This is the third in a series of articles for Sexual Assault Prevention Month.
A woman is sexually assaulted every 17 minutes in Canada. (Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women, 1985). Each woman's experience with sexual assault is unique.
Women who are sexually assaulted may not have visible injuries. It's still an assault and it is a crime.
In 80 per cent of assaults, the perpetrator is someone the survivor knew and trusted. This can lead to self-doubt, questioning of judgement and self-blame by the survivor.
Women may also blame themselves when drugs or alcohol were involved. 273.1 f the Criminal Code of Canada states that it's a crime when "the complainant is incapable of consenting to the activity." This means it's rape if the woman is impaired by alcohol or drugs, unconscious, or sleeping.
Responses to nonconsensual sexual touching and rape include anger, mistrust, sadness, and self-blame. However, the way these emotions are experienced and expressed differ due to the individual nature of rape and sexual harassment.
Factors affecting reactions include, but are not limited to:
- age of the girl or woman
- how well the girl or woman knew the perpetrator
- where it happened
- the number of times it happened
- whether voluntary or involuntary consumption of drugs or alcohol were involved
- whether a weapon was involved
- the level of verbal and physical violence used by the rapist
- unwanted sexual touching is often not considered assault and as a result the survivor may not recognize or acknowledge the crime
- culture and religious background
- concepts of virginity, availability for marriage, and social worth by the survivor and/or her family/community
- whether the woman is from a marginalized group: sex workers, low income, disabled, immigrant and aboriginal women
- pregnancy resulting from the rape
- infection with sexually transmitted diseases
- family, friends, colleagues, or professionals available and willing to help and support the survivor
- hearing and believing that the girl or woman is not to blame for the rape or sexual assault
Choosing someone to disclose the assault to should mean finding an individual or agency that will listen and offer positive support. That may prove challenging for some women.
The attitudes and beliefs about sexual assault held by some individuals, and agencies, can be harmful to survivors if based on misinformation like those discussed in Part 2 of this series. For example, a woman may disclose to a friend who also knows and trusts the assailant. The friend may consider the conflicting information and defer to cognitive dissonance preferring to disbelieve the survivor. The result is victim blaming.
Real supporters listen, believe and offer helpful choices for the survivor to consider and make when she is ready to do so. There is no set timeline for "getting over" a sexual assault. It's well documented that the effects of rape last longer than other crimes. Women may find that they are more afraid and less trusting. They are more likely to suffer from depression, isolation, changes in sleep patterns, eating disorders, and have issues with intimacy.
Close to 20 per cent of rape victims attempt suicide. This is an astonishing nine times higher than women who have not been raped (2.2 per cent).
This crime that has far reaching effects that are felt by all Canadian women and girls. Women quite legitimately fear that rape or sexual harassment may happen to them or their sisters, daughters, granddaughters or any girl or woman living in their community.
The truth is one is too many!
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