Who Does Sexual Assault Affect?
Sexual assault affects many lives—both directly and indirectly. It affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels. While sexual violence has fallen by more than half since 1993, it is important to understand the issue:
Sexual assault is an unwanted sexual act. It includes any sexual, physical, verbal, or visual act that forces a person to engage in sexual contact against their will or without their consent.
Rape is forced sexual intercourse, including any completed or attempted unwanted vaginal, oral, or anal penetration through the use of physical force (such as being pinned or held down, or by the use of violence) or threats to physically harm (such as killing the victim).
Consent is an approval given without force or coercion. Consent also means a person is capable of consciously agreeing to sexual acts. A person cannot give consent if they are impaired by a physical, mental, or emotional reason, as well as their status by age, role, or relationship to the perpetrator. If a victim does not fight the acts, it does not mean consent. A person may not fight as protection from being hurt even more.
Many times, sexual assault goes hand in hand with domestic violence. Domestic violence involves an intentional pattern of physical, emotional, economic, and other tactics used to instill fear and to coerce intimate partners to act against their own will or best interests. Resources are available if you or someone you know needs help. In the United States, one in four women and one in seven men have experienced some form of severe violence from an intimate partner. Domestic violence survivors may feel like they did something wrong to cause the abuse. It is never appropriate for someone to be violent against another person. This violence is based on gaining power and control.
It takes courage for a survivor of sexual assault or domestic violence to share their story with anyone. Never underestimate your power to affect the course of a survivor’s healing journey. There are some tools—words, actions, and resources—that can help you support someone who shares personal experiences with you. You don’t have to be an expert—you just have to be yourself. If someone shares their experience with you, you’re probably a person they look to for support, compassion, and guidance. Although you can’t take away what happened to someone, you can be a source of comfort.
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