The national conversation around sexual harassment and assault continues to grow. You may have questions like what sexual harassment and assault mean? What to do if it happens to you or someone you know? This article is a complete guide to all your questions.
Sexual harassment is a word that I’m sure you have heard a lot before and even more after the #metoo movement. What is the line when drawn turns something into sexual assault or harassment. People worldwide, either men or women, have faced sexual assault in one form or another.
Sexual assault can be verbal, visual, or anything that forces a person to join in unwanted sexual contact or attention. It can happen in different situations, by a stranger in an isolated place, on a date, or in the home by someone you know. It is a crime and if you have faced any sexual harassment, reach out to your area’s helpline to report and get help. Anyone who has been sexually assaulted is affected physically and is affected mentally too.
What makes sexual harassment and assault worse is that many women do not have the strength to speak up against their abusers. Rape is a common form of sexual assault. It is committed in many situations—on a date, by a friend or an acquaintance, or when you think you are alone. Educate yourself on “date rape” drugs. They can be slipped into a drink when a victim is not looking. Never leave your drink unattended—no matter where you are. Try always to be aware of your surroundings.
To answer all your questions and concerns, this article will cover everything everyone needs to be aware of sexual harassment, what its kinds are, and how one who is sexually assaulted reports their abuser.
Lastly, if you are someone who has faced any sexual assault, just know that you are not alone, and you can survive this.
What is sexual assault?
Sexual assault is when one intentionally sexually touches another person without that person’s consent or coerces or physically forces a person to engage in a sexual act against their will. It is a form of sexual violence, which includes child sexual abuse, groping, rape (forced vaginal, anal, or oral penetration or a drug-facilitated sexual assault), or the torture of the person in a sexual manner.
How sexual assault is defined in law?
The legal definition of sexual assault is when someone intentionally touches another person in a sexual manner, without that person’s consent.
Types of sexual assault
Following are the types of sexual assault. One needs to understand this so that, god forbid, if someone goes through it, they know what has happened and can stand up for themselves.
1. Child sexual abuse
Child sexual abuse, also called child molestation, is a form of child abuse in which an adult or older adolescent uses a child for sexual stimulation. Forms of child sexual abuse include engaging in sexual activities with a child (whether by asking or pressuring, or by other means), indecent exposure (of the genitals, female nipples, etc.), child grooming, and child sexual exploitation, including using a child to produce child pornography.
2. Sexual Assault of Men and Boys
Sexual assault can happen to anyone, regardless of age, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Men and boys who have been sexually assaulted or abused may have many of the same feelings and reactions as other survivors of sexual assault, but they may also face some additional challenges because of social attitudes and stereotypes about men and masculinity.
How to support male survivors
These simple steps can help men who have been sexually abused. Listen to them, tell them that their feelings are valid, express concern, do not ask questions and details about what happened to them until they are comfortable sharing and lastly, tell them how they can get help.
3. Intimate Partner Sexual Violence
Many people get sexually harassed by people that they know and are very much around them, and that is what we call intimate partner sexual violence. Intimate partner sexual violence can occur in all types of intimate relationships regardless of gender identities or sexual orientation. Intimate partner sexual violence is not defined by gender or sexuality but by abusive behavior.
If you’ve experienced sexual abuse by a family member, you are not alone — and what happened to you is not your fault. While it may be difficult to talk about, you should know that this is an issue that impacts many people.
5. Drug-Facilitated Sexual Assault
Drug-facilitated sexual assault occurs when a person’s ability to consent to sexual activity is compromised through alcohol or drugs. These substances make it easier for a perpetrator to commit sexual assault because they lower inhibitions, reduce a person’s ability to resist, and can prevent them from remembering details of the assault. Drugs and alcohol can cause diminished capacity, a legal term that varies from state to state.
Psychological and mental health consequences of sexual assault
According to research, one in five college women experience unwanted sexual contact while in college, with first-year women being at the most significant risk. Given these data, we investigate how first-semester sexual assault impacts college women’s mental health. 483 female first-year students enrolled in the study during the first month of college.
