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Center for Sex and Gender Relations


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What is Sexual Assault?

Sexual assault is any forced, unwanted and nonconsensual sexual contact or activity including touching, kissing exhibitionism, and intercourse — anal, vaginal or oral. Sexual assault is a crime of violence, the purpose of which is to overpower, control, and/or humiliate another person. It is a crime of violence using sex as a means of assault. Sexual assault is a brutally destructive attack on the victim's sense of personal integrity and competence, as well as their basic trust in others.

Sexual assault happens to more people than is generally thought. For every case reported to police it is estimated that ten more go unreported. At some time in their lives about one in two females and one in three males are victims of one or more unwanted sexual acts. These acts include being exposed to, being sexually threatened, being touched on a sexual part of their body, attempted assault, or assault. About four in five of these unwanted sexual acts occur when the victim is a child or youth. One in four assailants is a family member or a person in a position of trust; about half are friends or acquaintances and about one in six is a stranger. While most assailants are male there are studies which reveal more females offended than previously thought; most females offend against children and youths.

Who Does it Happen to?

All people are potential victims regardless of their sex, race, class, religion, occupation, or physical appearance. Seventy-five percent of sexual assaults occur at home or in a vehicle and the attacker is most likely someone the victim knows.

What are the Effects?

Victims of sexual assault experience a state that resembles acute grief because of their severe psychological losses. Their basic feelings of wholeness, strength, trust, and self-control are lost, and with them a person loses confidence in their abilities. The victim's attempts to stop the attacker did not work — they were powerless. This feeling of powerlessness can be devastating to the victim's sense of trust and control. Many victims are unable to talk about their experience unless they are directly asked about it.