General Information and Definition
Sexual activity should always be safe, sane and consensual. However, this does not always happen – for a wide variety of reasons. When sexual activity occurs without consent, it is sexual assault.
For many, the term sexual assault usually equates to rape. However, the term sexual assault can involve any type of unwanted (non-consensual) sexual activity including:
- inappropriate touching
- vaginal, anal, or oral penetration
- sexual intercourse or actions that you say no to
- attempted rape
- child molestation
Sexual assault can be “verbal, visual, or anything that forces a person to join in unwanted sexual contact or attention. Examples of this are voyeurism (when someone watches private sexual acts), exhibitionism (when someone exposes him/herself in public), incest (sexual contact between family members), and sexual harassment.”
According to the law, sexual assault is “sexualized contact (sometimes referred to as carnal knowledge) with another person without consent and by force (compulsion).” This force doesn’t have to be physical – it can also be through fear, deception, coercion, or the use of intoxicants such as alcohol and drugs.
However, sexual assault laws vary by state and can include laws about age of consent (sometimes called statutory rape laws), types of sexual assault, and level of punishment for the different types of sexual assault.
Indiana state law defines rape as genital penetration between members of the opposite sex, while leaving definitions of other forms of sexual misconduct vaguer. Other states and many survivors have a more general definition of rape.
Regardless of the sexual act, everyone has a right to not consent, or revoke consent. Violations of that right are considered sexual assault.
Types Of Sexual Assault
Despite the stereotyped sexual assault by an unknown stranger, the vast majority of sexual assaults occur between people who already know each other. Sexual assault can include any form of non consensual sexual contact.
Child Sexual Abuse
In the state of Indiana, 16 is the age of consent, meaning that individuals under 16 cannot consent to sexual conduct with individuals 18 or older. Indiana law also states that any sexual interaction with a child under 14 is nonconsensual and illegal.
Date (or Acquaintance) Rape
Date rape is a sexual assault that occurs when you already have a relationship with the person who assaulted you. This can include friends, current or former sexual partners, or other acquaintances.
Date rape can make it more difficult for the survivor to realize that they had experienced sexual assault, but regardless of who the perpetrator is, non consensual sexual acts are illegal and can be prosecuted.
Sexual Exploitation By A Helping Professional
Sexual contact of any kind between a helping professional (doctor, therapist, teacher, priest, professor, police officer, lawyer, etc.) and a client/patient. This, like child abuse, involves an imbalance in power and sometimes knowledge between the perpetrator and the victim.
Spousal (or Partner) Rape
Sexual acts committed without a person’s consent and/or against a person’s will where the perpetrator is the individual’s current partner (married or not), previous partner, or co-habitator.
Although spousal rape may be more stigmatized and often unreported, the state of Indiana legally treats cases of spousal rape no differently than other forms of sexual assault.
Consent is the “conscious and considered agreement to voluntarily engage in sexual activity with another.” Consent is the foundation of all healthy sexual activity and is a key part of a healthy, happy sex life.
If you decide to become intimate with someone, both people should give consent and be sensitive to the acceptance or nonacceptance of the other person. Check in with your partner often about their comfort level around certain sexual activities and clearly state if you want to stop the sexual activity at any time. If you partner wants to stop sexual activity for any reason, stop immediately.
Ideally, partners should be continuously checking in with each other to make sure you are both comfortable with what is happening physically and emotionally. Checking in and asking for consent does not have to be awkward or formal. Consent can be sexy, using playful phrases such as: “would you like it if I….” or “I’ve always thought…was really hot, want to try?,” or even “last night was really amazing for me, what was good for you?”. For new and bigger steps in a relationship though, it is often easier to talk in a non-sexual context (ie. casually over lunch) to see how you both feel before waiting until the heat of the moment to ask for consent.
There are some people who cannot give consent for sexual activity according to the law, including those who are mentally compromised or intoxicated – sometimes called “diminished capacity.” There are also situations where the victim of sexual assault is not required to consent in situations where there is fear of great harm, threats with real or alleged weapons, the use or threat of physical injury or brute force.
In the state of Indiana 16 is the age of consent, meaning that individuals under 16 cannot consent to sexual conduct with individuals 18 or older. Indiana law also states that any sexual interaction with a child under 14 is nonconsensual and illegal.
Non consensual sexual activity ranging from unwanted comments to any form of sexual contact or conduct is considered illegal and can be classified as harassment, assault, or rape.
And remember, consent is sexy!
Male Sexual Assault
Male victims of sexual assault are an often forgotten population–unseen, neglected, and under-served. Male victims often have more barriers when it comes to accessing services after a sexual assault – because of fear of judgment from friends or family or having local resources that only provide services to women.
There are also quite a few myths about male victims of sexual assault:
- Men are immune to victimization.
- Men should be able to fight off attacks.
- Men shouldn’t express emotion.
- Men enjoy all sex, so they must have enjoyed the assault.
- Male survivors are more likely to become sexual predators.
In actuality, men can be just as harmed by sexual assault, and are equally deserving of the legal action and supportive services offered to other survivors.
What To Do If You’ve Been Sexually Assaulted
First, you should not blame yourself. If someone took away your right to consent to what happens with your body what they did was wrong and illegal. Also, remember that you are not alone, and most sexual assault survivors take time to recover and then can yet again have normal and happy lives and relationships.
The CDC’s Women’s Health site offers these steps if you have been sexually assaulted:
- Get away from the attacker to a safe place as fast as you can. Then call 911 or the police.
- Call a friend or family member you trust. You also can call a crisis center or a hotline to talk with a counselor. One hotline is the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673). Feelings of shame, guilt, fear, and shock are normal. It is important to get counseling from a trusted professional.
- Do not wash, comb, or clean any part of your body. Do not change clothes if possible, so the hospital staff can collect evidence. Do not touch or change anything at the scene of the assault.
- Go to your nearest hospital emergency room as soon as possible. You need to be examined, treated for any injuries, and screened for possible sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or pregnancy. The doctor will collect evidence using a rape kit for fibers, hairs, saliva, semen, or clothing that the attacker may have left behind.
- You or the hospital staff can call the police from the emergency room to file a report.
- Ask the hospital staff about possible support groups you can attend right away.
Not all survivors choose to report their sexual assault. Statistics indicate that over 60% of rapes are not reported to the police. While it is important to take care of your own needs as a survivor first, reporting a sexual assault is one key to preventing future sexual assaults.
The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network offers a wide variety of support and information on their website.
In most states (including Indiana) the confidentiality of survivors is legally protected.
Even if the assault took place a long time ago you are still entitled to counseling and depending on the nature of the assault and your state’s statute of limitations you may be still able to report and prosecute.