What is Sexual Assault?
In its simplest definition, sexual assault is unwanted sexual contact. Sexual assault includes the act of rape (oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse without consent) or forced penetration by a foreign object (including a finger). It also includes non-penetrating acts such as touching an unwilling person’s sexual parts (e.g. breast, buttocks, genitalia), naked or through clothing, or forcing an unwilling person to touch another’s sexual parts. Force includes the use of physical aggression, threats of physical aggression, or sexual contact with a person who is unable to consent (e.g. unconscious, too intoxicated to consent, asleep, etc.). Non-forceful coercion can also be used, for example, threatening to reveal secrets, to tell others that the victim and perpetrator had sexual intercourse, to fire an employee or fail a student (these cases also fit the definition of sexual harassment) or threatening the victims friends or family members are all forms of coercion. Sexual assaults are committed by both strangers AND people the victim knows. In fact, the vast majority of rapes and sexual assaults are committed by someone the victims knows, ranging from friends and acquaintances to dates, romantic partners, and spouses or domestic partners. Although people often think of rape as something that only happens to women, this is not the case. Both men and women are sexually assaulted, as are people of every ethnicity, age, culture, religion, economic background, or sexual orientation.
Although these definitions seem clear, people are often confused as to whether they have been sexually assaulted or not, or even if they have been raped or not. This is particularly true when the survivor knows their assailant, as they may often feel that they somehow led the person on, or that they are in some way responsible for the assault. In many cases, survivors may feel that because they were not seriously hurt physically, it wasn’t really rape. This is not true. ANY sexual contact forced upon you by someone against your will is illegal, against the UMKC Student Code of Conduct and against UMKC University Policy. It is illegal and wrong, even if you have been sexual with that person in the past or are currently being sexual, but don’t wish to go past certain limits. Examples include:
- A stranger grabs your breast at a party or in a bar
- A date insists that you have sex even after you tell them you don’t want to
- Your romantic partner of 4 years forces you to have sex
- Someone gets you drunk or slips a rape drug into your drink in order to get you to have sex with them
What about same-sex rape and sexual assault?
Although people typically think of a man assaulting a woman, rape and sexual assault occur between people of the same-sex as well. As with opposite sex sexual assault, the majority of same-sex sexual assault occurs between people who know each other or who are intimately involved. However, neither the perpetrators nor the survivors are always gay or lesbian. Furthermore, sexual assault can also be part of a bias or hate crime against someone perceived to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered (the perpetrator(s) in this instance can be either the same or opposite sex as the survivor). Survivors of same-sex sexual assault face the same difficulties as other survivors, but they may also have to deal with additional issues. These include:
- Beliefs that a woman cannot rape another woman or a man cannot rape another man – these may make it harder for survivors to find someone to talk to, obtain services, or even believe themselves that they were raped.
- If the survivor was assaulted by a same-sex partner or date, they may face, or fear, homophobia and heterosexist attitudes when trying to report the assault or receive medical or psychological services.
- LGBT survivors may avoid coming forward because they fear losing their family, friends, job, or housing. Conversely, heterosexual survivors may fear others thinking that they are gay or lesbian if they report a same-sex assault.
- LGBT survivors who are not yet out may also fear coming out to family, friends, and coworkers, among others. Many survivors fear that their loved ones will blame the assault on the survivor’s sexual orientation, especially if their family and friends are not supportive or knowledgeable about LGBT issues.
- Survivors of a sexual assault that was part of a hate crime may be traumatized not only by the assault itself, but also by the accompanying prejudice and hatred that motivated the crime.
Although many services are designed for female survivors of a sexual assault by a man, there are services available for all survivors of sexual assault, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation, or the gender of their assailant. Many services are confidential and a number are anonymous as well, so that survivors do not have to fear being involuntarily outed or having others know more about the situation than the survivor would like.