Sexual assault is defined as any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. This can include forced intercourse or rape, attempted rape, unwanted touching or fondling above or under clothes, incest, molestation, forced oral sex, or sodomy. Such behavior doesn't have to involve physical force; it can also be verbal or visual, which may include sexual coercion (use of intimidation, threats or guilt), indecent exposure, sexual harassment, or voyeurism (when someone watches private sexual acts without consent). 


Approximately 4 out of 5 sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, whether it be a classmate, co-worker, neighbor, acquaintance, friend, family member or partner. It’s important to remember that sexual assault is about exerting power and control over another person. The only blame for such an act lies with the perpetrator; no one ever deserves to be assaulted.



Source: Office on Women's Health, Department of Health and Human Services; Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network; The United States Department of Justice. 


Sexual assault results from an uncontrollable, impulsive sexual urge of biological origin.

TRUTH: Sexual assault is motivated by hostility, power, and control. Clinical studies of offenders find that sexual assaults are not motivated by sexual desire or by the desire to meet biological needs. Rather, they are motivated by hostility, power, and control (Groth, 1979). Unlike animals, humans are capable of controlling how they choose to act on or express sexual urges.



Most sexual assaults are committed by strangers.

TRUTH: Most sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows. Studies show that approximately 80% of adult women reporting sexual assault knew their assailant (Russo, 1990; Sorenson, 1987). In FY 1995, 83% of the women and men seeking support from Virginia sexual assault crisis centers knew their attacker.



Men cannot be sexually assaulted.

TRUTH: Men are victims of sexual assault. It is estimated that 1 out of every 4-10 men will be sexually assaulted either by another male or by a female during his lifetime (Sorenson, 1987 and Burgess, 1992). In FY 1995, 7.5% of the individuals seeking services from Virginia sexual assault crisis centers were male.



Spouses cannot sexually assault each other.

TRUTH: Spouses can and do sexually assault each other. Marital status does not give either partner the right to have sexual intercourse without the other spouse's consent. Marital sexual contact without consent in Virginia is a criminal offense. In FY 1995, 7.5% of individuals seeking services from Virginia sexual assault crisis centers were assaulted by their spouse.


Sexual assault happens to women who “ask for it” by dressing provocatively or by acting seductively.

TRUTH: Sexual assault is not a result of the way a person dresses or acts. It is the assailant who decides to assault another individual. The victim is not an accessory to the crime.



The crime of rape is usually reported to the police.

TRUTH: The crime of rape is usually not reported to the police. Rape is an under-reported crime in the United States with educated estimates that for every rape reported to the police, 3-10 are not reported (Koss, 1987)


After a rape or sexual assault, good friends are undoubtedly one of the best sources of comfort for the victim. Counseling professionals suggest the following guidelines for helping someone you know recover from sexual assault:


BELIEVE HER. The greatest fear of rape survivors is that they will not be believed or that their experience will be minimized as not important. Women are raped by men they know four times as often as they are raped by strangers. Accept what you are hearing, even if the accused is a popular, desirable person. Other forms of sexual assault are often as traumatic as completed rape and the after effects of the experience may be severe. Treat the victim of attempted rape with the same care as the victim of completed rape.


LISTEN. Let her talk. Find a quiet place. Be patient. Let her tell the story at her own pace. Let her know that listening to her is more important than anything else.

COMFORT HER. Try to calm her down if she agitated, but do so in a soothing, not disapproving way. She may want to be held or she may not want to be touched.


REINFORCE THAT SEXUAL ASSAULT WAS NOT HER FAULT. Avoid questions that seem to blame her actions, such as, “Why didn’t you scream?” or “Why did you go to his room?” Allow her to talk out her feelings of self-blame if she wants to, but help her see that the perpetrator caused the assault, not her.


PROVIDE PROTECTION. Give her a secure place to sleep and companionship once she returns to her own living quarters.


SUGGEST CALLING A PROFESSIONALLY TRAINED RAPE-CRISIS COUNSELOR OR ADVOCATE. Contact your local sexual assault center for appropriate referrals.


GET HER MEDICAL ASSISTANCE. She may have bruises, cuts or other injuries. Some injuries may not become evident for several hours or more. She will need treatment for possible sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. Go with her to the emergency room and stay during the exam if she wants.


HELP HER ORGANIZE HER THOUGHTS, BUT LET HER MAKE DECISIONS ABOUT HOW TO PROCEED. The survivor needs to regain the feeling of being in control. Allow her to do that. Parents of rape/assault victim may want her to press charges, but that might not be the best choice for the individual. If she decides not to report it and you disagree with that, let her know that you support her decisions.


HELP HER GET PSYCHOLOGICAL AND LEGAL HELP. During the aftermath of a rape/assault, the survivor may not be able to seek out sources of help. Offer to accompany her to the police, to campus security and/or to a psychologist. Tell her about the confidential individual and group counseling available through your local crisis center.


BE AVAILABLE. In the weeks and months following the assault, reassure the survivor that you are available. Give your time and attention each time you are sought out.


LEARN ABOUT RAPE TRAUMA SYNDROME. Your friend’s recovery period will last a long time, during which her moods and reactions will change radically from day to day. Know what to expect and share this with the survivors.


GET HELP FOR YOURSELF. You need to talk to someone else other than the survivor to discuss your feelings about the assault and learn how to be supportive. Contact your local crisis center.



* not all victims are female, but based on the statistical predominance of female victims, the pronoun “her” or "she" was used.

A documentary on the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses


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