What is Sexual Assault?
Defining Sexual Assault
Sexual Assault is conduct of a sexual nature which is non-consensual, and is accomplished through threat, coercion, exploitation, deceit, force, physical or mental incapacitation, and/or power of authority.
Conduct of Sexual Nature
Sexual Assault includes a wide-range of sexual behaviors and sexual activity. Some examples include rape, forcible sodomy, incest, child sexual abuse, unwanted sexual contact or touching, or sexual exploitation, forced prostitution, sex trafficking, and sexual harassment.
Sexual assault occurs when someone experiences sexual activity that she or he did not consent to or did not want. Consent cannot be given if a person is underage, drunk, high, unconscious, or physically or mentally incapacitated. A person can change her or his mind about sexual activity at any time and withdraw consent.
Types of Sexual Violence
This is non-consensual sexual contact that is perpetrated by a person who is known to the victim. The majority of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows.
This is non-consensual sexual contact that is perpetrated by a person who is unknown to the victim.
Intimate partner sexual violence is unwanted sexual contact or activity within a relationship, with the purpose of controlling an individual through fear, threats, or violence. And intimate partner can be a current or former spouse or dating partner through force or coercion.
LGBTQ – Gender Based
Sexual violence against those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer or questioning includes bullying, harassment, and sexual assault. Sexual violence against LGBTQ victims occurs at a higher rate than the rest of the population.
Elder abuse is a single or repeated act or lack of appropriate action within a relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person. Elder victims of sexual abuse are often unable to give consent due to physical or cognitive disabilities. Victims may be vulnerable due to isolation and dependent on others for their care.
Sex Trafficking and Exploitation
Sex trafficking is the organized criminal activity of recruiting, harboring, transporting, obtaining, or providing a person and especially a minor for the purpose of sex. It can include pornography, prostitution, and commercial sexual exploitation of children.
Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a form of sexual abuse that involves the manipulation of young people under the age of 18 into sexual activity in exchange for things such as money, gifts, accommodation, affection, or status.
Victims with Disabilities
Sexual Violence against victims with disabilities occurs at a higher rate than the rest of the population. Disabilities can include vision, hearing, cognitive, self-care, ambulatory, or mobility limitations. Individuals may be especially vulnerable because they often rely on their perpetrator for care or support.
Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. The conduct may or be made as a term or condition of an individual’s employment, education, or living environment. It creates intimidating or hostile living or working environments.
Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse
Victims of sexual violence as a child have often suffered alone for many years. Having lived in silence with the memories, the long and short-termed effects may be difficult to face. It is never too late to begin to heal.
Men and boys who have been sexually assaulted are harmed in ways that are similar to sexual violence suffered by women and girls. Additional challenges can occur due to the social attitudes and societal stereotypes about masculinity.
Steps to take after you have been Sexually Assaulted
- Get to a safe place, away from the attacker.
- If you want to report the assault, call 911.
- Call the Women’s Resource Center Hotline at 540.639.1123 or Toll Free 800.788.1123 for support and information.
- Call a trusted friend or family member for support.
- Preserve evidence, wait to wash, don’t change clothing, refrain from combing hair, and if possible, wait to use the restroom until after talking with a forensic nurse at the nearest hospital emergency room.
- If you suspect you have been drugged, request a urine/blood sample be collected and tested as soon as possible.
Remember that this is not your fault, Recognize that Healing takes time, and know that it is never too late to call for help.
Common Reactions to Sexual Assault
Statistics show that 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men will experience sexual abuse at some time in their lives. This violation of the survivor’s body can have lasting physical and emotional effects. It is important for those around them to become educated about the issues surrounding sexual violence.
- Shock and numbness
- Anxiety and fear
- Mood swings
- Embarrassment and shame
- Feelings of helplessness
The most important thing to remember is that each person’s reaction and healing process is unique to the individual. There is no correct way to react following sexual violence and there is no correct timeline or time limit for the healing process.
