What is sexual violence?
Sexual violence is an umbrella term that refers to any sexual activity without the consent of all parties. Consent is defined as; mutual, ongoing, and enthusiastic agreement to engage in sexual activity made in a clear state of mind and free from coercion.
Sexual violence is often perpetrated by someone a survivor knows, and this includes intimate partner relationships. There are many different terms to refer to sexual violence that occurs within intimate partnerships, including intimate partner sexual violence, domestic violence, intimate partner rape, marital rape, and spousal rape. No matter what term is used or how the relationship is defined, it is never okay to engage in sexual activity without someone’s consent.
Intimate partner sexual violence can occur in all types of intimate relationships regardless of gender identities or sexual orientation. Intimate partner sexual violence is not defined by gender or sexuality, but by abusive behavior.
Consent is expressed when one person voluntarily agrees to the proposal of another. Consent is legally required at every stage of sexual activity.
- Consent is conditional and changeable. Consent must be mutual, free from coercion, and given in a clear state of mind. Consent must be ongoing and given at all stages of sexual activity. Consent can be withdrawn.
- Age matters! By law, children or minors below a certain age, (the age of sexual consent in that jurisdiction) are not able to give valid consent to sexual acts.
Sexual violence is pervasive in every corner of the world. It is very important to remember that the perpetrator is at fault, never the victim. It will take time and effort for a victim of sexual assault to heal and to move forward, but it can be done. For the victim, a helper or concerned family or friend, help is available.
Native Americans Are Disproportionately Affected
Around the world, Indigenous peoples have been and still are being victimized by dominant civilizations. Beginning with colonization, Native Americans suffered at the hands of non-natives and rape was frequently used as a tool of colonization and oppression. The impacts of colonization, and specifically rape still impact Native communities to this day.
Nationwide, an American is sexually assaulted every 73 seconds and every nine minutes that victim is a child. For Native Americans, the picture is even bleaker.
- Native Americans and Alaskan Natives are twice as likely to experience a rape/sexual assault compared to all other racial groups in the United States.
- Every year an average of 5,900 American Indians ages 12 and older experience sexual assault.
- 41 percent of sexual assaults against American Indians are committed by a stranger; 34 percent by an acquaintance; and 25 percent by an intimate or family member.
- On average, there are 433,648 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States.
- 21 percent of transgender, genderqueer, or nonconforming (TGQN) college students have been sexually assaulted, compared to 18 percent of non-TGQN females, and 4 percent of non-TGQN males.
- Millions of men in the United States have been victims of rape. Statistically, one out of every ten rape victims are male.
Beyond those statistics remain the innumerable victims who do not report or cannot report sexual assault for any variety of reasons. One of the more common reasons a victim may not report an assault is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.
Effects of Sexual Violence
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a serious psychological disorder suffered by millions of people who have been exposed to extreme stress, violence or loss. PTSD can cause many trauma responses, from rendering a victim mute to living in a heightened state of panic.
Possible Feelings and Reactions
After a sexual assault has occurred, the victim can experience a multitude of debilitating emotions. Processing trauma is never easy, but putting labels on the emotions can help put things into perspective.
- Fear is the most common victim reaction. The victim will associate the assault with certain sights, sounds, smells, thoughts, places, etc. For weeks or months after the assault, fear and anxiety can be triggered by any number of reminders of the assault.
- Guilty feelings may be the result of self-blame. Victims may think such things as “I shouldn’t have been out that late.” or “I should have dressed differently.” They may even feel guilty about what they had to do in order to survive (they didn’t scream, fight back or report the crime). It can also be a result of living in a society where victim-blaming is prevalent.
- Shock occurs when the victim feels numb and disconnected. It occurs when the victim just can’t process what had happened to them. Victims who remain calm or can’t cry is an indication in of itself that they are experiencing an emotional shock.
- Disrupted relationships often occur when the victim feels embarrassed or ashamed and becomes withdrawn and/or depressed. This could lead the victim to avoid people, places, and things that remind them of the trauma.
A Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) is a nurse specifically trained to conduct a forensic exam to include evaluation and collection of evidence. They are sensitive to survivors of sexual assault and use their expertise to provide effective courtroom testimony. Before the exam, there are a few things the survivor should know.
- Before seeing a SANE nurse or having a rape kit done, the survivor should try to preserve any evidence carried by their body and avoid showering, brushing their teeth or going to the bathroom. The survivor should also avoid changing their clothes or put the clothing in a paper bag and bring it with them to the exam.
- If drugs are suspected to have been used, the survivor can request a toxicology kit.
- A police report does not have to be filed to have a SANE exam or rape kit done. Evidence collected will only be analyzed if and when the victim decides to press charges.
- Victims can request an advocate from their local rape crisis center to be present during the exam.
- Minors or elders may be subject to mandatory reporting requirements.
StrongHearts Advocates Can Help
Help is available for victims of sexual assault. StrongHearts Native Helpline advocates are trained to take a Native-centered, empowerment-based approach to every call or chat. Services are completely free, anonymous and confidential. For those experiencing or who have experienced sexual violence, StrongHearts advocates offer the following services:
- peer support and advocacy
- basic information about health options
- Support finding a local health facility or crisis center that is trained to care for survivors of sexual assault and offers services like sexual assault forensic exams
- referrals to Native-centered sexual violence service providers that can assist with your next steps toward healing and recovery and long-term support
- general information about jurisdiction and legal advocacy referrals
StrongHearts is a project of the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center.