Who can be a victim?
Sexual assault can happen to both men and women at any point in their lives. Sexual assault knows no barriers in regard to race, class, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, or ability. Although sexual assaults can happen at any time in one’s life, the first semester of freshman year for college women is a highly vulnerable time. This is a time when the student may be on his or her own for the first time, experimenting with new freedoms and possibly using alcohol. New friendships and support systems may not be established yet. Alcohol consumption and the use of date rape drugs often play an important role in the likelihood of being sexually assaulted. Fifty-five percent of female students and seventy-five percent of male students involved in acquaintance rape admit to having been drinking or using drugs when the incident occurred.
Use this menu to read about different victim populations:Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Assault
Survivors with Disabilities
LGBTQ Survivors of Sexual Violence
Child sexual abuse is a sexual act of power, aggression and violence imposed on a child. The crime of luring a child into sexual activities is sadly common because of the powerful and dominant position of the adult or older adolescent perpetrator. This is in sharp contrast to the child's age, dependency, lack of knowledge, and subordinate position. Authority, power, corruption of affection, and (sometimes) force enable the perpetrator to easily coerce the child into sexual compliance.
The most common perpetrators of child sexual abuse are: fathers, step-fathers, uncles, siblings, other family members and/or neighbors. These are people close to the children that they are victimizing. Children are often taught to trust those in authority positions and the perpetrators take advantage of this.
Common Effects of Abuse
The effects of child sexual abuse often last into adulthood. Sometimes the effects of the trauma are so difficult for the adult victim/survivor that it interferes with their current relationships. Some of the lasting effects of child sexual abuse are:
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Sexual dysfunction
- Vulnerability to subsequent abuse and exploitation
- Discomfort in intimate relationships
- Marital problems
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Eating disorder
Source: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 2005)
Most people aren't aware that sexual assaults against people with physical, visual, mental or emotional disabilities are very common. This is because people who commit these assaults perceive people with disabilities as easy targets, and they do frequently get away with these crimes. The misconception abounds that people who use wheelchairs, or who may be mentally disabled, have no sexual feelings or even concern about such matters, therefore, it's OK to take advantage of them. It's also very possible you know the person who abused you. Most of the time, the assailant is someone the survivor knows, or who has some role in her/his care. You may have even become disabled, or further disabled, because of the abuse.
It's important for you to know that no one has the right to assault you. You might feel powerless to do something about what has or is happening, because this person has control of your care, even of your finances. Regardless of that person's role in your life, you still have the right to file a complaint and seek redress.
You may find, as you may have prior to your assault, that people who are supposed to be "helping" you treat you as being helpless, or unable to understand what happened. They may ignore your needs, acting as though they know what is best for you. Others may feel that you won't be effective in helping apprehend your assailant. All these ideas are misconceptions about people with disabilities, not facts. You have the right to be treated with the same care and concern that able-bodied survivors do. It is OK to ask a companion from George Mason University Sexual Assault Services to help you.
The assault may make you feel very vulnerable. You may want to seek emotional support and other kinds of assistance from local agencies which advocate for persons with disabilities. It might be helpful to ask the agency if there is a staff member with experience in working with sexual assault issues; because this is rarely the case, you may decide to work with two advocates; a sexual assault companion and a disabilities advocate. You may also want to learn self-defense; regardless of your disability, there are techniques, including assertiveness and physical techniques modified to your needs, which you may find empowering.
Survivors Who Are Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing
Survivors who are Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing face very different barriers than those with other disabilities. The most significant barrier is communication accessibility. You may have experienced a tendency by people to ignore you because they don't know how to deal with your deafness. The hearing world may feel very separate from your own; you may have had negative experiences in the past with doctors, police, or counselors, or crisis lines which claim to be TTY-accessible, but in fact, are not.
Because so much of modern knowledge comes from the spoken word, whether through the media or casual conversation, information about rape, sexual abuse, battering and harassment has only recently been discussed in the Deaf community. If you are not part of this community, you may still feel uninformed about these issues. More and more services are addressing the needs of Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing survivors; some have deaf advocates and hotline counselors. However, most "helping" services still view deafness as a medical problem to be cured, not a culture with its own proud traditions and language.
If you are unaware of your rights as a Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing consumer, that information is available. Police, hospitals, and Commonwealth's attorneys are all required by law to provide qualified sign- language interpreters and other auxiliary aids as needed. You have the right to request a qualified sign-language or oral interpreter, if you need one. Miscommunication is all-too easy in these situations, so try to keep as much control as you can. It might also be helpful to have an advocate who can be your "reality checker" if you feel something has gone wrong. Hearing or Deaf, what is important is that the advocate be knowledgeable about the rights of survivors.
