Sexual Assault and Consent: Facts and Figures

Carrie Mendrick Roane photo

Thanks to the likes of Brock Turner, Bill Cosby, and Harvard’s men’s soccer team, sexual assault is now a hot topic. Tragically, sexual assault is finally prevalent enough in mainstream media that it’s actually an appropriate and welcome topic of dinner conversations. Writer Kelly Oxford’s tweet #itsnotok has received millions of replies from women (you should check it out!). While it’s too bad it took this long for sexual assault to be discussed without the taboo of shame, it’s truly advantageous that we can now lift the veil of guilt and educate people freely and clearly about what sexual assault actually means, how to prevent it, and what help is available to its victims.

So, what is sexual assault? In general, sexual assault is any type of sexual activity that you do not consent to. Most often it is committed by someone you know and it includes a wide variety of behavior, including: sexual activity without consent; any type of sexual contact with someone who cannot consent; rape; attempted rape; sexual coercion; sexual contact with a child; incest; unwanted touching; voyeurism; sexual harassment or threats;; and forcing someone to pose for sexual pictures. Consent means that you must give a clear “yes” to the sexual activity; being silent or not saying “no” does not mean that you have given consent. Giving consent to the sexual activity means that you understand what is going on, you know what you want to do, are sober and otherwise legally able to give consent. Consent is an ongoing process – just because you say yes to a certain activity does not mean that you cannot change your mind and say no to future sexual activity. Just because you say yes once in the past does not equate to future consent. Wearing sexy clothes, flirting, being drunk or high, and not putting up a physical fight does not mean that you are giving any type of consent for sexual involvement. Further, someone cannot force you to give consent, or otherwise coerce or manipulate you to give it.

Sexual assault does not always involve an unwanted touching or an attack. Sexual coercion is a very dangerous type of sexual assault that doesn’t involve an attack. Sexual coercion can be used by someone you’re in a relationship with when they pressure, trick, force, or guilt you into participating in a sexual activity that you otherwise don’t want to be involved in. Some examples of sexual coercion include making you feel bad, obligated or guilty for not having sex; making you feel like it is too late to say no; or telling you that not having sex will hurt your relationship. Look out for lines like, “you can’t just make a guy stop” or, “if you really loved me, you’d do it.”

The numbers of victims associated with sexual assault are staggering and appalling. Seventeen percent of the women in Florida have been raped (that is 1 in 6 women) and over 40% of women have been victimized by sexual assault. Over 20% of men in Florida have been victims of sexual assault as well. We can all agree that these statistics are absolutely unacceptable. We can also all agree that we don’t want our loved ones to either be the victim or the perpetrator of a sexual assault. That is why we all need to do our part right now in educating each other and especially our children on how to respect others, listen to our partners, communicate effectively and clearly, and stand up for what’s right.

So, what do you do if you’ve been sexually assaulted? First and foremost, you need to remember that it is not your fault. Second, if you need medical care, call 911 immediately. There are also other important steps you can take right away: (1) preserve evidence of the assault – save everything that has the perpetrator’s DNA on it; (2) go to your nearest hospital or urgent care as soon as you can to be examined and treated for injuries – you can be given medicine to prevent pregnancy and the transmission of HIV and other STDs; (3) if you think you may have been drugged, ask your medical care provider to test you for the presence of date rape drugs; and (4) keep notes about everything that happened which you can provide to a prosecutor if you ultimately decide to press charges. Finally, don’t be ashamed to reach out for help. Remember that the assault is not your fault. Call parents, family or friends whom you trust. Or, call a crisis center like the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), the DoD Safe Helpline at 1-877-995-5246 (for military members), the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-Safe (7233), or the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence at 1-888-956-7273.

Let’s stand with the victims of sexual assault and amplify their voices in a commitment to ending it.