Sexual assault

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Sexual Assault is any physical contact of a sexual nature without voluntary consent. Sexual assault can take place by anyone and anywhere. While associated with rape, sexual assault is much broader and the specifics may vary according to social, political or legal definition.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, sexual assault includes inappropriate touching, vaginal, anal, and oral penetration, sexual intercourse, rape, attempted rape, and child molestation.[1] in Australia, the term 'sexual assault' is more synonymous with rape.

Perpetrators may include, but are not limited to, strangers, acquaintances, superiors, legal entities (as in the case of torture), or family members. Both male and female [2] sex predators can commit sexual assault against same-sex or opposite-sex victims or both. Generally, victims are more likely to be assaulted by an acquaintance (such as a friend or co-worker) or a family member than by a complete stranger. The act is sometimes accomplished by force sufficient to cause physical injury. More often, the act is accomplished by psychological coercion alone, with no overt physical injuries to the victim. However, even when no lasting physical injury is sustained, the psychological damage done by this form of intimate violation may be substantial. Psychological damage is often particularly severe when sexual assault is committed by parents against children due to the incestuous nature of the assault.

Contents

[edit] Who is vulnerable

Anyone is a potential victim of sexual assault. A person who is the victim of sexual assault may require assistance from medical and law enforcement resources. Medical and law enforcement professionals strongly recommend that a victim call for help and report what has happened.

Medical professionals are concerned for the well-being of the victim, who may need immediate medical attention, not only for injuries, but against sexually transmitted disease, and possibly to avoid unwanted conception. In many locations, EMTs, emergency room nurses and doctors are trained to help rape victims. Some emergency rooms have rape kits which are used to collect evidence.

"A victim of sexual assault should be offered prophylaxis for pregnancy and for sexually transmitted diseases, subject to informed consent and consistent with current treatment guidelines. Physicians and allied health practitioners who find this practice morally objectionable or who practice at hospitals that prohibit prophylaxis or contraception should offer to refer victims of sexual assault to another provider who can provide these services in a timely fashion."—[3] from the American College of Emergency Physicians: "Management of the Patient with the Complaint of Sexual Assault"

Police are charged with the enforcement of the laws forbidding sexual assault and to gather evidence to identify and prosecute the offender. Further, police provide safety advice and prevention tips, to prevent people from becoming victims of sexual assault.

[edit] Clinical treatment

Victims almost universally suffer psychological damage consistent with the severity of the assault. Thus, dealing with such victims calls for tact and sensitivity from persons who would help the victim. In Western countries, forcible rape is considered a medical emergency and survivors are encouraged to call for help to report this criminal act and medical emergency.

Psychological first aid in the immediate aftermath of the assault is important to successful emotional recovery from a sexual assault. Sensitivity and tact is required. Physical injuries such as gynecologic hemorrhage may have resulted. Preventative treatment against sexually transmitted diseases may be required.

Voluntary administration of emergency contraception may be considered in societies where such administration is both socially acceptable and legal. Most Western societies fall into this classification, while most African and South American societies, and many Asian societies, do not. Health care providers in societies where emergency contraception is available should be aware that failing to inform patients of the availability may leave them open to allegations of malpractice.

All hospital emergency rooms should have complete procedures in place for assisting victims of sexual assault. Collection of evidence such as DNA samples, which can help in criminal prosecution of the assailant, should follow rigorous chain of custody procedures. See Sexual assault kit.

Victims should be referred to additional resources and made aware of their rights under policy and law.

Criteria for legal determination of sexual assault include:

  1. Carnal knowledge (Sex)
  2. Lack of consent
  3. Compulsion (by brute force, threat, implied threat, coercion or other)

[edit] Reducing the risk of sexual assault

Police agencies routinely offer safety tips and advice for reducing the risk of sexual assault. Many argue that there are risk factors for sexual assault that lie with the victim; that is, certain behaviors by the victim exist may increase the chance of sexual assault. Research disputes this, as the victims behavior is not a contributing or causal factor.

