What is it?
The term sexual assault refers to sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim. Some forms of sexual assault include:
- Attempted rape
- Fondling or unwanted sexual touching
- Forcing a victim to perform sexual acts, such as oral sex or penetrating the perpetrator’s body
- Penetration of the victim’s body, also known as rape
What is rape?
Rape is a form of sexual assault, but not all sexual assault is rape. The term rape is often used as a legal definition to specifically include sexual penetration without consent. For its Uniform Crime Reports, the FBI defines rape as “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” Each state defines rape and other forms of sexual assault differently and it is important to research your state’s definition.
Other types of Sexual Assault
- Child Sexual Abuse
- Intimate Partner Sexual Violence
- Drug-Facilitated Sexual Assault
- Sexual Assault of Men and Boys
- Sexual Harassment
- Gang Rape
What is force?
Force doesn’t always refer to physical pressure. Perpetrators may use emotional coercion, psychological force, or manipulation to coerce a victim into non-consensual sex. Some perpetrators will use threats to force a victim to comply, such as threatening to hurt the victim or their family or other intimidation tactics.
Who are the perpetrators?
The majority of perpetrators are someone known to the victim.
The term “date rape” is sometimes used to refer to “acquaintance rape”. Perpetrators of acquaintance rape might be a date, but they could also be a classmate, a neighbor, a friend’s significant other, or any number of different roles. It’s important to remember that dating, instances of past intimacy, or other acts like kissing do not give someone consent for increased or continued sexual contact. In other instances the victim may not know the perpetrator at all. This type of sexual violence is sometimes referred to as “stranger rape”.
Survivors of both stranger rape and acquaintance rape often blame themselves for behaving in a way that encouraged the perpetrator. It’s important to remember that the victim is a never to blame for the actions of a perpetrator.
Effects of Sexual Assault
Sexual violence can have psychological, emotional, and physical effects on a survivor. Some effects can include depression, sleeping disorders, PTSD, and more. These effects aren’t always easy to deal with, but with the right help and support they can be managed. Learning more can help you find the best form of care to begin the healing process.
Consent is an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity. When you’re engaging in sexual activity, consent is about communication—and it should happen every time. The laws about consent vary by state and situation, but you don’t have to be a legal expert to understand how consent plays out in real life.
Reporting to Law Enforcement
The decision to report to law enforcement is entirely yours. Some survivors say that reporting and seeking justice helped them recover and regain a sense of control over their lives. Understanding how to report and learning more about the experience can take away some of the unknowns and help you feel more prepared.
Recovering After Sexual Assault
After sexual assault, it’s hard to know how to react. You may be physically hurt, emotionally drained, or unsure what to do next. You may be considering working with the criminal justice system, but are unsure of where to start. Learning more about what steps you can take following sexual violence can help ground you in a difficult time.
Recovering from a sexual assault or abuse is a process, and that process looks different for everyone. It may take weeks, months, or years—there’s no timetable for healing. Some steps might include:
Seeking Medical Attention -After a sexual assault, you may wish to seek medical attention to treat any possible injuries and to check for injuries you may not be able to see.
Therapy – If you decide to seek support from a therapist after sexual assault or abuse, you may have some questions. That’s perfectly normal. Working with a therapist can help you deal with some of the challenges you may be facing.
Self-Care After Trauma – Whether it happened recently or years ago, self-care can help you cope with the short- and long-term effects of a trauma like sexual assault.
Safety Planning – Planning ways to stay safe may help reduce the risk of future harm. See our Safety Plan for more Information.
It’s hard to know what to do, how to feel, or what your options are after a sexual assault. Please know that you’re not alone.
Your safety is important. Are you in a safe place? If you’re not feeling safe, consider reaching out to someone you trust for support. You don’t have to go through this alone.
What happened was not your fault. Something happened to you that you didn’t want to happen—and that’s not OK.