What is sexual assault?
Any non-consensual sexual activity (even kissing and touching) is sexual assault. It is against the law and a major crime that harmfully affects people not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. The damaging effects of sexual assault can last a lifetime.
The right to consent
It is important that people are aware as to what consent means so that when we are involved in sexual relationships with partners, be they first encounter or be they with long term partners, even married partners, there are a mutual understanding and respect towards the right to consent.
- Sexual consent must be explicit: The only way in which you can determine whether your partner gives you sexual consent is if they tell you. Never assume that just because you feel a certain way that your partner does too.
- You can change your mind during any sexual activity: Either you or your sexual partner can say no at any stage. Just because you have begun a sexual act, does not mean that you must finish it. If somebody tells you to stop, then stop.
- Check in with your partner: If you notice that your partner seems uncomfortable or tense, ask them how they are feeling. Conversely, do not rely on your partner to notice your body language or mood. If you do not want to participate in sexual activity, tell your partner to stop.
- When under the influence of drugs or alcohol, consent cannot be given: If your partner is too drunk or unaware as to what is happening, your sexual activity is equivalent to rape.
Of course, there are many instances in which people are attacked and their right to consent is taken from them. Indeed, a chief reason for perpetrators who sexually assault people is to attain a sense of power or control. Overwhelmingly, it is women who are most frequently the subject to sexual crimes. However, it is an issue that threatens us all, be we male, transgender, children or adolescents.
What are the effects of sexual assault upon our mental health?
Being placed into the most vulnerable, powerless and unsafe situations imaginable, it is only natural that those who have been assaulted are at high risk of distress and profound impact on their mental health. Severe depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder are just a few of the repercussions people face following an incident of sexual assault. This is only heightened if the person is unable to attain outside support and must endure this experience on their own, which is sadly a common experience.
In many instances and for various reasons, victims of sexual assault do not come forward.
For so long in our society, victims have been wrongfully blamed for their assault. Whilst ‘‘how dare they do this to you!’’, or ‘‘you do not deserve this’’, or even, ‘‘this was absolutely NOT your fault’’ should be the immediate response to people stepping forward to report their experience of sexual assault, it is unfortunately not always the case. For some staggering, unfathomable reason, there are people out there who voice their judgement on the person who has been attacked, as opposed to the perpetrator. ‘‘Could you not have been stronger in your resistance?’’, ‘‘why did you not go to the police when it happened?’’, or ‘‘why did you wear such a provocative outfit?’’ seems to reflect popular examples. In doing so, the validity of the person’s terror, shock and fear is entirely dismissed. As a result, it is not surprising that many sufferers will hold their attack in secret, their silence constructed by a sense of guilt, shame, and suffering.
- Rape is the most under-reported crime throughout the world. Recent studies indicate that 63% of assaults by rape are unreported.
- In the event of rape, research conducted in the United States depicts that 51.1% of the culprits were existing partners, 40.8% acquaintances, 12.5% were family members and 13.8% were strangers.
Let’s take a moment to consider these statistics. Nobody has a right to your body. It doesn’t matter what you are wearing or who it is. Not even your married partner has a right to your body if you do not permit it.
What happened to you was not your fault
For anybody happening to be reading this that has endured the horror of sexual assault in the past, recently, or indeed remains presently trapped within an abusive situation to which you see no escape. If you are to take anything away from this moment, it is to say to yourself, loud and clear that this is not your fault. Reach out to somebody. Contact the police. Contact a mental health professional, contact a shelter or a person in your life that you can trust. Do not suffer alone. You can and will recover from this.
The tide is changing and as time moves forward, the way in which society perceives and understands sexual assault is slowly starting to improve. However, there is still a long way to go. Raise the topic with somebody this week. What are their thoughts about the right to consent or what constitutes sexual assault? Never forget that we possess the power to illuminate and enlighten change, one meaningful conversation at a time.
Wishing you strength,
News on Sunday – My Weekly Advice Column
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