We can’t observe Sexual Assault Awareness & Prevention Month without taking some time to address one of the core elements of the month, which is all about the prevention of sexual violence. Here are some key points for you to know and put into practice to help protect yourself and others from sexual violence.
Know About It, Talk About It
We must start off by emphasizing that there is no 100% guaranteed way to avert incidents of sexual violence. Sexual violence can happen to anyone. You cannot control everything or be prepared for every possibility, but taking steps to educate yourself and others is a practical way to potentially lessen the risks and impacts of sexual violence. Awareness is a vital tool in working toward prevention.
First and foremost, understand that sexual violence isn’t about gratification. Sexual violence is about wielding power over another person to control them. Per the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the term “sexual violence” is an all-encompassing, non-legal term that refers to crimes like sexual assault, rape, and sexual abuse. There are many forms of sexual violence to be aware of, including:
- Sexual Assault
- Sexual Harassment
- Intimate Partner Sexual Violence
- Child Sexual Abuse
- Statutory Rape
- Elder Sexual Abuse
- Human Sex Trafficking
- Digital/Technology-based Sexual Abuse
The legal definitions and penalties for these crimes vary from state to state, but they are all violations of an individual’s right to safety and bodily autonomy.
Awareness also means combatting the myths and misconceptions around sexual violence. It cannot be stated enough that sexual violence is never the victim’s fault. It doesn’t matter if drugs or alcohol were involved, what a person was wearing, if they are married, or if they were previously intimate with their perpetrator. Regardless of any of these factors, without appropriate consent, sexual violence will always be the fault of the person who chose to enact that violence on the other person.
The dictionary definition of consent is “permission for something to happen or agreement to do something”. In the context of sex, it is the agreement between participants to engage in a specific sexual activity. Consent is a continuous discussion of boundaries, and can change and evolve as a sexual relationship progresses. An easy way to explain is to think of FRIES.
It is important to highlight that there are circumstances where, even if consent may have been verbalized, it is not valid. Underaged individuals cannot give consent, nor can those who are intoxicated or incapacitated by drugs or alcohol. If someone is asleep or unconscious, consent cannot be obtained, and any sexual act that occurs while in this condition is that of violence.
Social Media and Dating App Safety
Technology and the ways in which we connect with our world and with each other are constantly changing. As of 2022, over 300 million people worldwide use dating apps, and as of 2023, 4.9 billion people use some form of social media globally. Knowing this, taking proactive steps to protect yourself online is another great way to mitigate potential risks for sexual violence.
The conversation for online safety should definitely start young! Especially with social media and technology being a more common part of growing up, talking to children and teens about their digital footprint and online safety can make a big difference for their wellbeing. Discuss knowing how to adjust privacy settings for each platform, being aware of what you are sharing and to who, and paying attention to what links you click. It is also imperative to regularly stress the phrase “once on the internet, always on the internet”, particularly in the context of sending private images to another person. Not only can the sender no longer control what happens to that image once sent, but it is also illegal to send or share nude images of a minor, even by another minor.
Dating apps can be a great way to find a potential partner. The tough part is not always knowing who is on the other side of an account. Dating apps do not run any background checks on their users, so parties with a history of violence often go undetected and are able to access further potential victims. Some ways to protect yourself as you navigate meeting people on dating apps can include:
- Avoiding, blocking and/or reporting suspicious or aggressive users and profiles,
- Checking out someone on their other social media profiles, or requesting to video chat with them, before agreeing to meeting them in person,
- Running a criminal background check on a person you may plan to meet,
- Telling trusted friends or family when you are going out and where you are going,
- Avoiding meeting people in private or isolated places,
- Not relying on the other person for transportation, and
- Being cautious about what personal information you share and how soon you do so.
If a date or encounter leaves you feeling uncomfortable or unsafe, remember to unmatch, block, and report the other party after such encounters. This will help limit this person from accessing you in the future.
What To Do if Abuse Happens
Being prepared and knowing how to protect yourself is important, but it is also very important to remember that we cannot plan for everything. As previously mentioned, there is no surefire method to completely prevent sexual violence from happening. The next steps in protecting yourself is to know what to do as you or a loved navigates life after sexual violence. These steps can look different from individual to individual, as there is no one right way on the road of recovery.
Once again, it cannot be overstated that sexual violence is not the fault of the victim. Guilt and shame are normal feelings that may come up for a survivor as they try to reestablish a sense of control for themselves. Survivors can also feel disassociated from the experience, which is also a normal response to the trauma of their victimization. Seeking counseling, whether it be therapy or peer-based, can help a victim process these feelings and trauma responses. Doing so can also help in educating a survivor about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as 94% of survivors of sexual assault experience PTSD within 2 weeks of their victimization.
A victim or survivor has many options in addressing their victimization. They can choose to get a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) exam, which can collect evidence from the assault, as well as help them get tested for and treat unwanted pregnancies or Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). Should the survivor decide to report their victimization to law enforcement, their SANE exam kit can be used for prosecution of the case. If you decide this is not that right course for you, that is okay, and you can look into other means of protection, including seeking a Civil Protection Order (CPO) to keep your perpetrator away. Developing an individual or household safety plan can also help to feel more secure moving forward.
Regardless of what a victim or survivor may choose to do on their journey of recovery, Staff at the Arkansas Valley Resource Center are available for support 24/7. There is no requirement for a victim or survivor to have reported their victimization to law enforcement in order to access AVRC services. AVRC’s services are confidential, free, and voluntary, offering criminal justice advocacy, civil legal advocacy, financial assistance, temporary emergency shelter, peer and group counseling, and safety planning. Whatever your needs, AVRC is here to help!
Support is just a quick call away, and AVRC Staff are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week!
415 Colorado Avenue, La Junta, CO 81050
TTY: (719) 384-1938
After Hours Colorado Relay dial 711 or 1-800-659-2656
AVRC is non-discriminatory agency regarding age, race, religion, color, gender, country of national origin, sexual orientation, mental health status, substance use or economic condition.
Statistics provided by Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)