If you’ve found your way to this page after being subjected to unwelcome sexual contact, the first thing you need to know is that you are not the one who should feel ashamed. As a survivor of sexual assault, you will likely find yourself facing many obstacles — social, emotional, and practical — in your efforts to respond to the assault and move on with the life you want to live, but you don’t have to face them alone.
We at The Stoddard Firm want to express our sorrow for what’s happened to you, and our commitment to holding all those who commit, encourage, or enable sexual violence accountable. We’re glad you’ve taken the first step in seeking out a path to justice, and we hope you’ll find this information helpful in clearing up some common misconceptions. Any time you’d like to speak with an expert about your specific case, our experienced and devoted legal team is ready to answer your questions and discuss your next steps in a completely free consultation.
Sexual Assault Comes in Many Forms, and All of Them Are Worth Fighting
Many people are confused by the term “sexual assault” and what it does and doesn’t cover. While legal definitions vary from state to state, sexual assault generally means any physical contact of a sexual nature that’s attempted or completed without the full, competent, informed consent of all participants. The term “rape” is often used interchangeably with “sexual assault,” but rape is just one form of sexual assault, usually defined by the presence of a penetrative or oral sex act.
Other forms of contact that qualify as sexual assault when performed without consent include but are not limited to:
- Touching/grabbing of private areas
- Forced touching of another person’s private areas
Under Georgia law, sexual assault also applies to many cases of sexual contact where one party has disciplinary authority over the other, such as a teacher and student, parole officer and parolee, or psychiatrist and patient. In these situations, where one person is at a significant power disadvantage to the other, the feeling of obligation — whether conscious or unconscious — to do what the more powerful participant wants can render any consent or appearance of consent invalid.
Sexual violence overwhelmingly targets women, but men can be sexually victimized as well, and more frequently than many people think. The National Sexual Violence Research Center (NSVRC) estimates that men make up about 9% of rape victims and a full third of sexual assault victims. LGBTQ individuals of all genders are exposed to elevated risks. Sexual violence can happen at any age, to people of all body/personality types.
Sometimes, survivors of non-rape sexual assault worry that they’re overreacting. They may have been told that what happened to them “wasn’t that bad,” or they may simply be afraid of disrespecting or siphoning off attention from rape survivors by speaking out about their own experiences.
It’s important to remember, firstly, that all sexual violence is unacceptable and can lead to severe long-term side effects for survivors. Even incidents that outside observers might falsely interpret as minor often result in PTSD. In addition to the well-known psychological symptoms of depression and anxiety, PTSD can also manifest physical complications over time, including inflammatory conditions and immune system disruptions.
Secondly, allowing non-rape sexual assaults to go unchallenged only emboldens sexual predators to continue and escalate their activities, making society’s rape problem worse, not better.
Nobody Ever “Invites” Sexual Assault
One of the most persistent and pernicious myths about sexual assault is that it is the victim’s responsibility to prevent, and that every victim therefore deserves the assault on some level, simply for failing to avoid it. It’s disheartening that this kind of philosophy is so prevalent, but not surprising. Because most sexual assaults are male-on-female, there’s a heavy dose of sexism in play here, a tendency to excuse male actions as normal or inevitable while pushing blame and responsibility onto women, but one Canadian study suggests there’s more to it than that. For people who have been (or are afraid of being) sexually victimized, there’s often a perverse comfort in victim-blaming. It offers the illusion that they can guarantee their own future safety by being careful enough.
For example, if a woman assumes that sexual assaults only happen to women who drink at parties or bars, she can rationalize feeling safer by not doing those things. However, apart from the obvious problem with this solution — that it unfairly requires women to forego activities men enjoy freely in order to be safe — the statistics don’t support it. According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), 48% of sexual assault victims are sleeping or performing another activity in the home when the crime occurs. A further 29% are commuting or running errands, 12% are at work, and 7% are at school.
Many women also take comfort in self-defense techniques and devices. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with taking these protective measures if you can and want to, the idea that they’re the sole solution to the problem of sexual violence can lead many survivors to worry erroneously that they didn’t do enough to fight off their attackers.
Think of it this way: a five foot tall woman of slight frame may be easier to overpower than a seven foot tall body builder, but that doesn’t mean the small woman has any less right to go about her day without being attacked. The same goes for people who feel uncomfortable carrying weapons, or who freeze when threatened.
The fight/flight/freeze instinct varies from person to person and is almost impossible to overcome on the spur of the moment. Whether you run, strike out, or find yourself paralyzed in the face of unwanted sexual advances does not reflect on your character, and it changes nothing about the severity of the crime being committed against you.
The bottom line is that nothing ever gives anyone the right to subject you to sexual contact, except your informed, freely given consent.
Enablement Isn’t Just a Societal Problem; It’s Corporate Strategy
Hotels, stores, gas stations, and other privately owned businesses are common settings for sexual assaults of both patrons and employees. After a sexual assault occurs, the most convenient person for the property owner to blame is the victim. If he or she can be bullied into feeling at fault, the incident disappears without consequence from a business perspective. Before the rash of sexual assaults at Massage Envy locations became public knowledge, for example, the company had a policy of routinely blaming and harassing victims who came forward, talking them out of calling the police and claiming that, by getting a massage, they were accepting all risks of sexual assault.
