Sexual assault can include rape, incest, fondling, sexual harassment, child molestation, marital rape, exposure and voyeurism. Sexual assault is not a crime of passion or lovemaking. It is an act of power, control, anger and violence. Survivors of sexual assault are never responsible for their assaults; it is always the fault of the offender.
We live in a society which promotes violence against women as a way of life. The messages that we see on television and in magazines, advertisements, and pornography help reinforce the myth that women ask for rape. Racial and low-income women are especially vulnerable to the racist and classist overtones of the myths and stereotypes surrounding sexual assault. The reality is that anyone can be assaulted regardless of race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, physical ability or age.
Sexual assault affects everyone, either directly or through the experiences of those we care about. Only about one in ten rapes are reported to the police, and the FBI's definition of rape does not include any sexual offenses other than rape. Taking this into account, studies suggest that as many as one in three women will be raped in her lifetime (National Coalition Against Sexual Assault, 1993). Most women have experienced some level of sexual harassment, abuse, or assault, and all women are affected by the threat of sexual violence.
Sexual assault is not only a women's issue. Males are also victims of sexual assault, though not at the same rate as women: it is estimated that one in ten men will be assaulted in his lifetime (NCASA, 1993). In addition, assault against a woman often affects the men in her life, including her friends, brother, father, or partner. Sexual assault is a societal problem that women and men need to address together.
What to do if you are sexually assaulted
Rape or any form of sexual assault is one of the most painful and upsetting things that can happen to a person. After the assault you may be frightened, angry, restless or unable to concentrate. You may experience disbelief, denial, depression, mistrust of people or a lack of confidence in yourself. Feeling guilty, embarrassed, "crazy" or ashamed are also common reactions. All of these responses are normal and understandable. They will not last forever.
Sexual assault is very traumatic, so allow yourself to take as long as you need to heal and recover. It often helps to talk with someone - a trusted friend, family member, or someone trained in sexual assault intervention. Remember that you are not alone. There are many resources available to you, including:
*OCOSA (The Ohio Coalition On Sexual Assault) (614) 268-3322
Provides information and referrals during business hours.
*RAINN (Rape Abuse and Incest National Network) 1-800-656-HOPE
Twenty-four hour computer system that will relay calls to the nearest rape crises center.
Issues following sexual assault
- Survivors should seek medical attention immediately following the assault. Medical tests can detect pregnancy, physical injuries, "rape drugs" or sexually transmitted infections that would otherwise remain undetected and possibly cause complications later. Also, prompt collection of evidence may aid in the arrest and conviction of the assailant if the case is heard in court. For more information, see the series handout titled Medical Issues.
- The survivor must decide whether or not to report the assault to the police. Reporting is different than prosecuting. There are many pros and cons of reporting. It is a difficult decision to make and NO survivor should be forced to report or made to feel guilty for not reporting. For more information, see the series handout titled Legal Issues.
- Sexual assault affects many people close to the survivor, such as friends, family, partners, co-workers, roommates, etc. These people may have trouble coping with the assault, or they may not know how to effectively help the survivor. For more information, see the series handout titled Information for Friends and Family.
- Recovering from sexual assault can be a long process. Survivors should be aware of the long-term effects of sexual assault and the resources available to aid in the healing process. For more information, see the series handout titled Long-Term Effects of Sexual Assault.
- Acquaintance and date rape are prevalent forms of sexual assault in which the survivor knows the attacker. There are a number of factors specific to acquaintance rape, such as the use of alcohol, communication between partners, and the recovery process. For more information, see the series handout titled Acquaintance/Date Rape.
Check your local library or bookstore for the following books.
- Bass, Ellen & Laura Davis. The Courage to Heal. Harper and Row, 1988.
- Blume, E. Sue. Secret Survivors. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1990.
- Ledray, Linda H. Recovering From Rape. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1986.
- Lew, M. Victims No Longer: Men Recovering from Incest and Other Sexual Child Abuse. New York: Harper and Row, 1990.
- McEvoy, Alan W. & Jeff B. Brookings. If She Is Raped: A guidebook for husbands, fathers and male friends. Holmes Beach, FL: Learning Publications, Inc. 1984, 1991.
- NiCarthy, Ginny. Getting Free: A Handbook for Women in Abusive Relationships, 2nd Edition. Seattle: The Seal Press, 1982, 1986.
- Scarce, M. Male on Male Rape: The Hidden Toll of Stigma & Shame. Insight Books, 1997.
- Warshaw, Robin. I Never Called it Rape. NY: Harper and Row, 1988.
- White, Evelyn C. Chain Chain Change: For Black Women in Abusive Relationships. Seattle: The Seal Press, 1985.
- Zambrano, Myrna M. Mejoy Sola Mal Acompanada: For the Latina in an Abusive Relationship. Bilingual Edition/Edicion Bilingue. Seattle: The Seal Press, 1985.
**The information provided in theses handouts was compiled from various sources. If you are looking for information beyond the scope of these handouts, please contact OCOSA at (614) 268-3322, RAINN at 1-800-656-HOPE, or your local rape crisis center.