Sexual violence impacts all of us. Whether you have experienced sexual violence recently or in the past or you want to support a friend or family member, help is available to you.
Sexual violence can happen to anyone regardless of age, sexual orientation, gender identity, level of education, employment situation, religious background, or race. Stereotypes and misconceptions within our society present additional challenges for survivors, especially for those whose identities are often viewed at the margins. The impact of sexual violence can be psychological, emotional, and or physical. While most often the identity of the person is known, sexual violence can also be committed by a stranger.
The general definition of sexual violence or sexual assault is any unwanted sexual attention, contact, or activity. It may involve one or more persons who coerce, manipulate, pressure, threaten, or force another person into acts of sexual activity that are against someone’s will or without consent due to age, illness, physical or cognitive disability, being unconscious, or the influence of alcohol or other drugs. These behaviors violate a person’s trust, autonomy, and feeling of safety. Several terms fall under the category of sexual violence including sexual assault, drug or alcohol facilitated sexual assault, date rape, incest, molestation, exhibitionism, voyeurism, obscene phone calls, fondling, and sexual harassment.
Sexual violence is both a legal and societal issue. As such JDI approaches our work to support survivors and prevent further sexual violence through both a public safety and public health lens.
Sexual violence is never a victim’s fault.
Far too often the focus is placed on the person who was victimized. Deeply held misconceptions and myths about rape and other acts of sexual violence lead to blaming and not believing the victim/survivor. Not only does this shift the responsibility away from the person who committed the violence, but it can also create a sense of shame and guilt for survivors, leaving them feeling alone, isolated, and unsure of where to turn for help after an attack.
It doesn’t matter what the victim was wearing, if either party was drunk, where it took place, how long they had been dating, if they had been sexually intimate before, or anything else. The person who commits sexual violence has made a choice to do so and frequently targets an individual based on his or her vulnerability and/or likelihood to report or be believed.
Help is available
Whether you experienced an assault recently or many years ago, you have the right to safety and freedom from violence. You also have the right to support and assistance. Trained advocates at rape crisis centers provide free and confidential services and can help you find the information and resources you need.
Survivors can experience a wide range of emotions ranging from guilt and shame, to a profound sense of violation and vulnerability. You may not know how to talk about it with the people closest to you or be concerned about how they will react. It is important to remember that sexual violence is never the victim’s fault. Your local rape crisis center can assist you as by answering questions and providing emotional support. Someone will answer a hotline call anytime day or night. You do not need to be in crisis to call. If you choose to report your assault an advocate can accompany you at the hospital or with law enforcement.
Recovery is a process and it can look different for everyone. The goal is to help survivors feel safe and empowered in their lives as they heal from trauma.
How to help a survivor
If you are concerned about a friend or a loved one who has experienced sexual violence, it is normal to have questions about how to support them. Breaking the silence is a critical and very difficult step for someone who has experienced sexual violence. So being open to listening without judgment is the most helpful thing you can do. Some additional points to consider:
- Believe them and let them know you support them.
- Remind them it is not their fault.
- Listen, be patient, and don’t insert judgment
- Respect their boundaries.
- Provide information not advice, empower them to make their own decisions.
- Encourage them to reach out to their local rape crisis center for additional support.
If you need more information or support for yourself, you can also reach out to your local rape crisis center. Advocates can give you more information on how to support another person and better understand what resources are available.
Prevention is possible
At JDI we believe that it is possible to end sexual violence by attacking the root causes that allow it to thrive in our society. You may have heard the term “rape culture,” which is a way of referring to the cultural norms and attitudes that have helped to normalize sexual assault and abuse. Examples of rape culture include blaming the victim, trivializing sexual assault, or teaching people, women and girls especially, how to avoid getting raped by men instead of teaching people how to respect boundaries, consent, and equity.
Primary prevention means working together as an entire society to promote the attitudes and values that ultimately influence and condone certain behaviors. As the statewide coalition, JDI is well suited to focus beyond intervening and preventing individual incidents of violence toward broader based efforts that tackle these fundamental issues. Our prevention efforts are grounded in evidence-based efforts to create a world based on gender equity and racial justice on personal, community, institutional, and societal levels.
What would it take to create a world based on gender equity, racial justice, and safety for all? JDI is working towards that vision every day by shifting public attitudes and values that will help prevent sexual and domestic violence. We can’t do it without your help. You can join our philanthropic community today as a Grand Circle of Giving Champion or a gift of whatever size is meaningful to you.