Sexual assault, sexual abuse, rape, and sexual molestation are all words or phrases we are familiar with. These terms tend to have several meanings, connotations, and implications, and this can lead to confusion and frustration. In a society where sarcasm, hyperbole, and rhetoric are typical means of communication, I believe that it is important to take words seriously. Explicitly defining one’s terms can reduce one’s confusion and frustration when discussing delicate situations. In this article, I seek to define what sexual assault is and outline some precautions you can take in order to avoid it. For the purposes of this article, I will be focusing mostly on the demographic at highest risk of being sexually assaulted, namely, females between the ages of 18 and 22 years old.
Communication becomes increasingly difficult without an appropriate vocabulary. Communicating without words would require highly developed gestures, facial expressions, and body language. The Bible speaks of words in a very explicit way. Proverbs 18.21 (ESV) states that, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
and those who love it will eat its fruit.” The letter of James likewise speaks of trying to tame the tongue, and suggests that doing so is not an easy task.
For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to
bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. (James 3:2-8, ESV)
Words suddenly seem vitally important. Not only words, but also how we choose to use those words, can bring either death or life. This is an extreme statement, but I do not think it is untrue, especially when we are discussing matters such as sexual assault.
Defining Sexual Assault
The words used to define sexual assault are clear and specific. The United States Department of Justice defines Sexual Assault as follows:
Sexual Assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities such as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape.
This definition makes it unmistakably clear that there must be explicit consent by the recipient, or else sexual contact is considered assault. Often victims of sexual assault are said to have consented to the sexual act, when they were in fact not even conscious or aware of what was going on in those moments. So much shame is placed on victims who may have been at parties, drinking excessively, using drugs, or even flirting or wearing provocative clothing. In our society, doing one or more of these things is somehow an indication that, “You were asking for it.” It is no wonder that so many victims never come forward to report the assault to law enforcement officials. Some victims don’t even tell their closest friends and family what has happened to them.
As I discussed earlier, words matter. I hope that the following words can reach someone who may be feeling shame over being assaulted. If you have been a victim of sexual assault, please know that you are not to blame. It does not matter how many drinks you had, where you were, who you were with, what kind of clothes you were wearing, or what kind of attitude you displayed. It is never okay for another human being to touch you without your explicit consent.
Safeguarding Yourself against Sexual Assault
As I’ve just said, it is never okay for someone to touch you, in any manner, without your consent. That being said, however, sometimes that crucially important word, “No,” just isn’t enough. The best defense is to safeguard yourself in situations with a heightened the risk of sexual assault. Here are some suggestions for how to do this.
1. Pepper Spray
Bearing in mind that most sexual assaults are committed by an acquaintance of the victim, carrying pepper spray or mace is one way to protect yourself from an attacker, even if you know the person. While it may seem silly to have pepper spray close by when at a friend’s house, this can be a very quick way of reducing risk.
2. Keep Your Friends Close
If you are planning to attend a party or social gathering, always go with friends. Be sure to check in with one another throughout the evening. Being accountable to one another and agreeing to leave together, or even to stay together at the event, is always safer than being alone.
3. Limit Your Alcohol Intake
Alcohol inhibits your ability to discern and judge a situation appropriately, and also compromises your basic motor functions. The more you drink, the more these effects are intensified, which makes it easy for predators to take advantage of you.
4. Have a Backup Plan
If you do happen to drink too much and realize that you cannot drive home, have a plan in place to make sure that you can get home safely. Have the number of a local cab company saved in your phone or download a rideshare app so that you have options for getting home.
5. Never Leave a Drink Unattended
Rohypnol, otherwise known as the date rape drug, is easily accessible and can be slipped into any drink. Keep your drink close by you, don’t leave it alone, and never accept a drink from someone you don’t trust completely.
6. Go Public Instead of Private
If going on a blind date or a first date, choose a public place that is well lit. Always be sure to let a friend know where you will be, with whom, and roughly when you will be returning home.
Seeking Help after Sexual Assault: Christian Counseling
As a Christian counselor, I am aware that if you have been sexually assaulted you will probably feel afraid, alone, and as though nobody can help you. As difficult as it is to discuss these situations, I am committed to supporting and encouraging you through this process of healing. Please don’t stay silent in your pain. You are not alone.
“Urban Insanity,” courtesy of Dima Bushkov, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “4. Diary,” courtesy of Kevin Couette, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY-SA 2.0); “Protect,” courtesy of GotCredit, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0)
https://flic.kr/p/rECahx “Protect,” courtesy of GotCredit, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0)