What is Sexual ASSAULT?

Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual contact, including unwanted intercourse (rape), unwanted touching, and unwanted kissing. It is a crime of violence, power and control in which sex is used as the weapon. Sexual assault can take the form of rape, child molestation, incest or sexual harassment.

What is Sexual consent?

Any sexual activity is classified as sexual assault if the victim does not or is unable to give consent. Consent cannot be given by anyone who is:

  • Under the age of consent, which is 14 in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
  • Under the influence of any alcohol or drugs.
  • Incapacitated, either physically or mentally, due to mental illness, mental retardation, physical illness or disability, advanced age and other causes.

Giving consent, however, is NOT an absence of the word "no." Any unwanted sexual activity that is accomplished through threat, intimidation or coercion is still sexual assault even if the victim did not say no or if s/he complied under duress. Often, this can be a point of self-blaming for the victim if s/he "gave in" to the perpetrator's advances because s/he may have been unable to escape or get away.

Sexual ASSAULT by an Acquaintance

The majority of rapes are perpetrated by someone the individual knows – a friend, a date, a neighbor, a coworker or a spouse. Sexual violence by an acquaintance is particularly devastating because the individual’s trust is violated; doubts are then raised in the individual’s mind about her or his ability to judge others. Individuals that experience acquaintance violence are more likely to blame themselves for the attack and are less likely to be believed by others. It is important to stress to these individuals that sexual violence is unacceptable under any circumstances.

Sexual ASSAULT by a Stranger

Stranger sexual violence is committed by someone the individual does not know. This type of assault is not as common as sexual violence by an acquaintance but tends to get more attention. This type of violence is very frightening and traumatic. It is important to remember that any type of violence can gravely affect the individual whether or not the perpetrator is known to them.

Marital Sexual ASSAULT

Marital sexual violence is any non-consensual sexual encounter between married partners. As it is a prevalent myth that spouses cannot sexually assault one another, many women and men who are sexually abused or raped in marriage do not seek help. If you suspect someone you know has experienced martial sexual violence, it is important to validate her or his experience and to only approach the subject when the individual feels comfortable.

Male Sexual ASSAULT

Males can experience sexual violence as well. Male individuals reporting they have been sexually assaulted are usually young boys or teenagers and the assailants are usually lone heterosexual males or groups of heterosexual males. Female rapists, although extremely rare, do exist. Males are usually reluctant to report a sexual assault for fear of ridicule or rejection. As women are 7 to 14 percent more likely to report sexual violence, an estimated 90 percent of all males that experience sexual violence never report their assault to police or hospitals.

Child Sexual ASSAULT

Child sexual violence is any exploitative or coercive sexual experience involving a person under the age of 18. Children are made vulnerable to sexual violence by their age, naiveté and trust in adult or authority figures. Child sexual violence is difficult to talk about and although public awareness has increased in recent years, there remains a need for accurate information, practical strategies to reduce children’s vulnerability and assist those in need.

Child sexual violence or abuse encompasses a wide range of actions and behaviors including:

  • Being touched in sexual areas
  • Being touched, kissed or held in ways that feel uncomfortable
  • Being shown sexual movies or forced to watch sexual acts
  • Being told sexual jokes or stories
  • Being spoken to in sexual ways
  • Being forced to pose for sexual or seductive photographs
  • Being encouraged, threatened or forced to perform sexual acts including: sexual intercourse, oral or anal sex with an adult or other child
  • Being forced to look at or touch one another
  • Being bathed or dressed in uncomfortable ways or being watched in an uncomfortable ways
  • Being ridiculed about their body
  • Making suggestive or sexual remarks about their body
  • Being told that all they are good for is sex
  • Being involved in child prostitution or pornography

It is important to remember that children rarely lie about sexual assault. Most molestations occur with someone the child knows (family member, teacher, coach, neighbor, etc.), and the abuse is usually on-going. The sexual contact usually escalates gradually over time. If a child reports sexual abuse, do not panic or express shock; make sure the child knows you believe them. Let the child know that you will do your best to protect and support them. Help is available.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a common form of sexual assault. It is any unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature. This includes unwanted physical contact, such as touching (sexual assault); however it often occurs through unwanted verbal contact. This includes unwanted sexual comments, names or gestures. Additionally, nonverbal sexual harassment, such as passing around sexual pictures or messages, can be harmful.

Elder Sexual assault

Each year, more cases of elder sexual violence and elder abuse are reported to authorities. The impact of sexual violence is different for an elderly individual in that they may be less likely to feel the guilt and self-blame felt by many younger individuals. Elderly individuals may be angry, outraged or embarrassed about discussing "private" matters and may not seek help. As always, remember to be respectful and supportive.

If you have questions or concerns about sexual assault, please do not hesitate to call the Women’s Resource Center of the New River Valley at (540) 639-1123. This hotline is available 24 hours a day. All calls are confidential.