All these women face mental health problems when they are assaulted. The memory of the traumatic event can haunt them and cause adverse and long-lasting effects on their mental health. Whether you are a survivor yourself or know someone who has been a victim of sexual assault, it is essential to recognize and address the psychological effects of sexual assault as well.
According to RAINN, every 92 seconds, someone is sexually assaulted in the United States. Of those victims of sexual assault, most will experience a negative effect on their mental health. One survey that focused on teenage girls who had been sexually assaulted found that 80% of them developed one mental health disorder after a few months following the event, and 55% had at least two mental health disorders.
Some of the most common psychological effects sexual assault victims experience include:
- Feelings of shame or guilt
- Social isolation or withdrawal
- Problems sleeping
- Eating disorders
- Flashbacks or nightmares
- Avoidance of certain places/things related to the event
- Anxiety disorders
- Depression and suicidal thoughts or actions
Why people take years to come forward with sexual assault allegations?
When a person is sexually assaulted, they are in disbelief at first. They find it hard to comprehend the reality of the heinous act that happened to them. So the first thing one can expect from a person who has been sexually assaulted is silence. They take a long delay before speaking up for themselves. And even if they speak up, they will have a hazy memory of the details of the incident. Experts say that some of the most commonly raised causes for doubt, like a long delay in reporting or a foggy recall of events, are the very hallmarks of sexual assault.
One might think, why do victims take time to come out and speak up for themselves. It is because of the negative consequences. But negative consequences are not the only thing to keep victims from coming forward. Experts point to a more fundamental issue: When the perpetrator is someone they trusted, it can take years for victims even to identify what happened to them as a violation.
What should you do if you experience sexual assault or harassment?
Facing any sexual assault is not the victim’s fault. We need to understand this first. There are people who genuinely believe that it happened and would be ready to help you. The first thing to do is talk to someone you trust. Afterward, get medical help if you are severely injured. When it comes to sexual harassment, your best way of action depends significantly on the situation. Schools, places of work, and other institutions often have rules designed to protect people from sexual harassment. There may be administrators you can contact to make a complaint, and there may be legal actions you can take. Some people ask how one can prevent sexual harassment, and the answer to it is simple, do not take part in it. Learn all about consent, how to respond to it, and how to ask for it. Another way to prevent it is by being a friend, family member, or community member. You can disrupt the culture of secrecy that allows sexual assault and harassment to continue by believing survivors and giving them your support.
Sexual assault and victim blaming
Rape Culture is an environment where rape is prevalent and sexual assault is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture. Rape culture is perpetuated through misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety.
People blame a victim for distancing themselves from an unpleasant occurrence, confirming their invulnerability to the risk. By labeling or accusing the victim, others can see the victim as different from themselves. People reassure themselves by thinking, “Because I am not like her, this would never happen to me because I do not do that.” We need to help people understand that this is not a helpful reaction.
Victim-blaming attitudes marginalize the victim/survivor and make it harder to come forward and report the abuse. If the survivor knows that you or society blames her for the abuse, s/he will not feel safe or comfortable coming forward and talking to you.
Victim-blaming attitudes also reinforce what the abuser has been saying; it is the victim’s fault this is happening. It is not the victim’s fault or responsibility to fix the situation; it is the abuser’s choice. Society allows the abuser to perpetrate relationship abuse or sexual assault while avoiding accountability for their actions by engaging in victim-blaming attitudes.
Sexual offences against children
Kids are innocent and are the easiest victims of sexual assault. They do not even know how, why and what happened to them.
These are offenses that are committed against people under 18. These include:
- Sexual penetration of a child aged 12 or younger
- Sexual penetration of a child aged between 12 and 16
- Indecent act with a child under the age of 16
- Continued sexual abuse of a child under the age of 16
- Sexual penetration or an indecent act with a child aged 16 or 17 by an adult who cares for, supervises or has authority over the child. This may include a teacher, employer, foster parent, sports coach, and other roles.
- Organizing to get a child under 16 for sexual penetration or an indecent act by an adult.
- Organizing to get a child aged 16 or 17 for sexual penetration or an indecent act by an adult who cares for, supervises, or has authority over that child
- Possessing and producing child pornography.
