By: Stephanie Cook
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This month we’ll be raising awareness about sexual violence and discussing ways that we as a community can come together to prevent it. In this introductory post we’ll cover fundamental information about sexual violence, including definitions, statistics, impact on survivors, and community resources. Keep reading to learn more.
What is Sexual Violence?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines sexual violence as “any sexual activity where consent is not obtained or freely given”. 1 Sexual violence is an umbrella term that encompasses many types of harm or violation of a sexual nature. 2
Other Terms to Know
There are a number of important terms to understand when discussing sexual violence. The terms listed below either help describe a few of the different types of harm included under the umbrella of sexual violence or help explain core concepts at the root of sexual violence:
According to the National Institute of Justice, “Sexual assault covers a wide range of unwanted behaviors—up to but not including penetration—that are attempted or completed against a victim’s will or when a victim cannot consent because of age, disability, or the influence of alcohol or drugs. Sexual assault may involve actual or threatened physical force, use of weapons, coercion, intimidation, or pressure…” 3
The National Institute of Justice defines rape as nonconsensual oral, anal, or vaginal penetration of the victim by body parts or objects using force, threats of bodily harm, or by taking advantage of a victim who is incapacitated or otherwise incapable of giving consent.” 3
Child sexual abuse is defined as “the involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared and cannot give consent, or that violates the laws or social taboos of society.” 4
Sexual harassment is often discussed in relation to the workplace 5 or academic settings. 6 The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission states that “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.” 5
Since sexual violence is defined as sexual activity without consent, it is important to understand what consent means. Put simply, consent is defined as “an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity.” 7
Consent involves actively communicating with sexual partners to ensure that all parties always feel safe, respected, and engaged through any sexual activity. Consent means that all parties involved fully agree to and are enthusiastic about participating in any sexual activities before they occur. 7, 8, 9
While the concept of consent is simple, it requires a thorough discussion in order to truly comprehend. There are several essential points to cover when talking about consent. These include:
- Consent must be given willingly, that is, without coercion 10
- Consent can be withdrawn at any time 7
- Consent for one sexual act, such as kissing, does not equal consent for any other act, such as intercourse. 7 When someone gives consent for sexual activity, they are only communicating that they are willing to participate in that act in that moment 8
- There are certain circumstances in which an individual cannot give consent, such as if they are incapacitated by drugs or alcohol, if they are underage, if they cannot understand the concept of consent, or if there are power differentials between them and the person looking to engage in sexual activity with them. 11, 7, 8, 12
For more detailed discussions about consent, please refer to these articles by RAINN and the Sutter Health Palo Alto Medical Foundation.
Who is Impacted by Sexual Violence?
Sexual violence impacts individuals across all backgrounds and identities. Take a look at these facts for more information:
- Most sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the victim knows 2
- In the 2006 National Violence Against Women survey, 17.6% of women and 3.0% of men indicated that they had been raped in their lifetime 13
- According to the CDC, 14.6% of Hispanic women, 22.0% of Black women, 18.8% of White women, 26.9% of American Indian or Alaska Native women, and 33.5% of multiracial women reported experiencing rape at some point in their lives 14
- In the same CDC study, 44.6% of women and 22.2% of men reported experiencing a form of sexual violence apart from rape in their lifetimes. 14 When these results were analyzed by sexual orientation, rates were at least as high, and in some reports up to twice as high, for lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals 15
- While it is difficult to gather statistics due to underreporting, some researchers state that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will be sexually abused by the time they are 18 16
- In one study, 38% of women reported experiencing sexual harassment at a place of employment 17
What are the Effects of Sexual Violence?
Sexual violence can greatly impact the health of survivors, in both the short and long term. Impacts can include:
-Feelings of shame or guilt
-Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
-Suicidal thoughts or actions
-Contraction of sexually transmitted infections
-Injuries to genital areas or other body parts
-Chronic pain 18, 19, 20
Given the harmful effects of sexual violence, it is crucial to learn how to support survivors and empower them to seek care if they so choose.
What are Resources in My Community?
