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Acts of sexual violence can be perpetrated by people who are known or unknown to the survivor. However, the National Institute of Justice reports about 80 percent of sexual violence is perpetrated by someone known to the survivor. Sexual violence can occur with peers, people of authority, romantic relationships, acquaintances or close friendships. Sexual violence can also be perpetrated by individuals of a similar or different sex, gender, or sexual orientation than the survivor.
What is Sexual Violence?
Sexual Violence is a traumatic sexual act that occurs without the survivor’s consent. Sexual assault, rape and sexual abuse all fall under the umbrella term of sexual violence. There can be misconceptions about what sexual violence is. Following are descriptions of kinds of sexual violence.
Coercion. Using threats, intimidation, statements, or force to manipulate another person into a sexual act.
Rape. Any form of sexual penetration where the victim does not or is not able to provide consent (i.e.,oral, anal or vaginal).
Sexual Abuse. Any unwanted sexual activity in which perpetrators of abuse use force, make threats, intimidate or take advantage of those who are unable to provide consent.
Sexual Assault. An umbrella term which encompasses unwanted touch, coercion, attempted rape and rape.
Survivor. An individual who has experienced sexual violence. This word is used as an empowering alternative to the word “victim.” Some individuals may prefer this term, while others may prefer the term victim. It is best to use the term that the individual identifies most with.
What is Consent?
Consent is one’s ability to agree to a sexual act. Consent between individuals should be all of the following:
Mutual. Each person must agree to the sexual act.
Explicit. Consent should be clearly indicated. The absence of a “no” does not equate to a “yes.”
Sober. Consent cannot be provided while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Continuous. Consent must be given freely and throughout the course of the sexual act.
In addition, consent cannot be provided if a person is asleep, incapacitated or underage.
Sexual Assault on College Campuses
Sexual assault happens at a higher rate on college campuses than other places. It is a highly underreported violent crime; therefore, it is important to note that any statistics listed below are possibly lower than the actual rate of sexual violence.
- 23.1 percent of females and 5.4 percent of males experience rape or sexual assault. For non-binary students, the rate of assault is approximately 25 percent.
- 20 percent of female college students report to law enforcement; this number is significantly smaller for male students.
- More than 50 percent of sexual assaults during a typical school year occur in the months of August, September, October and November.
Survivors of sexual violence can experience a wide range of reactions both in the long and short term. These can include, but are not limited to:
Decreased self-esteem. Survivors can experience decreased feelings of confidence about themselves or uncertainty due to their traumatic experience.
Feelings of shame or guilt. Survivors can often blame themselves for their assault. It is important to note that survivors of sexual violence are not guilty or deserving of their violence.
Changes in eating and sleeping. The experience of trauma can lead to an increased or decreased appetite. Additionally, survivors can feel an increased need to sleep or can have insomnia, lying awake most of the night.
Difficulty in social situations. Due to the nature of sexual trauma, individuals may be distrusting of others including both close and acquaintance relationships. This may lead to social isolation.
Increased or decreased sexual activity. Following an act of sexual violence, survivors may experience a lack of overall sexual desire or interest. In contrast, some survivors may engage in an increase of sexual activities as a means of re-gaining control over their sex life.
Difficulty concentrating or completing tasks. Experiences of trauma can impact an individual’s cognitive abilities including concentration, memory, decision making and emotional regulation.
Experiencing nightmares. Survivors can experience an increase of nightmares that may or may not be about sexual violence.
Changes in the use of alcohol or other substances. Survivors may increase their use of alcohol or other substances as a way to self-medicate.
Physiological Concerns. Survivors may experience physiological concerns, including increased headaches, decreased immune system or problems with their gastrointestinal system.
Special Considerations for Survivors
According to the 2015 book Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman, individuals who experience trauma are likely to feel disempowered and detached from others. Therefore, it can be helpful for survivors to engage in positive self-care strategies that promote feelings of control in their lives. This could include a variety of activities such as:
Seeking informal or formal help. Engaging in conversation with a trusted friend or mental health professional who can assist in better understanding their experiences. Friends and counselors can provide support and empowerment to assist survivors in developing positive coping strategies. In addition, seeking assistance from an advocate can help survivors to better understand their options for reporting if they choose to do that in the future.
Establishing safety. Due to the impact of trauma, survivors can feel unsafe in their environments. Engaging in activities that are routine and assist the survivor to feel safe in their environment can be highly beneficial. This can look different for each person. For example, some survivors may feel safe spending time with others, while other people may want to spend more time alone.
Focus on controllable factors in your life. Focusing on activities or aspects of life that are controllable can assist survivors in feeling more capable to manage their own lives.
If a friend or loved one of yours was a victim of sexual violence, you may experience feelings similar to those described in the previous paragraphs. Healthy coping strategies such as those described above can be helpful for your self-care. Remember, it is important for you to take good care of yourself, so that you may help the survivor in your life.
Potential Next Steps
Survivors may choose any number of the options below:
- Seek medical attention from their primary care provider or from the emergency department at their local hospital.
- Engage in therapy services at their local Counseling Center.
- Visit a Rape Crisis Center, Victim Advocacy Center or Domestic Violence Shelter.
- Report the sexual violence to a University Title IX office if either the survivor or the perpetrator is a university student, or report sexual violence to the police.
- Talk to a friend, partner, family member or sexual assault hotline.
- Do research. (See Want to Know More? section)
Want to Know More?
Psychology Today: psychologytoday.com
This website includes interesting articles written by renowned psychologists, academics, psychiatrists and writers regarding psychology and mental health. psychologytoday.com can also assist you to find a mental health provider in your area.
Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network: rainn.org
The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network is a national organization that provides education, prevention and support to survivors of abuse and interpersonal violence as well as support local sexual assault services across the U.S. RAINN’s website is full of information and articles as a means of educating the public on these issues.
Department of Justice: justice.gov
The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) is dedicated to the enforcing the laws of the United States. In addition, the DOJ. conducts national studies to better understand the rates and impacts of violence. Their website contains articles to better understand the impact of these crimes.
Get help ASAP
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.