It does not matter if the child agrees to the act. However, a person may not have broken the law if the child consented and:
- They believed the child was older than 16 and had a valid reason to think that
- The accused person was no more than two years older than the child
- The accused believed they were married to the child.
Online sexual assault and how to fight it
Any type or kind of harassment caused online is illegal. And if you are facing it, you need to contact the helpline in your region or talk to an adult. When one person sexually exploits someone online, that is online sexual assault. This can include forcing or blackmailing someone to send sexual photos/videos of themselves online or to perform sexual acts over a webcam.
It’s sexual exploitation and abuse if the person you’re communicating with:
- Encourages you to do sexual things that make you uncomfortable
- Sends you unwanted nude photos or flashes you on webcam
- Asks sexual questions about you or makes inappropriate sexual comments
- Exposes you to pornography without your consent
- Encourages you to watch them do sexual things without your consent
Terms important to know when it comes to sexual assault
Sexual assault or harassment is a term used to define indecent acts against someone without consent. This might be clear by now. But some terms often get confused because sexual offenses can be of different kinds. Some are mentioned below.
- Sexual act: if someone shows their private parts to someone in public or touches themselves, someone who forces you to look at porn forcefully, if someone sends you a picture of their private parts, and any sexual act that makes the other person feel uncomfortable or stressed out can be called a sexual act
- Sexual touching: if someone touches your private parts, with or without your clothing and without penetration is called sexual touching. If someone kisses a person without their consent or makes them touch their private parts.
- Sexual Act: Sexual intercourse without consent is called a sexual act.
- Aggravated sexual act: A person has sexual intercourse with you without your consent in aggravating circumstances, for example, physically hurts you, uses a weapon, or has some authority over you, like if they are your boss or teacher.
- Sex is considered rape if someone sexually penetrates you without your consent, either while being aware that you are not, or might not be, consenting while not considering whether you are not, or might not be, consenting.
Or, after you start having sex, the other person does not stop after becoming aware that you are not, or might not be, consenting. Or when a person makes you sexually penetrate (or not stop penetrating) them or another person or animal. It does not matter if the person being penetrated consents to the act. You must also consent.
Consent: Silence is not yes!
Freely agreeing to do something is consent. If someone is not forcing you, threatening you, if you are awake and concise, not affected by drugs, and if someone has not lied about their identity, then the act is consensual. Silence is not yes!
‘Sexual assault is when you are forced, coerced, or tricked into doing sexual things when you don’t want to. Sexual assault is a form of sexual violence and covers a wide range of unwanted sexual behaviors that can involve strangers or people you know. If you’ve been sexually assaulted, remember it’s not your fault, and it’s never okay for someone to force you to do something you are uncomfortable around.
Sexual assault is a form of trauma, and your response to trauma can show up in different ways. You may have memory flashbacks, which can take you physically back to that time and result in panic attacks. PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) can also be an outcome of sexual assault and may include nightmares or intrusive thoughts and memories.
If you’ve been sexually assaulted, it’s not something you have to live with on your own. Ensure that you’re safe. If you’re in immediate danger, or you’re worried about your safety, contact emergency services immediately and try to get to somewhere safe.
Talk to someone. This can be tough but is vital for your support and recovery. Find someone you can talk to, such as a friend or family member, or a professional like a counselor or youth worker. Contact an organization in your state or territory that can give you relevant information seeking help. Get confidential help, get medical help. If you’ve been sexually assaulted, you can get medical support. If you decide to, try to get to a hospital or health center where they can give you appropriate medical care.
Consider contacting the police. You might find it hard to decide whether or not to report the sexual assault to the police. The most important thing is that you make the right decision for yourself. If you choose to make a formal report, it’s helpful to know that procedures have been put in place to support you and reduce distress. It can help take a support person to the police station, so you don’t need to be on your own. You can also write down as much as you can remember about the sexual assault to help reduce stress at the time of reporting.
Trust yourself. If someone has assaulted you, you may not feel confident about what to do next. Trust your instincts. Remember that it’s never okay for someone to assault you for any reason.
Remember, there is no ‘correct’ way to respond to sexual assault. Know your legal rights. The laws relating to sexual assault vary from state to state.