What is Sexual Violence?
Sexual violence is an all-encompassing term that describes any sexual activity where consent is not freely given or obtained; an individual does not voluntarily agree to engage in the given sexual activity requested. Consequently, sexual violence occurs when an individual is forced, manipulated, or coerced into unwanted sexual activities. Physical or emotional threats and intimidation tactics may also be used to coerce an individual.
Sexual violence can occur within an intimate relationship, the family system or the larger community where an individual resides. Sexual violence can happen to anyone regardless of their gender, age, race or culture; however, victims of sexual violence are predominately female. More often than not, the perpetrator (the individual who commits the act of sexual violence) is known to the victim. Generally, the perpetrator is motivated by a need to control or dominate, humiliate, harm, or by an uncontrollable sexual desire.
Sexual violence can include a range of unwanted sexual activities: rape, sexual assault, drug-facilitated sexual assault, incest, sexual exploitation or child sexual abuse, sexual harassment, indecent exposure, threats, stalking, cyberstalking, and/or peeping.
What is Consent?
When an individual consents to a sexual activity, he or she is agreeing to engage in that given sexual activity. The consent is voluntary, clearly communicated and ongoing. The individual can withdraw their consent at any time, even during the given sexual activity.
For more information about consent please see the following:
Tell them you believe them. Don’t question details of their story, simply accept they are telling you the truth.
Every person that experiences sexual violence will need different things and react differently. Reflect back the feelings you hear rather than the content. If you need to, try to keep some of your opinions to yourself.
You may have opinions about what your loved one should do regarding the violence they experience. If that person is over 18, it is important to respect their choices about if they report to police, access counselling, or which behaviors they need to engage in to heal. Everyone will need different things so the best way to be supportive is to simply ask the person you care about what they need in the moment.
Specific Things You Can Say:
- It’s not your fault. The perpetrator made a choice
- I Believe you
- What do you need/how can I support or help?
- What do you want to do?
- What do you know about yourself that will help right now?
- I’m glad you told me
- If your friend isn’t ready to talk yet, “I’m here to listen when/if you’re ready.”
Helpful Things to Do:
- Make plans. Call them up for dinner, go exercising or for a walk with them, make a movie date.
- Offer to go to court/police/hospital with your friend if he/she/they choose to take those steps.
- Talk to them like you normally would. Let them know you’ll listen to them if they want to talk about the assault but don’t push. They don’t need to always talk about the assault. It can be helpful just to help them resume normality.
Things to Avoid:
- Blaming statement (i.e. “Why’d you do that?” Or any comments regarding flirtatious behaviour, dress etc.)
- Evaluations and interpretations (i.e. “You shouldn’t” “You’re doing that because…”, “If you don’t…you’ll regret it” “Surely he didn’t mean it…”.
- Being too positive (i.e. “You’ll be fine.” “This will make you stronger.”)
Taking Care of Yourself
Supporting a friend or family member can bring up a lot of feelings for yourself or even feelings of guilt for not being able to prevent the assault. Remember the person responsible for the assault is the perpetrator. If you’re really struggling, we encourage you to access supports for yourself.