By Kelley Kidd, JCADA Spring 2012 Intern
April, National Sexual Assault Awareness month, is a perfect opportunity to address an issue that is often shrouded in taboo, stereotypes, and misinformation. It is a chance to find out exactly what sexual assault means, and help people, both male and female, stay safer. For many, sexual assault calls up images of women in short skirts being attacked by strangers as they wander home along. This is exactly why Sexual Assault Awareness is so important: because this image is wrong. Movements like Project Unbreakable and resources like the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network tell us that sexual assault is much more complex than the above over-simplistic picture. Though stranger rape does occur, and is a danger, it is important to understand that sexual violence does still “count” if it comes from an acquaintance, friend, or partner. In fact, two-thirds of sexual assault (which, it is important to note, includes sexual action other than rape) is committed by someone known to the victim. It is also important to recognize that rape may, but need not, include violence. Rape or sexual assault are sexual acts that lack consent—consent cannot be taken for granted, and if something happens without the explicit consent of both partners, it might be considered assault or rape.
In its attempt to help prevent sexual assault, Sexual Assault Awareness Month is focused this year on not only eradicating unhealthy sexual relationships, but also on establishing healthy sexuality its place. Healthy sexuality is more than “not saying no”—it is informed sex based on respect and positive, clear consent. Healthy sexuality is free from manipulation, coercion, and violence. Instead, it is built on honesty and respect for boundaries.
So, how can you reduce your risk of being placed in this kind of situation? In social situations, always exercise caution: stay with friends you trust and develop a way to look out for one another, keep an eye on anything you may be drinking and don’t accept drinks prepared by strangers or people you may not trust, and always trust your instinct—better to be safe than sorry, and if you suspect inappropriate behavior, contact law enforcement. If you do find yourself in a situation where you are uncomfortable or find yourself under pressure, remember that you do not have to do anything that you are uncomfortable with—your boundaries are important, and you can say no. It is healthy to stick to your limits and not feel obligated to consent if you are uncomfortable. This includes being impaired—you can always ask to wait until a point when you are both fully in control of your judgment. In a healthy sexual situation, a partner should be willing to respect these limits. A partner who disregards your resistance is someone to at least be careful of. If necessary, find an excuse to leave, get in touch with family or friends to help you get out of the situation, or locate an escape route.
That said, if you are sexually assaulted, remember that it is not your fault: sexual assault is a crime, and no one has the right to force sexual activity without consent. You are not alone. There are many resources available to support victims, Help is available 24/7 through the National Sexual Assault Hotlines at 1-800.656.HOPE, and online at rainn.org