Sexual assault is a widespread type of violence that many individuals experience in their lifetimes. Sexual assault is defined as any sexual act attempted or completed by force, threat of force, or coercion against another person’s will. This includes fondling, oral, anal, and vaginal intercourse or other unwanted sexual activity. Sexual violence also can include stalking, voyeurism, exhibitionism, and telephone harassment.
It should be pointed out that we are using the term sexual assault instead of the word “rape”. Rape defined by law can be quite different depending on where you live. We will use the term sexual assault to include every kind of forced sexual behavior.
Sexual assault occurs any time a sex-related act is forced upon another person. This definition includes acts of fondling, oral sex, forcing a person to disrobe, voyeurism, photography, as well as intercourse. Sexual acts that do not include the rapist’s genitalia (but rather hands, mouth, or some instrument) are also included.
Sexual assault involves the use of force or threat of force. Anytime a survivor is forced to the point of physical or emotional powerlessness, sexual assault has occurred. Even if the survivor does not fight back, force or threat of force is all that is necessary for the assault to occur.
Sexual assault includes attempted as well as completed acts. Simply being placed in the position of fearing an assault, even if the act is not carried out for some reason constitutes a crime.
It is important to recognize that sexual assault is sexually related, not sexually motivated. There is a fine confusing line between these distinctions. Sexual assault is a violent act expressed through sexual activity, not sexual desire. Sexual assault is not lovemaking; it is an act of violence.
Rapists are not motivated by sexual desire; instead, they are motivated by the desire to control, degrade, and exert power over others. So rapists target those they believe they can intimidate, isolate, and overpower. Most of the time, survivors are people who rapists are acquainted with – maybe socially, professionally, intimately or even part of the same family.
Rapists rarely match our stereotypes of who we believe is dangerous. Often, they are men with appealing looks and engaging personalities who are skilled at gaining someone’s trust. They test potential survivors’ boundaries – over time, or at first meetings, to be sure that they won’t be met with resistance. They attempt to catch their target off guard in homes, cars, or in other private locations where they do not expect that others would intervene. They generally deny their assault, or, suggest that survivors provoked them or that sexual activity was consensual.
Rapists make active, conscious choices. Regardless of the choice a survivor makes that may create the opportunity for the rapist to strike, the rapist remains exclusively responsible for the violent act they choose to inflict.