by Ayuda Development Intern

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. It is important to give recognition to this issue, as not many can define what sexual assault is.

According to Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network, sexual assault “refers to sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent from the victim”. This can come in the forms of rape, attempted rape, fondling/unwanted physical touching, or forcing the victim into any sexual acts. Anytime someone guilts, pressures, knows that the other person does not want sex but continues to do so, is considered sexual assault. Even if the other person did not say anything, or are not doing anything, it still counts. In order for us to decrease instances of sexual assault, we must educate one another about sexual assault and the dangers it puts a person in afterward.

It is important to understand that there are no specific demographic for victims of sexual assault fall into. In fact, 1 out of 10 rape victims is male. For transgender, genderqueer, or non-conforming people, 21% have experienced sexual assault during their college years. It is a fact that 1 in 5 women have experienced such horrific acts, but that does not diminish the fact that anyone can be a victim. As for age, this can range from ages 12 to 65+, with the highest demographic within the 12-34 age group.

Whether it’s your family, friend neighbor, or even yourself. At any moment, anyone can be a victim. While it is important to raise awareness and support the victims, it is also important to hold perpetrators accountable.

Ayuda has helped sexual assault survivors with varying experiences and situations. No client or case is the same.

At our offices, we often see instances where sexual assault survivors, of different ages, are attacked by the people they trust. One incident happened between a married couple. The perpetrator believed that they could demand sexual actions since they were already together. An important detail people should take away from this is that it does not matter if you are in a relationship. The victim is not subjected to give in. We have also worked with pre-teens who have been victims of sexual assault. In one particular case, no inappropriate touching within the genitalia happened, but because it was unwanted, not to mention pedophilic since it happened to a minor, that incident is still considered sexual assault. 

This topic can be very complex. As society becomes more aware and tries to prevent such incidents from happening, there are newer ways that sexual assault can happen. Newer ways that abusers can cause harm to victims. For example, in 2013, Covenant House released their finding on survival sex. Survival sex is the product of sex trafficking and/or trying to meet basic needs. This is the act of exchanging sexual acts in exchange for food and shelter. Even if the victim subjected themselves to this situation, does not mean that there is consent. These people are being preyed upon due to their vulnerable state. They are trying to survive and sometimes there is no other choice. We must also protect those who did have any other choice and hold their abusers accountable.

It is important to educate ourselves and others about sexual assault so we can be aware of the signs and make sure victims get the resources that they need. People who experience sexual assault often develop diminished levels of social function. For the first few days or weeks of the assault, victims can experience physical reactions such as pain and eating/sleeping disturbances. It may also lead to emotional reactions such as anger, fear, anxiety, guilt, and plenty more. Longer effects can include PTSD and alcohol abuse.

During the times of COVID-19, it came in as a blessing and a curse. A blessing because there are new ways to connect with victims and help them directly, according to Ayuda’s staff attorney, Erica Rudolf. However, since there are possibilities that victims live with their abusers, they have no choice but to interact with them daily. Being vocal in real life as well as online is important, especially during a time where we all can’t be together. This shows that survivors are not alone.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month is the time we raise awareness, learn, and support victims of sexual assault. By simply reaching out to victims or showing that you are in support of them, is better than letting them suffer in silence. There are multiple resources online such as the DC Forensic Nurse Examiners, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, and RAINN. Some hotlines can be contacted at any time, such as the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

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