This article is part of the 10 Things You Should Know series.
1. Sexual assault is clearly defined.
Sexual assault is any type of sexual behavior or contact where consent is not freely given or obtained, and it is accomplished through force, intimidation, violence, coercion, manipulation, threat, deception, or abuse of authority.
Sexual assault includes acts such as non-consensual sexual intercourse (rape), non-consensual sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, exposure, voyeurism, or attempts to commit these acts.
2. Sexual assault is prevalent.
At least 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are or will be victims of sexual assault in their lifetime. Most victims (approximately 80%) are assaulted by an acquaintance (relative, friend, dating partner, spouse, pastor, teacher, boss, coach, therapist, doctor, etc.).
3. Child sexual abuse is surprisingly common.
Child sexual abuse is more prevalent than most people think and the offenders are usually people that the parents and the children know, not strangers. One in five children are sexually abused by their 18th birthday.
A child is much more likely to be sexually abused by a recognized trusted adult than by a stranger: 34% of assailant are family members, 58% are acquaintances of the child or family, and only 7% of perpetrators are strangers to the victim.
4. Sexual assault is extremely damaging to victims.
The only thing more staggering than the number of occurrences of sexual assault is the acute damage done to the victim. The effects are physical, social, emotional, psychological, and spiritual. Immediate physical effects may be pain and bodily injuries, especially if the perpetrator used force. Specific physical effects may include bruises, broken bones, STIs, nausea, vomiting, headaches, and pregnancy.
Longer-term physical effects may be disturbed sleep patterns, nightmares, insomnia, loss of appetite, and stomach pains. Sexual assault causes harmful emotional, psychological, or physiological effects that are more severe than the effects of other crimes.
5. Sexual assault is widely misunderstood.
Social psychology research on attitudes toward sexual assault has demonstrated that individuals in our society hold many prejudices about and negative views of sexual assault victims. Thus, victims often suffer not only from the trauma of the assault itself but also from the effects of these negative stereotypes.
The result is that victims feel socially derogated and blamed following their sexual assault, which can prolong, continue, and intensify the substantial psychological and emotional distress the victim experiences. It is clear that negative reactions from family, friends, loved ones, and society have a harmful effect on victims.
6. Victims are often blamed for their post-traumatic symptoms.
Because sexual assault is a form of victimization that is particularly stigmatized in American society, many victims suffer in silence, which only intensifies their distress and disgrace. There appears to be a societal impulse to blame traumatized individuals for their suffering. One rationale is that this provides nonvictims with a false sense of security if they can place blame on victims rather than on perpetrators.
Research findings suggest that blaming victims for post-traumatic symptoms is not only erroneous but also contributes to the vicious cycle of traumatization. Victims experiencing negative social reactions have poorer adjustment. Research has proven that “the only social reactions related to better adjustment by victims were being believed and being listened to by others.”
7. Many victims never tell anyone about their sexual assualt.
Given the horrific nature of sexual assault and the shame it brings to victims, it is not shocking that it is one of the most underreported crimes. The fear of intrusive and revictimizing court procedures prevents many sexual assault survivors from reporting their assaults.
While under reporting is a major concern, false reporting is not. Actually, false reports are quite rare. The figure often used by sexual violence experts for estimating falsified reports is 2%, which is a slightly lower rate than other crimes.
8. Understanding the concept of "consent" is crucial for understanding sexual assault.
There are three main considerations in judging whether a sexual act is consensual or an assault. First, are both people old enough to consent? Second, do both people have the capacity to consent? Third, did both agree to the sexual contact? If any of these are answered “no,” it is likely that sexual assault has occurred.
Consent requires communicating “yes” to engaging in a particular act. Consent is not given when one person says “no,” says nothing, is coerced, is physically forced, is mentally or physically helpless, is intoxicated, is under the influence of drugs, or is unconscious. Nor does it occur any time that consent is not explicitly given.
9. Sexual assault is mentioned in the Bible.
Far from being a peripheral issue in the Bible, sexual assault is clearly depicted as sin against God and neighbor, mentioned frequently throughout the Bible and referred to as a symbol of how badly sin has corrupted God’s good creation.
There are explicit passages calling sexual assault sin—a violation of God’s law (Deut 22:25-29). There are also depictions of sexual acts that the Bible characterizes as sexual assault resulting in emotional trauma. Passages such as 2 Samuel 13, Hosea 2:1-13, Jeremiah 13:20-27, and Ezekiel 16 and 23 demonstrate an understanding that such acts of sexual assault result not only in emotional trauma for the victim, but also in humiliation and a debilitating loss of sense of self.
10. Survivors of sexual assault need to know it wasn't their fault.
Victims of sexual assault need to hear the following: “What happened to you was not your fault. You are not to blame. You did not deserve it. You did not ask for this. You should not be silenced. You are not worthless. You do not have to pretend like nothing happened. Nobody had the right to violate you. You are not responsible for what happened to you. You are not damaged goods. You were supposed to be treated with dignity and respect. You were the victim of assault and it was wrong. You were sinned against. Despite all the pain, healing can happen and there is hope.”