It's also possible that you will have to travel some distance to find the kind of counseling that you feel is right for you, particularly if you seek a professional counselor who is Deaf, or one who is highly skilled in sign- language. Advocates from George Mason University Sexual Assault Services, can try to help you find the appropriate resource.
Same-sex sexual violence
Same-sex sexual violence may include (but is not limited to) forced vaginal or anal penetration, forced oral sex, forced touching, or any additional form of forced sexual activity. Same-sex sexual assault may occur on a date, between friends, partners or strangers. It does not have to occur between two people of the same sex who both identify as gay, bisexual, lesbian or transgendered. Survivors of same-sex sexual violence have to deal with concerns about homophobic responses from others and beliefs that same-sex partners cannot sexually assault each other. LGBTQ survivors of sexual assault may remain silent for fear of exposing their community to negative reactions and stereotypes.
Intimate Partner Violence
Intimate Partner Violence is pattern of abusive behaviors used by one individual intended to exert power and control over another individual in the context of an intimate relationship. This can happen in all kinds of relationship – between people who identify as straight, gay, bisexual, lesbian or transgendered.
- LGBTQ people experience violence within their intimate relationships at about the same rates as heterosexuals
- 30% of lesbian report having experienced sexual assault or rape by another woman (not necessarily an intimate partner)
- 15% of men living with a male intimate partner report being raped, assaulted or stalked by a male cohabitant
- The proportion of IPHs committed by same-sex partners was much greater for males than females.
- About 3% of females experiencing nonfatal intimate partner violence were victimized by reported that the offender was another female. About 16% of males reported that the offender was another male.
Hate or bias crimes
Hate or bias crimes are criminal offense committed against a person or property and are motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias against a race, religion, ethnic/national origin group, physical or mental disability, or sexual orientation group. (Even if the offender was mistaken in his/her perception that the victim was a member of the group he or she was acting against, the offense is still a bias crime because the offender was motivated, in whole or in part, by bias against the group.) Estimates are that 10% of hate crimes against members of the LGBTQ communities involve sexual assault. This figure may be higher, because individuals who were assaulted may be unsure if they were targeted because of their sexual orientation.*
*UMM Violence Prevention Center
Heightened homophobia in the United States places LGBTQ individuals at a greater risk for sexual assaults by strangers. Perpetrators frequently use sexual assaults against LGBTQ individuals (and individuals perceived to be LGBTQ) to punish and humiliate them. One example of this occurs when lesbian and bisexual women are targeted for sexual violence by people believing that they can “change” a woman’s sexual orientation.
*from WavawNet - Washington Violence Against Women Network
Facing sexual violence in the LGBTQ community
- Survivors who are not “out” may find sharing and/or reporting the sexual violence unsafe or impossible.
- In small communities, fear of other’s skepticism and/or people “taking sides” may cause the survivor to keep silent.
Guilt and self-blame (common symptoms of all survivors) may lead survivors to question their sexual identity and sexuality.
- Internalized homophobia may further complicate the trauma of sexual violence for survivors who may more readily blame themselves.
- Gay/bi male survivors may fear being ignored and/or rejected as overly sensitive, which may keep them from reporting sexual violence.
- Gay/bi male survivors may fear stereotypes that they are promiscuous and invited the sexual violence.
- Lesbian/bi women survivors may face being ignored or having their claims discarded if their attacker is a female because women are rarely seen as sexual perpetrators.
Most male victims never imagine sexual assault could happen to them, because we all are socialized to see sexual assault as a crime against women, not against men. Because of this, many men have a hard time grasping that this is not a sexual crime. However, sexual assault and rape are not about sexual preference or desire – they are crimes about power and control. The motivation of the offender is to humiliate the other person.
Male victims have survived a violent assault. Sexual assault is devastating to all victims, regardless of gender, and many reactions are shared by both male and female victims. Male victims may feel rage, shame, guilt, powerlessness, helplessness, concerns regarding Male victimsr safety, and/or symptoms of physical illness.
However, there are special issues which may be different for Male victims such as doubts about their sexuality or masculinity or reluctance to be examined for medical procedures. Even the terminology that surrounds male victims and sexual assault can be confusing. By law, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, rape can only occur between males and females. If members of the same sex perform any unwanted sexual act on an individual (such as cunnilingus, fellatio, analingus, or anal intercourse) the accused can be found guilty of forcible sodomy, an offense that the court considers as severe as rape.
Male victims may hesitate to report the assault to law enforcement for fear of ridicule or fear that they won't be believed. The same feelings apply to telling other people the victim knows and to finding appropriate resources and support. This is true even if the male victims experienced the assault at a very young age and only now are realizing Male victims need help.
