Everything You Need to Know About Sexual Assault

In today’s social and political climate, the discussion surrounding sexual assault is as important now as it’s ever been. From acts you may not have realized were sexual assault, to knowing how certain crimes are defined, there’s a whole host of information you should understand. For this reason, it’s important to have your facts straight. Sexual assault is undoubtedly a sensitive subject, but certainly one worth discussing. Here’s what you need to know.

1. Sexual assault occurs every 98 seconds

Lying down and sad

Someone is the victim of sexual assault every 98 seconds. | iStock.com/Marjan_Apostolovic

Sexual assault is still very prevalent today. Fortunately, though, Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network reports that as of 2015, sexual violence had fallen by more than half since 1993. The goal, of course, is to have zero instances of sexual assault. With stats like these, though, it seems totally impossible that we’ll ever live in a world void of such horrific crimes.

According to RAINN, one person is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds in the U.S. Additionally, one in six American women is the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime, and about one in 33 men is the victim of an attempted or completed rape in his lifetime.

2. The terminology can be confusing

Blond girl sitting on floor near window and watching laptop

RAINN is a great resource for getting your facts straight. | iStock.com

You may have heard a few different terms thrown around for sexual crimes. Sexual violence, sexual assault, rape, etc., which is why you need to know the differences between them, as well as the specific characteristics of each. According to RAINN, “The term ‘sexual violence’ is an all-encompassing, non-legal term that refers to crimes like sexual assault, rape, and sexual abuse.” Furthermore, it’s important to note the legal definition of such crimes varies from state to state.

3. There are different types of sexual assault

Victim of rape

Rape is one type of sexual violence. | iStock.com/KatarzynaBialasiewicz

There are lots of forms of sexual assault, and again, it all comes down to which state you live in. But for a quick overview, RAINN includes some of the following in their definition: “attempted rape, fondling or unwanted sexual touching, forcing a victim to perform sexual acts, such as oral sex or penetrating the perpetrator’s body,” and “penetration of the victim’s body, also known as rape.” But sexual assault goes far beyond these commonly-recognized acts.

4. Stealthing is the newest form of sexual assault

woman looking at pregnancy test

Stealthing could leave someone with an unwanted pregnancy. | iStock.com/diego_cervo

By now, it’s likely you’ve heard of stealthing, which involves an individual discretely removing a condom during sex without telling their partner. Several major issues come along with this, including putting a person at risk for unwanted pregnancy, STDs, and even PTSD from having experienced such an event.

“The first thing any victim should do is to remember — regardless of what the perpetrator tries to tell you — that any sexual act without a partner’s consent is sexual assault,” Allison Abrams, a New York-based psychotherapist, told Elite Daily. “Agreeing to have sex with someone with a condom is NOT the same as agreeing to have sex without a condom. Do not let anyone tell you differently.”

5. Consent in one state doesn’t mean consent in another

Stop gesture by a woman

No means no. | iStock.com/pecaphoto77

Lawmakers can be tricky, and unfortunately, there’s no clear-cut standard every state abides by. Determining what qualifies as consent, how rape is defined, and how a given crime is punishable by law can be confusing. RAINN makes it easy with a page dedicated to comparing laws and definitions, and there are some major differences. Just take a look at the differences between California and Mississippi, for instance.

In California, “‘Consent’ is defined to mean positive cooperation in act or attitude pursuant to the exercise of free will. The person must act freely and voluntarily and have knowledge of the nature of the act or transaction involved.” Mississippi, on the other hand, has no working definition of consent. Additionally, in California, a person isn’t able to consent until the age of 18; in Mississippi, that age is 14.

6. Different states have different laws about rape

gavel on judges desk

Laws vary state to state. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Yet again, the waters are muddied when it comes to definitions of certain types of sexual assault. According to Mississippi law, for instance, “unnatural intercourse” is defined as “the detestable and abominable crime against nature committed with mankind or with a beast.” These acts include those committed via anus or mouth.

Rape is defined in the state of Mississippi as “[a]ny person who assaults with intent to forcibly ravish any female of previous chaste character.” California, on the other hand, has a completely different set of criteria, and their laws include charges of rape, rape of a spouse, sodomy, and oral copulation.

7. Some state laws make prosecuting marital rape nearly impossible

police body camera

Some states use tricky language, giving little hope to anyone pressing sexual assault charges against their spouse . | Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Even though there’s no total exemption for marital rape in any state, some states use clever lawmaking dialect to dance around the issue, making it difficult to actually prosecute the crime.

For instance, the biannual publication Connections, from the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, says 11 states have extra requirements on the victim’s part, such as unusually short time limits to report the crime, that the couple be separated or divorced at the time of the rape, and the ability to show that force or threat of force was used. Unfortunately, statutes like these only make it even more difficult to report the assault in the first place.

8. There’s still a long way to go

women at a protest

Protests, such as the Women’s March, have been seen around the world. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

If you go digging into the details of what does, and does not qualify as rape of a spouse, you might be pretty shocked. For example, Connections reports, “Thirty states limit the types of crimes that may be prosecuted as spousal rape, often excluding crimes committed when the spouse is rendered incapacitated by mental illness or intoxication, even if the spouse purposely incapacitated the victim.” Needless to say, we clearly have a long way to go. But luckily, mainstream culture has put the conversation right in front of people’s faces, making it a difficult issue to ignore.

9. Sexual assault is prevalent in media

Janine has a bandage over her eye and is standing in front of a window at night.

Sexual assault is a hot topic in the media these days. | The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu

Sexual assault continues to climb the ladder of highly-publicized media topics. Just take Hulu’s highly talked-about series, The Handmaid’s Tale, based on the book of the same name by Margaret Atwood. Or The Hunting Ground, an award-winning documentary shedding light on rape on college campuses. Couple these with the Netflix breakout hit, 13 Reasons Why, a series adapted from Jay Asher’s bestselling novel, and it’s clear there’s no way to hide just how prevalent sexual assault really is.

10. Not all victims report the crime

Desperate woman getting support

Some victims have reasons not to report the crime. | iStock.com/oneinchpunch

Despite sexual assault being a hot topic these days, there are still lots of cases that go unreported. A victim may be too afraid to go to the police, too unsure of what will happen, or assume that, because he or she was intoxicated, it wasn’t necessarily a crime.

11. Blaming the victim isn’t OK

Doctor helping old patient

Victims need to feel supported, not judged. | iStock.com/Attila Barabas

Blaming the victim is all too common, as The Huffington Post, among others, points out. We’ve all heard the stories. A victim of sexual assault is immediately judged, rather than unquestionably believed. But no matter how they were dressed, how intoxicated they were, or how unable they were to physically fight back, there’s simply no reason a victim should endure the blame of such a horrific act.

If you’ve been the victim of sexual violence, there are resources available. Visit RAINN’s website, or call 800-656-HOPE (4673) to get help immediately.