard terms that fall under the umbrella of sexual violence include:
- Sexual harassment: Sexual harassment is the any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favor or other unwelcome verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment includes but is not limited to situations where one person has authority over another. Sexual harassment can be verbal, visual, physical or communicated in writing or electronically.
- Sexual Abuse: Any action performed by a person in order to feel sexually stimulated without the other person’s consent, such as watching, touching, or sexually assaulting the victim, or speaking to the victim in a sexual nature.
What to do if you have been sexually assaulted?
- Get to a safe place if possible.
- Call someone who can help: a friend, the police, or campus or community agencies (see resource list).
- Do not shower, drink, eat, brush your teeth, or change your clothes. These activities can destroy physical evidence that could be useful if you decide to prosecute. However, if you have already done so (which is a perfectly normal response), you should still seek medical care. These activities do not necessarily prevent the collection of evidence.
- Get medical attention.
- Write down everything that you remember happening with as much detail as possible. This can help you to cope with the situation, but may also be helpful in any legal action you might decide to take.
Common Reactions to Sexual Assault:
- Distrust in self or in others.
- Shock, numbness, disbelief, denial
- Depression and/or suicidal feelings
- Intense fear, anxiety, nervousness, panic
- Intimacy or relationship issues
- Self-blame, guilt, shame, embarrassment
It is common for a person who has experienced a traumatic event to have a range of feelings and reactions. The trauma can have a profound impact on a survivor initially following the assault as well as years later. This trauma may be diminished in duration and intensity by talking about what happened with friends or in a therapeutic setting.
Supporting Your Friends
Here are some suggestions of ways you can help a friend who has been sexually assaulted
- Listen and be supportive. Let the victim know you care about her/him, that you believe her/him, and that she/he is not alone.
- Give your friend a chance to talk about the experience and her or his feelings.
- Be interested and empathic without prying or pressing for details.
- Try not to criticize or judge.
- Respect the victim's decisions about what she/he wants: who to tell, whether or not to report to the police, what makes him/her feel safe, etc.
- If you are a man, be aware that her reaction to you may be complicated; she may want affection, or she may have generalized fears of all men.
- Try not to express your own feelings of anger or helplessness to the victim, or to project them onto her/him. Talk about these feelings with another friend or professional counselor.