Sexual assault is any unwanted or forced sexual contact between adults or any sexual contact between an adult and a minor. Sexual assault may involve physical force or more subtle types of coercion such as threats, intimidation, alcohol/drugs, and abuse of authority.
Sexual assault can happen to any of us. Anyone can be sexually assaulted regardless of gender, age, race, religion, marital status, social status or sexual orientation. Strangers perpetrate only about 7 percent of sexual assaults. Often, those we least expect to violate us, commit sexual assault. Sometimes, sexual assaults that occurred during childhood or decades ago continue to have a negative impact on our lives during adulthood.
There are many types of sexual assault: Marital, Dating, Child, Acquaintance, Incest, Co-worker, Male, Elder, Same-sex, Stranger.
Sexual abuse involves pressuring or manipulating a person (often a child or teen) to have sexual contact - often repeatedly over a period of time. It may begin as exposure to sexually explicit images or ambiguous touching and then gradually progress to sexual contact.
Sexual abuse usually involves a power imbalance such as an adult or teen exploiting a teen or a child, or an adult exploiting a less powerful adult. The perpetrator of the sexual abuse is often a family member or someone previously thought to be trustworthy.
Victims of sexual abuse are not to blame - regardless of the circumstances of their participation in the sexual contact. The use of coercion and a prior relationship with the perpetrator can create a confusing
situation for the victim who may lack understanding of the dynamics of the abuse.
Have You Been Sexually Assaulted?
Take a few minutes to answer the following questions to determine whether you have been a victim of sexual assault. Take a few minutes to answer the following questions to determine whether you have been a victim of sexual assault.
Have I had
unwanted sexual contact with someone?
- Has someone touched me sexually without my permission?
- Have I been pressured to engage in sexual activities in a dating situation?
- Has a family member involved me in sexual behavior?
- As a child, was I drawn into or exposed to sexual activity?
- Have I been subjected to obscene telephone calls, "flashing", or pornography against my will?
- Have I participated in sexual activity with a person in a position of authority (like a teacher, counselor, doctor, or police officer) while they were supposed to be maintaining a professional relationship with me?
If you answered "Yes" to any of the above, it is likely that you have been sexually assaulted.
Reduce Your Risk for Sexual Assault
There are no guaranteed methods of preventing sexual assault, but the following tips may reduce your risk:
- Think about the level of intimacy you want in a relationship, and clearly state your limits.
- Clearly say "No" to unwanted touch, sex, gifts, or assistance.
- Don't allow yourself to be alone with someone that you don't know and trust.
- When you go to a party or bar, go with a group of friends. Arrive together, watch out for each other, and leave together.
- Don't accept a drink from an open container. Never leave your beverage unattended.
- Be aware of your surroundings at all times and take action to prevent a potentially unsafe situation from worsening.
- Trust your instincts that a situation may not be safe and act on them.
- Realize that alcohol and drug use can affect your judgment about safe and unsafe situations.
Remember, no one has the right to invade your personal and sexual boundaries without your permission. Coerced or forced sexual contact, however slight, is a crime.
If You Have Been Sexually Assaulted Recently
Seek medical treatment in the Mayo Clinic Health System - Franciscan Healthcare in La Crosse Emergency Medical and Trauma Center as soon as possible. You may need treatment for injuries, sexually transmitted diseases, or pregnancy. You may want a forensic examination to find evidence that could be useful if you decide to report the assault to law enforcement.
Because sexual assault is a very difficult experience, Mayo Clinic Health System - Franciscan Healthcare in La provides specially trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) to care for people who have been sexually assaulted. They are registered nurses who have received advanced education in the medical-forensic examination of sexual assault victims.
SANEs will conduct the examination in a sensitive, respectful, non-threatening manner. They will help you with reporting the assault, if that is what you choose to do. (By law all sexual assaults of minors must be reported) The SANE will collect evidence that may be useful in court. The SANE will explain the process to you before beginning the exam and will answer your questions throughout the process. She will also assist you with your concerns related to pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
Do not bathe, shower, douche, comb your hair, brush your teeth or change clothing after an assault in order to preserve evidence. If you have already done so, you can still have a SANE exam and, sometimes, evidence can still be found. Sometimes evidence can be obtained many days after a sexual assault, but we encourage you to seek immediate care when evidence is most likely to be found.
The decision to report to law enforcement is an important one. If you are 18 years or older, it is your decision to make. This decision does not have to be made immediately, but if you know that you wish to report, do so as soon as possible. This will allow law enforcement to begin an investigation while evidence is most available.
What to do if someone you know has been sexually assaulted
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, it's important to find safety and get the care you need. You should:
- Tell a friend or someone you trust.
- Go to a safe environment in which you feel secure.
- Seek medical attention for injuries, pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases and/or to collect legal evidence. The Franciscan Healthcare Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Program can provide these services.
- Consider contacting local law enforcement to report the assault. Sexual assault is a crime.
- Seek help from a person who is knowledgeable about helping persons who have been sexually assaulted. Such assistance can be obtained at Franciscan Healthcare's Safe Path.
- Know that the assault was not your fault. Even if you were drinking, getting a ride from someone, or at a party, it does not give anyone the right to assault you.
- Don't sympathize with or excuse the person who committed the assault. That person is responsible for what happened regardless of what excuses might be given and deserves consequences for the assault.
- Don't simply try to forget the pain of the assault. Find others who can support and help you.
- Expect that healing will take time and that it comes differently for everyone.
If you or someone you know has further questions about sexual assault, contact Franciscan Healthcare's Safe Path counselors at 608-392-7804 or 1-800-362-5454 Ext. 7804 (24 hours).
(back to Domestic Abuse/Sexual Assault Main Page)