Survivors of sexual violence deserve our care and support. The YWCA Metro St. Louis and other organizations in the area provide services for individuals who have experienced sexual violence or who are concerned that someone they know may be experiencing it. Check out this list to learn more:
–YWCA Metro St. Louis Women’s Resource Center: Provides crisis intervention, therapy, and advocacy for individuals who have experienced sexual assault or abuse. Also provides community education workshops and survivor support groups
–YWCA Metro St. Louis Woman’s Place: Provides drop-in support and advocacy for individuals who have experienced emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. Also provides empowerment workshops, support groups, and education classes
-The YWCA Metro St. Louis has also compiled a list of other community resources in the area for individuals who have experienced sexual violence, such as counseling, victim services, legal services, and other agencies who serve individuals impacted by sexual violence.
We all can play a role in ending sexual violence. Join the YWCA Metro St. Louis this month in spreading awareness about this issue. Share this information with those around you and keep in touch with us as we continue to provide more ways to get involved with this effort.
Facebook: YWCA Metro St. Louis
Twitter: YWCA Metro St. Louis (@YWCASTL)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control: Division of Violence Prevention. (2014). Understanding Sexual Violence. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/sv-factsheet.pdf
- National Sexual Violence Resource Center. (2016). What is Sexual Violence? Retrieved from http://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/saam_2016_what-is-sexual-violence_0.pdf
- National Institute of Justice. (2010). Rape and Sexual Violence. Retrieved from http://www.nij.gov/topics/crime/rape-sexual-violence/pages/welcome.aspx
- World Health Organization. (2003). Guidelines for medico-legal care for victims of sexual violence. Retrieved from http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/42788/1/924154628X.pdf
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (n.d.). Facts About Sexual Harassment. Retrieved from http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/fs-sex.cfm
- Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. (n.d). Sexual Harassment. Retrieved from https://rainn.org/get-information/types-of-sexual-assault/sexual-harassment
- Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. (n.d). What Consent Looks Like. Retrieved from https://rainn.org/get-information/sexual-assault-prevention/what-is-consent
- Sutter Health Palo Alto Medical Foundation. (n.d.). Consent and Consensual Sex. Retrieved from http://www.pamf.org/teen/abc/sex/consent.html
- Project Respect. (n.d.). Consent. Retrieved from http://www.yesmeansyes.com/consent-0
- Loveisrespect. (n.d). What is Sexual Coercion?. Retrieved from http://www.loveisrespect.org/content/what-sexual-coercion/
- Indiana University. (n.d.). Information About Consent. Retrieved from http://stopsexualviolence.iu.edu/policies-terms/consent.html
- Emory University: Office of Health Promotion: Campus Life. (n.d.). Consent vs. Coercion. Retrieved from http://studenthealth.emory.edu/hp/respect_program/consent_vs_coercion.html
- U.S. Department of Justice: Office of Justice Programs. (2006). Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Rape Victimization: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey. Retrieved from https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/210346.pdf
- National Center for Injury Prevention and Control: Division of Violence Prevention. (2010). National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010 Summary Report. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/nisvs_report2010-a.pdf
- National Center for Injury Prevention and Control: Division of Violence Prevention. (2010). National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010 Findings on Victimization by Sexual Orientation. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/nisvs_sofindings.pdf
- National Sexual Violence Resource Center. (2012). Understanding child sexual abuse definitions and rates. Retrieved from http://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/NSVRC_Publications_TalkingPoints_Understanding-Child-Sexual-Abuse-definitions-rates.pdf
- Potter, S. J., & Banyard, V. L. (2011). The Victimization Experiences of Women in the Workforce: Moving Beyond Single Categories of Work or Violence. Violence and Victims, 26 (4), 513-532. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21882672
- Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. (n.d). Effects of Sexual Assault. Retrieved from https://rainn.org/get-information/effects-of-sexual-assault
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control: Division of Violence Prevention. (2015). Sexual Violence: Consequences. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/sexualviolence/consequences.html
- Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs. (2015). The Effects of Sexual Assault. Retrieved from http://www.wcsap.org/effects-sexual-assault