Male victims need to know that strong or weak; outgoing or withdrawn; gay, straight, or bisexual; old or Male victimsng; whatever Male victimsr physical appearance: Male victims have done nothing that justifies this attack. At no point and under no circumstance does anyone have the right to violate or control another's body. Sexual assault is a crime of violence and power, not of lust or passion.
Male victims may need special support. There are several forms of help available:
- Male victims can call a crisis line anonymously and request a male counselor
- Male victims can request an older or male nurse to assist in Male victimsr treatment at the hospital
- Male victims can find a support group of male survivors to help Male victims in Male victimsr healing process
As a man, many factors or fears may influence Male victims' decision to report or not report to law enforcement. There are both advantages and disadvantages if Male victims choose to report.
The advantages include:
- Male victims may apply for Victims Crime Compensation
- The assailant may be caught and brought to trial
- Collection of medical evidence will be paid for by the Commonwealth of Virginia
- Male victimsr report may help protect others
The disadvantages include:
- Male victims may be treated in an insensitive manner;
- Male victims may not be believed;
- Prosecution is often unsuccessful.
Gay or bisexual males may feel that they "invited" a sexual assault. They may fear disclosure of their sexual orientation. And an assailant could be an acquaintance: a friend, a work supervisor, a professor, a date. Feeling responsible is a normal reaction to sexual assault.
There is some evidence that males involved in homosexual activity or relationships are vulnerable to sexual assault. In some cases, males may consent to a certain level of sexual contact, only to be coerced or forced into additional activity by another male.
Males who live in certain living restrictive settings, such as detention centers and prisons, are more likely than others to be sexually assaulted. In these cases, they may be assaulted either by peers or by those in authority (e.g., prison guards).
Men can also be sexually assaulted by women, though reported occurances of this are not statistically common. These instances may be subtle and probably would involve stereotypical assumptions about male sexuality that make it difficult to identify them as sexual assaults. Some of these assumptions include:
- males are always ready and eager to have sex;
- males must always be sexually dominant and in control; and
- sexual activity with a woman is desirable under any circumstances - and therefore cannot be traumatic. When a female initiates sexual contact based on these assumptions, it may be difficult for the male to let her know he is an unwilling participant.
If a male feels he has been assaulted by either a female or another male, he might be reluctant to report it or seek help because of the fear that he will be perceived as un-masculine/homosexual or that others will not take his complaint seriously.
Feeling responsible is a normal reaction to sexual assault. However, sexual assault is never the responsibility of the survivor. You did nothing to deserve this. You may want to talk to someone about your feelings. There are counselors in the area who are skilled in working with male survivors of sexual assault.
If you are a teenager and have been sexually assaulted:
- You may feel frightened and humiliated.
- You may fear that if you tell your parents, they may try to limit your activities in an attempt to protect you.
- If you were assaulted when breaking a school rule, like skipping class, you may be afraid of getting in trouble over the rule violation.
- If you were assaulted when breaking a parental or house rule, like breaking curfew or drinking alcohol, you may be afraid of getting in trouble also.
- You may be afraid of harassment at school if your peers know you were assaulted.
- You may worry that your family or friends will create more stress for you by threatening retaliation against your assailant.
- If you were assaulted by someone you know, or someone trusted by your family, you may be afraid that your family/friends will doubt what you tell them.
- If you were assaulted by a friend or a date, you may feel pressure from friends who don't want you to get the assailant in trouble.
Things you need to know right away
Any sexual activity forced on you against your will is a crime. It may be called rape, molestation, child sexual abuse, date rape, dating violence, etc. What happened was not your fault, whether you were assaulted by a stranger or by someone you know, or even if you were doing something you knew was risky, such as sneaking out of the house to go to the party.
It is very important that you get medical care as soon as possible. You may have things wrong that you can't feel right now. It is wise to let someone you trust know what happened; it can help a lot to talk about your feelings. Remember that you are not alone. It is estimated that one-third of all young people in the United States are sexually assaulted by the time they are eighteen. This could be by a stranger, an acquaintance, a date, or a relative. And many young people are abused in relationships.
Perhaps the most difficult form of sexual abuse to talk about is incest. Nobody talks about it, but it can happen in any family. The offender can be a father, step-father, uncle, older sibling, or other family member. Both girls and boys can be victims of incest. If incest is happening to you, you may be afraid that reporting it will create further problems at home, maybe even breaking up your family. A counselor can answer your questions about this and help you figure out what to do. As a teenager, you may have a lot of pressure on you. Try and concentrate on one thing: you have been hurt and you need help. The person who hurt you is responsible for what he/she did, not you. You may be worried about other people or concerned about protecting them, but right now your needs are more important than anything else.
- You aren't to blame for what happened
- There are people who will believe you
- There are people who want to help