Sexual assault is any undesired physical contact of a sexual nature perpetrated against another person. The law states that ‘rape’ is forced penile penetration of the vagina or anus, and while associated with rape, sexual and indecent assault is a much broader topic and can include unwanted advances, which carry lesser penalties. These include indecent exposure, forced kissing, forcing someone to give oral sex, and penetration by objects. In order for such an assault to be recognised as a crime, the attacker must realise that what they are doing is without consent, but of course, if they do not, this does not necessarily make the violation any less wrong or traumatic for the victim.
Reactions to sexual assault vary from case to case and from person to person. Often, in order to deal with an incident, victims might minimise it, especially if it is not generally regarded as the most serious of offences, if it was an isolated incident, or if it happened a long time ago. However minor an incident of assault may seem to be, it can still be frightening and demeaning, and should be taken seriously. Statistics report that rape by someone unknown to the victim accounts for 15% of all rape cases. So called ‘acquaintance rape’ may occur on a date, or within a relationship, either new or longstanding. Within a relationship it can sometimes be uncomfortable to discuss sex, often for fear of feeling insecure or appearing inadequate.
In relationships, however, it is usually best to be upfront about what is acceptable, and where lines are drawn. It can often be difficult to be in full control in situations involving drugs and alcohol, as judgement is made more difficult, and people can react aggressively to the influence of alcohol. Nevertheless, rape and indecent assault are never the fault of the person who has been violated.
It is only recently that male rape has been recognized in law. Again, reactions to this kind of assault will vary, but the low incidence of reported cases is attributed partly to victims’ fear of being taken seriously. In many cases of rape against both men and women, there is an aspect of humiliation of and control that can contribute to overpowering of the victim. Men sometimes have a physiological reaction to rape which makes them get an erection or ejaculate. This could increase feelings of guilt or shame because the man may feel he must have enjoyed it subconsciously, but it really is only physiology; any welfare provider a male victim talks to will probably be aware of this.
The following advice is for both men and women:
If you have been sexually assaulted:
- Go to a safe place
- If you want help from the police, call 999. This will not commit you to press charges
- Get support: you may want help from afriend, family member, or counsellor.
- Do not change your clothes or shower, as this will damage evidence that the police will need if you report the assault
- Consider getting medical attention. If you go to the police they will offer you the option of seeing a doctor along with an examination to gather evidence. They can also help with emergency contraception and advice on STIs and pregnancy. GUM clinics offer similar help and advice.
- Rape Crisis Line, The Haven. This is a safe place in Camberwell (near Elephant and Castle) that specialises in helping people who have been victims of sexual assault and rape. They also help find accommodation for those who cannot go anywhere else. You do not need a referral, just turn up. Calling times for the Haven are between 8.30am and 5pm weekdays on 0207 346 1599 and on 0207 737 4000 at all other times. Everything that is told to them is confidential.
- Do not allow fear, shame or questions about who is to blame for what happened stop you from doing any of the above. You are not to blame and have nothing to hide.
If you call the police:
If you say that you want to report a rape you will be transferred to the Family Protection Unit. The officer there (you may request a woman) will take some details and make arrangements for two officers to meet you. A short statement will be taken at your house or anywhere you choose to meet and then you will be taken to a safe house. There a police doctor will examine you. After you have changed clothes and bathed if you wish, you will be asked to give a complete description of the assault. You may have another person with you at any time. One of the most frustrating aspects of reporting a rape is the time it takes to go to trial. Call the police and consider using the services of Rape Crisis (women only) and Victim Support, either of whom can provide an advocate for the hearing. Remember that it is likely that the attacker could do the same to others.
Child Sexual Abuse:
Despite what is made out by the media, sexual abuse of children is perpetrated mainly by those close to the child, such as fathers, brothers, uncles, close family friends, and even mothers. This means that an abused child has few places to turn to for help. Other members of a family are unlikely to want to believe what the child has to say, and involving the authorities is likely to have perceivably frightening consequences.
Although there should be no doubt as to the innocence of the child suffering abuse, he or she is likely to feel very guilty. Abusers protect themselves by ensuring that the child will not tell others, thus making the child appear to be an accomplice. The child is, in any case, likely to have very complex emotions towards the trusted adult who is now betraying that trust. Even if the child brings attention to the abuse and something is done, the overwhelming desire of all involved will be to forget that it ever happened. The family may carry on as normal with the subject never being raised again, and sometimes the child may block the memory. These memories, triggered by something in later life may come as a complete shock. Childhood abuse often has very deep rooted, lasting effects. Flashbacks, social and sexual dysfunction, anxiety and nightmares can all be problems.
If you were sexually abused as a child:
A first step could be to look for support. You may want help from a family member or friend, but you might also prefer to talk to someone you don’t know. You may find our fully trained counsellors an invaluable resource.