Every 98 seconds, someone is a victim of sexual violence in America. This year alone, hundreds of thousands of people will be violated by sexual violence and yet, only 6 out of 1,000 rapists will be prosecuted and put in prison. The good news, however, is sexual violence has dropped in half since 1993.
The term sexual assault refers to sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim. Some forms of sexual assault include:
- Attempted rape
- Fondling or unwanted sexual touching
- Forcing a victim to perform sexual acts, such as oral sex or penetrating the perpetrator’s body
- Forced penetration of the victim’s body, also known as rape
- Child molestation and incest
- Forcible sodomy
What is rape?
Rape is a form of sexual assault, but not all sexual assault is rape. The term rape is often used as a legal definition to specifically include sexual penetration without consent. For its Uniform Crime Reports, the FBI defines rape as “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” To see how your state legally defines rape and other forms of sexual assault, visit RAINN’s State Law Database.
What is force?
Force doesn’t always refer to physical pressure. Perpetrators may use emotional coercion, psychological force, or manipulation to coerce a victim into non-consensual sex. Some perpetrators will use threats to force a victim to comply, such as threatening to hurt the victim or their family or other intimidation tactics.
Who are the perpetrators?
The majority of perpetrators are someone known to the victim. Approximately seven out of 10 of 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.
After the Attack for Healing and Recovery
Getting help for sexual assault immediately afterwards is critical in offering you protection from your perpetrator, offering you a safe place to stay, emotional support and a counselor, if so requested. It is to your advantage to go to the closest medical center in order to gather evidence of the assault. The hospital also can collect evidence like hairs, saliva, semen, or clothing fiber that the attacker may have left behind. This collection of evidence against your attacker can then be used if you wish to file a police report.
After the attack, most women may feel confused, in shock, detached and afraid to express what has just happened to them. They may also be emotionally traumatized and in fear for their lives. Every person who is sexually assaulted goes through a different type of psychological and/or emotional reaction, which is normal. Some even are in denial of the traumatic event that took place. Be sure to reach out to a mental health care professional while at the medical facility or as soon as you leave to ensure you receive treatment for your psychological and emotional needs. Every trauma a person goes through leaves a scar psychologically and emotionally, which can become a toxic memory and may lead to signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Nightmares, constant flashbacks, lack of focus, anger, emotional outbursts, triggers, etc., can absorb your thoughts and leave your life in chaos until you seek help for the emotional distraught caused by the attacker. It is in your best interest to be gentle with yourself, have good self-care, always go out with a friend, and have someone escort you to your car at night. Be vigilant in staying safe.
To speak with someone who is trained to help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at online.rainn.org.