Sexual violence is one of the most damaging ordeals a person can suffer, and unlike most comparable traumas, it’s also one of the most disturbingly common. While underreporting of sexual crimes makes exact figures notoriously difficult to calculate, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) estimates that as many as one in three women and one in six men in the U.S end up on the receiving end of sexual violence at some point in their lives.

Many people have a hard time wrapping their heads around the reality of these numbers, often because they’re only thinking of the sexual violence most often reported on the news — a woman or girl being attacked out of nowhere by a male stranger and physically overpowered. While these kinds of crimes are real and horrific, they represent only a small portion of the problem.

Rape and Sexual Assault — Knowing the Difference

The terms “rape” and “sexual assault” are often used interchangeably, and both of them involve sexual contact without the competent, informed consent of all participants.

Generally, the difference is that rape involves sexual intercourse, while sexual assault only requires sexual contact. Sexual contact can include things like kissing or touching of intimate areas without necessarily involving penetration.

In other words, all rapes are sexual assaults, but not all sexual assaults are rapes. Many forms of sexual violation, such as unwelcome slapping or groping, are not rape, but are still sexual assault.

The legal distinction can vary significantly depending on where you are and where the crime occurred. The definition of rape under Georgia law is quite narrow, for example, including only male-on-female rape committed by force, or when the female is under ten years old. However, Georgia’s legal definition of sexual assault is much broader, including many forms of unwelcome touching, and sexual contact in situations with a power imbalance, such as a teacher/student relationship.

Legal and semantic distinctions aside, it’s important to remember that all sexual contact without consent is sexual violence, and no sexual violence is ever okay. Valid consent can only be given actively, without coercion or deception, and by a person capable of understanding and evaluating the situation. A lack of objection does not qualify as consent, especially if it’s due to the victim being threatened or incapacitated. Consent cannot be inferred from a person’s clothes, conduct, past or present relationships, or anything else other than verbal agreement/active participation.

Most Sexual Assaults Happen at Home

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), 55% of sexual assaults take place in or near the victim’s home, and a further 12% in or near a relative’s home.

This makes perfect sense when you consider that most sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows. In a 2010-2012 CDC study, 45.1% of female sexual assault survivors and 41% of male survivors reported being assaulted by an intimate partner, compared with 19.1% and 18.6% who report being assaulted by complete strangers. Low income and unstable housing situations also coincide with higher rates of sexual violence, making hotels/motels and apartment complexes some of the most dangerous places for sexual assault.

Even when the perpetrator is not a partner, family member, or other fixture in the victim’s life, it’s common for violence to spread into the home. The same CDC study found that 26.7% of stalking cases that targeted women, and 18.4% of cases that targeted men, involved the perpetrator sneaking into the victim’s home or car on at least one occasion.

The setting of a crime may seem like a minor detail, but sexual assault occurring at home can add to the already extreme sense of violation. We all want to feel safe in our own homes, and when we lose that, it’s hard to feel safe anywhere.

The primary guilty party in any act of sexual violence is of course the perpetrator, but there are many cases where building owners contribute to putting their tenants or visitors at risk of sexual violence. For example, many people find themselves unable to escape from abusive intimate partners due to being bound by lease agreements, or threatened with eviction if they call the police.

If your landlord has refused to help you escape from a dangerous or abusive situation as required under the law, or simply failed to maintain the complex’s security features against intruders, he or she shares responsibility for the resulting violence against you.

Surviving Sexual Violence

Sexual violence is one of the most difficult psychological traumas to recover from, comparable with active military combat. Survivors commonly struggle with PTSD, depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, difficulty establishing healthy relationships, and self-destructive impulses up to and including suicide.

In addition to the psychological effects, sexual assault survivors are at risk for a variety of physical consequences, including:

  • Unwanted pregnancy
  • Chronic pain
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Gynecological complications
  • Migraines
  • HIV and other STIs
  • Cervical cancer
  • Genital injuries

Most of the after effects of sexual violence, both physical and psychological, can stay with the survivor indefinitely, requiring ongoing treatment and severely impacting quality of life.

What to Do If You’ve Been Victimized>

As a survivor of sexual violence, you may find yourself facing social stigmas and attempts to discredit, shame, or blame you for what happened. The obstacles to being understood and acknowledged can be even worse if what was done to you does not match the narrow stranger-rape scenario many people think of as “real” sexual assault — for example if you were assaulted by an intimate partner, acquaintance, or family member, or if you are male or gender-nonconforming.

Remember, what happened was not your fault, and you don’t have to face it alone. The legal experts at the Stoddard Firm respect what you’re going through, and have the passion and experience to win you the compensation you deserve.

Reach out to us online or at 678-RESULT for a free consultation on how we can help you take back control of your life.

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