5 Important Things to Know About Sexual Assault

If you’re familiar with the phrase “crossing the line,” you may know that sexual assault is a clear-cut example of someone crossing the line.

What Is Sexual Assault?

The Office of Women’s Health (OWH), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, offers information to help us better understand where the sexual assault line is.

Sexual assault is any sexual activity involving you that you haven’t consented to. Consent is a clear “yes” to sexual activity. Not saying “no” does not mean you have given consent. Wearing sexy clothing, dancing or flirting are not the same as saying yes.

Consent is an ongoing process. If you consent to sexual activity, you can change your mind and choose to stop. You can stop even after sexual activity has started. Past consent does not mean you consent to future activities.

Sexual assault includes attempted and completed sex acts that are against your will. Activities such as unwanted touching – outside or under clothes, incest, sexual coercion (being pressured in a nonphysical way) and rape are included in the definition of sexual assault.

Sexual assault is also sexual activity with someone who is unable to consent, such as an under-age child, older person or someone who’s drunk, asleep or passed out.

The perpetrator can be a stranger, acquaintance, friend, family member or person of power or authority — even a date, spouse or domestic partner. Women, children and men can be victims.

Sexual assault can be verbal or visual. Examples of this include anything that forces a person to join in unwanted sexual contact or attention, such as voyeurism or peeping (watching private sexual acts without consent), exhibitionism (someone exposing himself or herself in public), sexual harassment or threats, and forcing someone to pose for sexual photos.

What Should Sexual Assault Victims Do?

If you’re in danger or need medical care, call 9-1-1. Get away from the person who assaulted you as soon as you can.

  • Save everything that might have the attacker’s DNA on it. Avoid washing up. Don’t brush, comb or clean any part of the body. If possible, don’t change clothes. Don’t touch or change anything at the scene of the assault. These steps will make it easier to collect evidence of the assault.

  • Go to a hospital emergency room as soon as you can. Aurora Health Care offers 24/7 help at (414) 219-5555.

    Trained caregivers can give you support and share medical and legal resources that will help you start the healing process. In some facilities you may see a forensic nurse examiner (FNE) or sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE). On the phone or in person, trained caregivers can help you and provide:
    • Advocacy services to help support you through your choices.
    • Crisis intervention and emotional support.
    • Medical assessment and treatment.
    • Forensic exams with evidence collection.
    • Pregnancy risk assessment, as appropriate.
    • Screening for sexually transmitted infections, as appropriate.
    • Assistance in communicating with law enforcement and social service agencies (reporting is required if the victim is a child).
    • Emotional support, therapy and counseling.
    • Support services for a survivor’s loved ones.

Once evidence of the assault is collected, you won’t need to decide your next steps right away. You’ll have time to consider your options for next steps.

  • Remember, sexual assault is not your fault. Feelings of fear, guilt or shock are normal, but it’s important to know that you can heal.

How Common Is Sexual Assault?

Sexual assault can happen to anyone regardless of age, gender, race, religion, appearance, sexual orientation or gender identity. The Office of Women’s Health reports women are victims of sexual assault more often than men.

  • Women — More than 23 million women in the U.S. have been raped.
  • Young women — A majority of women who have been raped are younger than 25. Almost half have been under 18.
  • Men — Approximately 2 million men have been raped, but sexual assault is often under reported.
  • LGBTQ — Bisexual women are more likely to be victims than lesbians and heterosexual women. Nearly half of bisexual women have been raped. Lesbians and bisexual women are victimized by a partner more often than heterosexual women. More than half of transgender people have been victims of sexual assault.

How Can You Reduce Your Risk for Sexual Assault?

Sexual assault is not the victim’s fault. While it’s difficult to totally eliminate risks for sexual assault, recommendations from the Office of Women’s Health (and professionals) can help reduce your risks:

  • Be aware that sexual assaults are frequently perpetrated by someone you know and trust.
  • Go to parties or gatherings with friends. Plan to arrive together, check in with each other now and then and leave at the same time.
  • Look out for your friends and ask them to look out for you. A person who is drinking may not be as careful as they should be. If a friend has had too much to drink, get her or him to a safer place.
  • Set up a codeword with family and friends that you can text or phone. The word can mean, “Help, come and get me!” Or “Call/text me to give me a reason to leave.”
  • Download a safety app. Free and subscription apps are available that share your location with friends or police if you need help. Search personal safety apps.
  • Avoid punchbowls and drinks that can be spiked (alcohol added). Sexual assault and alcohol often overlap. About three out of four attackers and half of victims have been drinking when the sexual assault happened.
  • Know your limits when using alcohol or drugs. See above. 
  • Trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable, leave. Only you can decide when you feel safe.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. If walking alone in solitary situations, avoid talking on your phone or listening to music with earbuds (these can distract you from noticing an approaching aggressor). Stay in busy, well-lit areas at night.

How Can You Help a Sexual Assault Victim?

Listen and offer comfort. Don’t judge. Reinforce that the victim is not at fault. Ask if the victim would like you to go along to the hospital or police.

Share the helpful resources we’ve shared in this blog. Additional resources are available if you have a friend who’s being abused.

A victim of sexual assault cannot simply “move on” afterward like nothing happened. Seek help to ensure a full, healthy recovery — both mentally and physically.

Professionals at Aurora Health Care are available any time of the day or night at (414) 219-5555 to offer compassionate help. You’ll receive help with contacting law enforcement and finding additional resources. A caregiver will also accompany you to medical, legal and court-related appointments.

Aurora is a not-for-profit organization. Our primary mission is to ensure your health and wellness.

Meet the Author

Sharain H. Horn, RN, MSN is the director of Aurora Healing and Advocacy Services located at Aurora Sinai Medical Center and Aurora West Allis Medical Center. 

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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