Saturday, August 29, 2009

What is Sexual Violence: Definitions, Myths, and Facts

The Blog will begin a new theme of exploring myths around sexual violence. It must be noted that it is such myths that have created an environment where perpetrators escape accountability and victims are re-traumatized. However, prior to exploring some of the most common myths surrounding sexual violence, it is important to define the term sexual violence, and specifically sexual assault, and certain relationships and circumstances they arise under.

  • Sexual Violence

    Sexual Violence is a global health and human rights problem in the world (WHO, 2009). It is a worldwide pandemic, which not only effects women, but men and our society in general. Sexual Violence encompasses sexual assault but is not exclusive to sexual assault. It is a much broader term that stems from the need for power and control over others. In sexual violence, sex is the weapon and method in order for the perpetrator to gain power and control.

  • Sexual Assault

    Sexual Assault comes in various forms. In order to define sexual assault, we have included the different types of sexual assault and various forms of violence that sexual assault co-occurs with. These different types of sexual assault include rape, hate crimes, incest, male sexual assault, acquaintance rape, child sexual abuse, child abuse, dating and domestic violence, drug facilitated sexual assault, partner rape, sexual exploitation by helping professionals, sexual harassment, stalking, and stranger rape (RAINN.ORG).

    The following definitions are from the Rape, Abuse, Incest, National Network's page on definitions.

Sexual Assault: The specific definitions of sexual assault, rape, and sexual abuse actually vary state by state since such terms are legal. Therefore, the following definition is taken from the Department of Justice's definition that states sexual assault is "unwanted sexual contact that stops short of rape or attempted rape. This includes touching and fondling"(

  • Rape: Again rape is a legal term and the specific definition differs from state to state. However, the definition used by the Department of Justice is the following: rape is forced sexual intercourse, which includes vaginal, anal, or oral penetration that may also may be done by a body part or an object. It is important to remember in 8 out of 10 rapes, no weapon is used except physical force. In addition, almost in the majority of cases, victims feel as if they are about to die.
  • Stranger Rape: When most individuals think of rape, they think of stranger rape, which is when someone unknown to the victim rapes them. Stranger rape actually falls into three categories.
  • 1)BLITZ SEXUAL ASSAULT: In such a case, a victim is assaulted brutally and rapidly by a perpetrator without having any prior contact with the individual. Such assaults may occur in public places or at night. 2)CONTACT SEXUAL ASSAULT: In such cases, the perpetrator tries to win the trust and confidence of the victim before assaulting them. Such perpetrators pick their victims in bars or create situations where the victim may be coerced into a sexual assault. 3)HOME INVASION SEXUAL ASSAULT: Such assaults occur when someone breaks into the individual's home.
  • Acquaintance Rape: Unlike stranger rape, which is thought of as the most common form of rape, actually most cases of rape are acquaintance rape. This further relates more to a college campus population than stranger rape. Such a term in used to describe an assault that involves the use of sexual activities that are coercive and occur without the individual's permission. The perpetrator might use violence, duress, force, or use fear of bodily injury against the individual. However, in such instances, the individual who is responsible for committing the assault is a friend, a date, an acquaintance, or someone who the victim knows.

    -Most assaults usually fall into the category of acquaintance rape and it is important to keep in mind even if one has a current relationship with the perpetrator or had an intimate relationship with the perpetrator, it does not mean consent was given to the individual.

    -In every instance, verbal consent has to be given in every instance of sexual intimacy, and as "the level of sexual intimacy increases (e.g., moving from kissing to petting, from petting to oral sex, from oral sex to intercourse or anal sex, etc.)"( Like all forms of all other sexual assault, acquaintance rape is about power and control.

    -In the overwhelming cases of acquaintance rape, the victims do not define their experience as a sexual assault, and actually blame themselves for the assault.

    -Furthermore, since the perpetrator is known to the victim, the victim sees their perpetrator after the assault has occurred, which can cause re-traumatization as well as feeling shame and humiliation.

    Here are also some physical and emotional reactions that victims of acquaintance rape may experience or show: Mood Swings, Nightmares, Anxiety, Fear, Helplessness, Depression, Suicidal Behavior/Ideation, self-harm, and sleeping and eating disturbances.

    Our next blogs will focus on defining Dating and Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault, Stalking, Sexual Exploitation by Helping Professionals and Sexual Harassment.

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