How to Help
The impact of sexual violence does not only affect the person who was assaulted – it can extend to family, friends, and loved ones of the survivor. The reactions of these friends and family members can make a profound impact on the survivor's healing process. If you are a loved one of someone who has experienced sexual assault, you have options for getting help and support for yourself. Contact the Women's Resource Center by calling 540.639.1123 or Toll Free 800.788.1123 to speak with an advocate or schedule a free and confidential counseling appointment.
One of the greatest fears of sexual assault survivors is that they will not be believed. Believing a survivor is one of the most important parts to begin the process of a survivors healing; your reaction can make all the difference to a survivor. By allowing the time to tell you what happened, without pressing for details, you are providing support to a survivor at a critical time in their life.
Be Respectful of a Survivor’s Choices
It is important to remember that sexual assault is an extreme loss of control. You should always be respectful of a survivor’s choices. It is through making their own that an assault survivor can begin to take control of their life again. It is helpful to ask what you can do or what a survivor needs. Also remember that it is important to respect a survivor’s privacy in determining who they choose to share the events surrounding the assault with.
Be prepared to listen. Talking about sexual violence is difficult for survivors and may take time. Be patient and let the story be told at the survivor’s own speed.
Survivors are never at Fault
Sexual assault is never the victims fault. The only person responsible is the perpetrator. When talking to a survivor, avoid asking questions that seem to blame the victim. Saying things such as, “Why did you go there?” or “Did you try to fight back?” are interpreted as victim blaming. It’s okay for a victim to talk about their own feelings of self-blame, but remember that only a perpetrator causes sexual violence.
Asking how you can help can be an important part of the healing process. Often there is nothing specific that you can do but knowing you are available can be meaningful to a survivor. Sometimes listening is the most helpful thing you can do. Survivors may experience ups and downs following an assault and the support of those closest to them can have a huge impact.
Get Help for yourself
Intense feelings surrounding the abuse of someone close to you can be overwhelming. Find someone you trust to talk to or contact the Women’s Resource Center to get support for yourself.
Options for Help
If you are a survivor of sexual assault, you have many options for getting help.
Please call the Women's Resource Center 24-Hour Hotline 540.639.1123 or Toll Free 800.788.1123, anytime. The hotline is always answered by an advocate who can provide support, information, options, and resources.
- Emergency Advocates are always available to speak with you. An advocate can explain all options and allow you to make the best decision for you.
- Request a Physical Evidence Recovery Kit (PERK) at the Emergency Room in order to collect evidence, receive treatment if there are injuries and get tested for possible sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy. The PERK must be done within 120 hours (5 days) of the assault; however, you can still talk to a Forensic Nurse Examiner if you are not sure about the timeline. This exam is confidential and does not require you to file a police report. A WRC Emergency Advocate can meet you at the hospital and stay with you through the exam. The PERK exam and all services directly related to the gathering of evidence will be paid for by the Virginia Victims Fund.
- A WRC Emergency Advocate can meet you at the police station while you speak with a police officer or a detective.
- Filing a Police Report with your local law enforcement agency. A WRC Emergency Advocate can meet you at the police station and sit with you while you speak with a police officer or detective.
- Counseling Services are available to victims and other impacted by sexual violence. All services are free of charge and confidential. Call the Women's Resource Center to schedule an appointment.
- Legal advocates can discuss your legal options with you.
- In addition to the WRC, university students have the option of seeking services on Campus. Virginia Tech students can contact the Virginia Tech Women’s Center at 540.231.7806. Radford University students can contact the RU SAVES office at 540.831.5709. New River Community College students can contact the Coordinator of Emergency Planning and Special Projects at 540.674.3600, ext. 4211. Confidential counseling and support services are available through these offices. Students can also report the violence to the Title IX Coordinator on campus who will investigate the incident. Students may also be eligible for the campus judicial process. This can be done in addition to or instead of the criminal justice process.