While it is widely accepted that the victim is not to blame, for would-be victims of sexual assault, there are a variety of precautions that may be taken to minimize the chance of falling victim to sexual predators. While many choose to employ these activities to feel safe, this may be considered a false sense of security as research has shown that these tips do not work. Various reputed organizations and legal agencies have provided suggestions to this end, including the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, The Canadian Women's Sexual Assault Centre, RapeCrisis.org.uk, and Amnesty International.

The advice given is extensive, and vary in specifics, they all tend to include certain precautions:

  • Avoid being alone in public, particularly at night, or in dark and/or isolated places.
  • Maintain situational awareness. Be aware of other persons.
  • Keep personal information (such as name, address and telephone numbers) on your person, and not on key-chains.
  • Keep your vehicle and home locked.
  • Avoid isolated places such as deserted parking lots or stairwells in office buildings as much as possible.
  • If a motorist asks for assistance, stand a distance from the vehicle.
  • Be alert. Never sleep in public - including buses, cabs and benches. Have car and house keys ready before you reach the door.
  • Walk facing traffic.
  • Trust your instincts- if you feel you are being followed, if you have suspicions about a minor auto accident, or being stopped by a police official, keep driving to a well-lit, populated area before stopping. In the case of a police officer, in the United States and many other countries, a driver who does so for their own safety cannot be further penalized for evading arrest or failing to stop (provided they do so eventually).
  • Don't allow yourself to be alone with someone whom you do not know or trust. This may prevent stranger sexual assault (2% of all assaults), although will not prevent the more common types of assault such as acquaintance sexual assault.
  • If you are in trouble or feel you are in danger, don't be afraid to attract help any way you can. Scream, yell or run away to safety.
  • If you choose to carry any type of weapon for self-protection, give careful consideration to your ability and willingness to use it. Remember there is always the chance that it could be taken away and used against you.

Advice given in recent years, brought to prominence on the American Today Show, is to yell "fire" rather than screaming or calling out for help as this may attract more attention since it conveys the message that immediate assistance is needed without any further explanation of the situation and will tend to turn the heads of even those who are further away. Although it may sound silly, this strategy has been shown to be more effective, and in the case of immediate danger such as a pursuer, the false call of fire is not considered to be endangering others (i.e. not the same as "yelling 'fire' in a crowded theatre").

However, all of this well-intentioned advice, which constructs the perpetrator of assault as a stranger, conceals the fact that, in the United States and Canada, the majority of sexual assaults are committed by someone the survivor knows, usually a spouse, partner, date, or family member. In the U.S., in 1997, 68.3% of sexual assaults perpetrated by someone who knew the victim. (Bureau of Justice's National Crime Victimization Survey, 1997). 78% of women raped or physically assaulted since they turned 18 were assaulted by a current or former husband, live-in partner or date. 17% were victimized by an acquaintance, 9% by a relative other than a husband and only 14% were assaulted by a stranger. (National Violence Against Women Survey, 1998).

What is more, the above advice, which cautions women to be vigilant in public spaces and to avoid going out at night, conceals the fact that sexual assault does not usually occur in dark alleys or in deserted areas at night. In fact, 6 out of 10 sexual assaults occur in the home of the victim or the home of a friend, neighbor or relative (Greenfeld, 1997).

This kind of advice has been criticized by anti-rape activists for misrepresenting the frequency of assaults committed by strangers in isolated public places at night, and for understating the frequency of assaults committed by acquaintances, partners/spouses, and family members in private places.

This type of advice also shifts the focus away from the actions of the perpetrator and onto the victim. This type of advice can also contribute to much of the victim-blaming attitudes that many survivors encounter when they disclose the assault to others. It can also contribute to victims feeling like they are to blame for the assault because they have been told by our culture that it is their responsibility to avoid being assaulted.

[edit] See also


[edit] External links

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