The Real Truth About Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is something many women have experienced to varying degrees. If you are unsure of what exactly constitutes sexual assault or how to deal with it, read on!

We hear a lot in the media today about sexual assault, whether referring to an assault at a local college or university, celebrities committing these crimes in various manners or criminal trials held with disappointing results in the public view, such as the recent Jian Ghomeshi case in Canada.

Sadly, sexual assault is an all-too-common experience among women in today’s society. Statistics show that, in North America, 1 in 4 women will be a victim of this type of crime in her life, and more than 80% of all sexual assaults are committed against women.

These are staggering figures. Perhaps you fit into the statistics noted above, or maybe you have been fortunate enough never to have endured this horrific type of criminal act.

So, what acts constitute sexual assault? Why is there so much blame placed on victims in the aftermath? How do you overcome an incident like this, should it happen to you? How do you support a friend who has experienced this?

Let’s begin by defining what sexual assault actually is, and dispelling some myths around it.

Sexual assault does not necessarily involve penetration

Couple arguing together in their car

Legal definitions vary from country to country, but the Criminal Code of Canada defines sexual assault as “an assault of a sexual nature that violates the sexual integrity of the victim.”

Based on this definition, activities that are not related to vaginal or anal intercourse could be considered to be sexual assault. The intent and if there was voluntary consent involved is crucial.

Let’s say you are coming home from a date, and, against your will, are forced to give oral sex to the person you are with, or are forcibly penetrated with an object.

This would be considered to be sexual assault. You, the victim, have had your sexual integrity violated. The assault is sexual in nature, you have not consented, and the intent is to degrade you.

The above noted link also includes very helpful descriptions as to what voluntary consent does and does not look like. Note that while it is far more likely that women will be assaulted by men, same-gender sexual assault also occurs.

Sexual assault is about power, not the sexual act

I’m sure you have all heard about instances where a star athlete has committed a sexual offense on campus. You may think, or have even expressed, “Why would he go out and do that?

I’m sure women were lining up around the block to have a chance to be with him!” Know that sexual assault is not about the actual act itself. It is about control and power. The intent is to harm and degrade the other person.

Take the example of the athlete, for instance. If sexual assault was about the actual act itself, he would not have to look very far for instant gratification. He is seeking to exert his power and dominance over someone.

Men are victims of sexual assault, not solely perpetrators

Men often experience this type of crime as well. Check out this link for detailed statistics and information.

Victims are often shamed for not acting appropriately after an assault

angry man mad at woman after fighting

In the Jian Ghomeshi case referred at the beginning of this article, the testimonies of his alleged victims were deemed by the judge and critics as being unreliable and inconsistent. In some instances, the witnesses were felt to have not acted in a reasonable or appropriate manner after the alleged crimes took place.

Let me say that this is not because the plaintiffs were asking for it, deserved it or were deliberately trying to mislead the police with information provided.

This video does an excellent job of explaining the effects of trauma and the physiology behind people not being able to recall information. Basically, it is a survival instinct working that takes over the rational thought.

Victims are also often shamed for other reasons, such as they were ‘asking for it’ by the way they dressed, or are seen to be lying about the assault for financial gain or other selfish reasons.

These are simply myths, and are just plain wrong. The vast majority of sexual assault complainants are truthful and are not placing false reports for some personal gain.

If you are a victim of sexual assault, seek help and look after yourself

Sexual assault is incredibly traumatic, and due to its nature, is violating and degrading. If you are having trouble with coping and have not yet sought professional help, it is important to do so.

A qualified professional can help you to work through your feelings and understand that this was not your fault in any way.

To support someone who has been assaulted, be encouraging

Have you ever had your partner take out a bad mood on you when they’ve had a frustrating day at work, and if so, how do you handle it? Obviously, sexual assault is much more serious than your co-workers annoying you and ruining your mood.

My point is that much as your partner may lash out in this scenario, your friend or family member may do the same thing. Just as you would not take your spouse’s mood personally, you should not take the victim’s volatility to heart.

The aftermath of trauma is frustrating to deal with and work through, and since we tend to attack those close to us, you may bear the brunt of the improperly directed anger.

Recognize it for what it is, and let it go. Encourage the victim to seek professional help if not already done, and take a couple of deep breaths.Be a wonderful listening ear. Above all, be supportive in whatever manner is most effective.

Whether supporting someone or coping with an assault yourself, know that you can and will overcome this through work, self-care and time.

Are you part of the statistics? How did you overcome the trauma? Any advice or suggestions for other readers?

About the author

Lisa H.

Lisa is versatile, being a Psychology-trained addictions worker by day, writer by night. She enjoys traveling, dance, & can squat her body weight. Her dream is to integrate her education & love of writing into a sustaining career.

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