There has been much conversation lately about the number of people who have experienced sexual assault.
According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), someone experiences sexual assault in the United States every 98 seconds. Of those victims, 44 percent will be younger than 18, and approximately 80 percent of those same victims will be under 30. Research indicates that a college with a population of 10,000 can have up to 350 sexual assaults annually. And, in 7 out of 10 sexual assaults, the perpetrator knows the victim personally.
On a positive note, the rate of sexual assault and rape has fallen 63 percent since 1993, from a rate of 4.3 assaults per 1,000 people in 1993, to 1.6 per 1000 in 2015. However, only 6 out of every 1,000 rapists will end up in prison.
Many are asking, how do we teach people to protect themselves from sexual assault? And, how do we teach them what respect looks like? These are important questions for sure, especially in light of recent findings in a study by Harvard’s Making Caring Common project. Based on responses from 3,000 young adults and high school students, the lead researcher found it troubling that at least one-third of respondents said:
- It is rare to see a woman treated in an inappropriately sexualized manner on television;
- Society has reached a point that there is no more double-standard against women; and
- Too much attention is being given to the issue of sexual assault.
What is sexual assault, exactly?
According to the Department of Justice, sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling and attempted rape all fall under the definition of sexual assault.
Here’s what consent DOESN'T look like:
- Refusing to take no for an answer
- Assuming that wearing certain clothes, flirting or kissing is an invitation for anything more
- Someone being under the legal age of consent, as defined by the state
- Someone being incapacitated because of drugs or alcohol
- Pressuring someone into sexual activity by using fear or intimidation
- Assuming you have permission to engage in a sexual act because you’ve done it in the past
According to RAINN, consent is about communication. Giving consent for one activity, one time, does not mean giving consent for increased or recurring sexual contact. For example, agreeing to kiss someone doesn’t give that person permission to remove your clothes. Having sex with someone in the past doesn’t give that person permission to have sex with you again in the future.
Although there is no guarantee of personal safety for anyone, each of us has a role to play in preventing sexual assault. Here are some things you can do to protect yourself or someone else from becoming a victim.
- Don’t trust everyone, but let people earn your trust over time.
- Be careful about putting yourself in a sticky situation. If you are going out with friends you trust, keeping an eye on each other and planning to leave together can be helpful.
- Never leave your drink (alcohol or not) unattended or take a drink from someone else.
- Be alert and aware of your surroundings. Ask for an escort to your car if you feel unsafe. Lock your doors and secure the windows when you are asleep or leaving your home.
- Be wise about posting your location on social media. Consider privately sharing your location with someone you really trust in case something goes awry.
- Have a backup plan for emergencies, and anticipate how you would react in various scenarios. Memorize important phone numbers, keep some cash on hand and hide an extra set of keys in case yours turn up missing.
- Trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable in a situation, leave or get a friend to help you out.
- If you see a potentially dangerous situation, step in and say something, either by yourself or with backup.
Sexual assault is evidence that without respect for one another, people and our society suffer greatly. It is not okay under any circumstance, and silence about it can allow it to happen over and over again.
It’s crucial that we promote healthy, respectful relationships in all areas of life if we want to make a difference. Everyone could benefit from recognizing that respect involves valuing the opinions and decisions of others without attempting to control them. A respectful person does not take advantage of another person and honors boundaries that are set. Showing respect also involves concern for others’ well-being and safety.
You can play a role in changing the culture when it comes to issues surrounding sexual assault. Educate your children. Model respect in all relationships. Talk about this issue at home, in the workplace, at school, at your place of worship and in the community. If you see something, say something.
Coming together around this issue can help everyone have healthier relationships, which is a good thing for people and a very good thing for our community and country.