What is sexual assault?

Sexual assault refers to any sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of all people involved. Sexual assault can happen to anyone, of any age, race, gender, sexuality, martial status or religion.

There are many different forms of sexual assault and sexual assault does not always involve physical force.

Sexual assault can include:

  • Fondling and unwanted touching

  • Forcing someone to perform a sexual act (such as oral sex)

  • Attempted rape

  • Rape

Forcing someone to perform a sexual act does not have be physical violence. Many perpetrators of sexual assault utilize means other than physical violence in sexual assault, such as:

  • Substances (Giving you drugs or alcohol for the purpose of lowering your inhibitions, or seeking out someone who is already impaired by drugs or alcohol)

  • Coercion (“If you really loved me, you would have sex with me.”)

  • Intimidation (Making you afraid of what will happen if you say no to a sexual act)

  • Psychological pressure (Acting very sad, withdrawn, angry, or otherwise upset when you do not engage in a sexual act)

  • Badgering (Continuing to ask for a sexual act after being turned down, until you give in to get them to stop asking)

  • Normalization (“I have a high sex drive and I need it.” / “Men need a lot of sex.”)

  • Obligation ("You’re my partner so you have to have sex with me.” / “I bought you dinner so I expect sex in return.”)

  • Using past experiences (“We had sex before, why can’t we have sex now?”)

  • Ignoring boundaries (Consenting to one sexual activity is not consent to all sexual activities)

  • Deception (Lying about birth control / STIS / removing condoms after agreeing to use one)

  • Authority (Using a position of authority to manipulate someone into a sexual act, such as an employer, coach, teacher, landlord, caretaker, or other authority figure.)

Any sexual act that you do not enthusiastically consent to is sexual assault.

Utilize the acronym “FRIESS” to understand consent. Consent should be:

  • Freely Given: You were not pressured into a sexual act.

  • Reversible: You have the right to say no at any point, including after sexual activity has begun.

  • Informed: You have the right to know what sexual act you are agreeing to, if your partner is using birth control, if your partner has an STI, etc.

  • Enthusiastic: Your partner not saying “No” does not mean they are saying “Yes.” Clear, verbal, affirmative consent is the best way to know that your partner is consenting.

  • Sober: Substances alter your judgement, the only way to truly know you have consent is for all people involved to be sober.

  • Specific: Consenting to one sexual act is not consent for all sexual acts.

In most sexual assault cases, the victim knows the perpetrator before the assault happens. Intimate partners (such as husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends), friends and acquaintances are the most likely perpetrators of sexual violence. Twenty percent (20%) of sexual assaults are perpetrated by a stranger.

I think I was assaulted, what do i do now?

There is no right or wrong way to feel or behave after experiencing sexual violence. However you feel or react is valid. It is important to know that you did not cause the assault and it is not your fault. You may feel numb, powerless, angry, afraid, guilty, embarrassed, nervous, or depressed. These are all natural reactions to what you’ve experienced and you have nothing to be ashamed of. You may also experience physical symptoms, such as stomachaches, exhaustion, problems sleeping, rapid breathing, tense muscles, or rapid heartbeat. This is also a normal way for your body to react to a traumatic experience. You may need time to process your feelings.

WISH’s primary concern is your well-being and safety. WISH’s advocates are here to help you decide what is best for you.

There are several options you can take after being sexually assaulted:

  • You can report the assault to law enforcement.

    • If the assault happened within the last 7 days, you can have a forensic sexual assault exam performed at the ER to gather evidence and treat any injuries you may have. This examination is free. A WISH advocate can accompany you.

    • If it has been longer than 7 days, you can still report to law enforcement. How evidence is gathered in cases older than 7 days will vary and be up to law enforcement to determine. Any injuries you have may still be documented even if an exam is not performed. A WISH advocate can accompany you to report if you so desire.

    • You can report to law enforcement at any time and decline to have a forensic exam performed.

  • You can report the assault anonymously.

    • If you report to the ER within 7 days of being assaulted, you can have a sexual assault forensic exam performed to gather evidence and treat any injuries you have without giving law enforcement your name or information. This will allow you to open a case later if you so desire. Who you are will remain confidential between you and medical staff. This exam is free. A WISH advocate can accompany you.

  • You can speak to a WISH advocate.

    • A WISH advocate can go over all options with you in more detail to help you decide what choice is best for you. A WISH advocate can accompany you to the hospital and support you through receiving medical care, a forensic exam and/or reporting to law enforcement if you so desire. Anything you tell a WISH advocate is completely confidential.

    • If you do not want to seek medical care and you do not want to report to law enforcement, you are still welcome to speak to a WISH advocate. If you have other needs - such as counseling, food, shelter, or clothing - a WISH advocate can help you with these needs or simply listen if that is what you need.

    • If you are a survivor of sexual violence, no matter when it happened, you are always welcome to speak to a WISH advocate and seek services, such as counseling and groups, from WISH.

  • You can seek medical care.

    • If you do not want to report to law enforcement, you can still seek medical care for any injuries. Reporting your assault to the ER does not require you to report to law enforcement. No evidence will be gathered and only your injuries will be treated, including pregnancy testing and treatment for potential sexually transmitted infections. Your conversations with medical staff is confidential. You do not have to tell them who assaulted you. A WISH advocate can accompany you.

  • You can seek a protective order.

    • A protective order prohibits a person from contacting you and requires them to stay away from you. A WISH advocate can help you with this process. Protective orders are civil matters, but anything you say in a protective order hearing can be used in the criminal case if law enforcement pursue criminal charges.

what happens in a sexual assault exam?

The exam begins with an interview between you, a law enforcement officer and a nurse who has been trained to collect evidence. A WISH advocate can be present with you during this interview to support you.

Alternatively, an advocate can also ensure that people you do not want in the room are excluded (such as friends and family members who may have accompanied you to support you).

This interview is to gather information on the assault to allow the officer to begin investigating and to allow the nurse to know what to document and any treatment you may need.

After the interview, the officer will leave and the nurse will conduct the exam. This exam will include taking pictures of any injuries (such as bruises, cuts or swelling) and collecting swabs. Depending on the nature of the assault, this may include an oral, anal and/or pelvic exam. The nurse will also treat any injuries, STIs and test for pregnancy. The nurse will document everything and turn the evidence over to law enforcement to have it processed.

An advocate can stay with you through the exam. You may also have a friend or family member accompany you if you so desire.

You have the right to decline any part of the exam at any time for any reason.

If you have been assaulted and you would like to have an exam, please refrain from eating, drinking, bathing, brushing your teeth, or changing your clothes. We know this is a difficult ask, but it’ll help with evidence collection.

If you have any more questions about the process and deciding what is best for you, contact us and one of our advocates can help you decide what is best for you.