When these tactics fail, the second most convenient person for a business to blame is the perpetrator. This may seem reasonable. After all, there’s no excuse for sexual assault, no matter what the surrounding circumstances may be, and perpetrators do deserve to be held fully responsible for their actions. However, businesses are counting on people’s justified anger and disgust toward sexual predators to distract from the business’s own culpability in harboring predatory behavior. If survivors can be persuaded to focus their attention on the perpetrator alone, then the business can write the incident off without reexamining its own practices. Meanwhile, if the perpetrator cannot be caught or identified, or is successfully imprisoned but has no means to pay off a settlement, the survivor is left to cover the costs alone. In the case of rape survivors, that financial burden is estimated at $122,461 over a lifetime in medical bills, lost productivity, and other expenses.
With the exception of assaults on school property, many people don’t even think about the location where a sexual assault takes place, or the responsibility of the business or property owner to protect people from unsafe conditions. Others worry that holding the owner even partially responsible would be frivolous, greedy, or unfair. It’s true that sexual assaults sometimes take business owners completely by surprise, but that’s often not the case. Business owners typically know the likely threats to their patrons long in advance, in far more detail than the patrons do themselves, and have plenty of opportunity to decide whether and how to respond.
For example, a gas station owner who has seen sexual assaults happen repeatedly on the property but refuses to install high-resolution security cameras, or even file police reports so that local offenders can be caught, is putting profit margins above consumer safety and should be held accountable. The same goes for a massage parlor owner who refuses to fire or report a therapist for inappropriate behavior, because doing so might lead to bad publicity or unfilled appointment times.
None of these negligent business practices detract from the guilt of the perpetrator, but they need to be addressed in their own right.
Apartment Complexes Have Specific Duties to Help Low Income Domestic Violence Survivors
Apartment complex landlords have the same responsibility as commercial business owners to protect people on their properties from foreseeable dangers. This can involve basic security measures like maintaining gates, locks, and adequate lighting in common areas, but the danger of sexual assault in apartments runs deeper the danger of break-ins. Most sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, usually in the victim’s own home or a relative’s, making apartment complexes one of the most dangerous locations of all in terms of sexual assault.
One 2010-2012 CDC study suggests that as many as 2.5 million women and 2.1 million men per year experience sexual violence at the hands of past or present intimate partners alone. Another survey by the NSVRC suggests that the danger is particularly extreme for women living in unstable or subsidized housing situations. This may be because when patriarchal values of provider-hood are challenged, patriarchal encouragement of violence against women tends to rise in compensation.
Unfortunately, it’s also common for apartment managers to try to evict tenants who call the police, or who have partners or other individuals in their lives who might become a nuisance to other residents. Under the Violence Against Women Act, however, people experiencing domestic or dating violence while living in public or subsidized housing are legally protected from this kind of discrimination. Not only that, but protected residents who are sexually assaulted or threatened with sexual assault must be provided with a confidential transfer to another unit upon request.
If you’ve been put in a position where fear of eviction prevented you from escaping or defending yourself from sexual violence, your landlord shares responsibility for that violence.
What to Do After an Assault
It can be difficult to think clearly in the moments during or after a sexual assault for many reasons. Everyone responds to trauma differently, and you may experience shock, denial, or paralyzing fear that continues after the attacker is gone. You might also feel temporarily numb or apathetic. Be aware that these feelings will change, and new symptoms and challenges can arise down the road.
Focus first on finding a safe place and assessing your physical condition. If you have any injuries, even minor ones, or if any fluid exchange occurred, seek medical attention immediately. Difficult as it is, refrain from performing any cleanup of your own, as this can interfere with evidence collection.
To keep your recovery options as open as possible, and to protect future potential victims, file a report with both law enforcement and the facility where the attack took place right away. Your silence only benefits the guilty, so be wary of anyone attempting to talk you out of alerting the authorities.
Finally, get in touch with qualified legal counsel, like the seasoned experts at The Stoddard Firm. You can reach us at 678-RESULT or through our online chat function.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Do I have a case?
If you’ve been injured because of someone else’s negligence, you could have a personal injury case. Every situation is different, so there’s no way to know if you have a case without consulting with a qualified personal injury attorney. If you are badly injured or a loved one has died, we are happy to speak with you and investigate the matter at no charge.
Do I have to go to court?
Not necessarily. Many wrongful death and personal injury cases are settled before they go to court. However, it is our experience that the most successful cases are built as if they are going to court. Our firm prepares every case to go all the way to trial, even if it is ultimately resolved before the trial starts.
What do your services cost?
A consultation with the Stoddard Law Firm is free. In most circumstances, we earn no fee unless we win your case. If your claim is successful, we take a percentage of the recovered amount.
How do I pick the right attorney?
You’ll want to look for several qualities when choosing who will represent you. Your attorney should meet with you instead of sending an investigator, and he/she should be available throughout the process instead of having you consistently talk to a legal assistant. Your attorney should have a low number of cases so he/she can devote significant time to you and your case. Your attorney should have experience handling cases with facts similar to yours, and your attorney should have a proven track record with similar claims. Your attorney should also be able to devote significant money to your case so that he/she can hire experts, travel the country finding witnesses, and depose whomever is necessary to achieve justice. It’s also important to make sure your attorney is the right fit on a personal level, which is why you should take advantage of a free consultation.
How much time do I have to file a lawsuit?
There is a time limit on how long a person has after an injury to begin a lawsuit. This window is called a statute of limitations. For most personal injury cases in Georgia, the statute of limitations is two years from the time the injury was suffered. However, there are exceptions and subtleties that might change the amount of time you are afforded. Sometimes the period can be as short as 6 months, and other times it can be much longer than two years. Determining the statute of limitations requires a detailed analysis of the facts of your case.