Sexual assault or rape can be defined as one person forcing another person to have sex, or perform sexual acts, through coercion, manipulation, threats, physical restraint, or physical violence. It also includes touching or grabbing intimate body parts for sexual gratification. Sexual assault is not just a crime of sex. Rather, it is a crime of power and control where sexual activity or contact is used to dominate and hurt the victim. While it can happen to anyone of any gender, ethnicity, or economic status, the overwhelming majority of survivors are women.
For adolescents and young adults, sexual assault is most likely to occur on a date or while in a social setting. This is not surprising given the confusing messages teens receive about relationships. Males are socialized to equate success with sexual conquests, while females learn to equate success with physical attributes and compliance to males. This combination feeds the misconceptions that “no really means yes,” “no means try harder,” or that buying dinner means buying sex. It also helps to explain why it is very difficult for males and females to define forced sexual contact as rape.
A Quiet, Unrecognised Crime for Teens
Teen survivors are often hesitant to talk to anyone about the assault for a variety of reasons. They may not identify the act as sexual assault, they may not want the rapist to get in trouble, they may think it was “normal,” they may be embarrassed and blame themselves for what happened, or they may fear judging and unsupportive peers.
Often teens do not tell their parents about having been assaulted because they fear that they will be lectured. Or, that they will be blamed for “allowing” the assault to occur. This is especially true if the teen has been sexually active prior to the assault. If the teen was engaged in a “forbidden” activity before the assault then they have even more reason to fear. Activities such as sneaking out of the house, drinking, or hitchhiking are all reasons for the parents to be angry. Or, if the teen was spending time with people whom they were told to stay away from. They may fear losing their parents’ trust or being punished for their prior activity.
It is important to remember that any time a man or woman does not give consent it is sexual assault. This is regardless of whether or not he or she has consented previously. It is equally important to stress that the survivor’s actions or activities do not cause the assault. Accepting a ride did not, in and of itself, cause the sexual assault; the perpetrator did.
Help is Available
Sexual assault is a terrifying experience. Survivors need calm, reassuring, unconditional support. Ask for help if a teen you know has been sexually assaulted. Or if you would like more information, contact the domestic violence/sexual assault program nearest you.
For Teens and Young Adult Women:
Dating violence, like domestic violence, is a pattern of controlling, and abusive behaviours of one person over another within a romantic relationship. It can include verbal, emotional, physical, sexual, and financial abuse. Dating Violence can occur in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships. It knows no boundaries and crosses all lines of race, socio-economic status, etc. DATING VIOLENCE CAN happen to ANYONE.
If you are a teen or young adult who has experienced dating or sexual abuse, get help immediately. Lifeline offers a telephone counseling service where you can get advice or counseling about it. Their number is 1800 737 732. Just call the number and talk to someone who can advise you what can be done about the situation. You may need help from the police and other such officers. Please do not hesitate to call if you feel that you need help.