Sexual Assault

Understanding Sexual Violence

What Is Sexual Violence?

As defined by the Centers for Disease Control, sexual violence is any sexual act that is perpetrated against someone's will. Sexual violence encompasses a range of offenses, including a completed nonconsensual sex act (i.e., rape), an attempted nonconsensual sex act, abusive sexual contact (i.e., unwanted touching), and non-contact sexual abuse (e.g., threatened sexual violence, exhibitionism, verbal sexual harassment). All types involve victims who do not consent, or who are unable to consent or refuse to allow the act.

Sexual Assault

Sexual assault involves sexual intercourse or sexual intrusion without consent. Some types of sexual acts which fall under the category of sexual assault include forced sexual intercourse (rape), sodomy (oral or anal sexual acts), incest, and attempted rape. Sexual assault is the most underreported crime in the United States.

Sexual assault in any form is often a devastating crime. Sex without consent is rape. Rape can happen to anyone at any age, at any place, at any time. Offenders can be strangers, acquaintances, friends, or family members. Offenders commit sexual assault through violence, threats, coercion, manipulation, and pressure.

Rape is a crime of violence and power. It is caused by an urge to control another human being in the most personal way. It is not caused by uncontrollable sexual desire. Most rapes are planned in advance. Rapists surprise victims by catching them off guard, by manipulating or drugging them, by taking advantage of their daily activities or by lying. What a person is wearing or doing does not cause rape. Few convicted rapists even remember how the victim was dressed or what the victim looked like.

Sexual assault and sexual abuse include:

  • Rape—sexual intercourse against a person's will
  • Forcible sodomy—anal or oral sex against a person's will
  • Forcible object penetration—penetrating someone's vagina or anus, or causing that person to penetrate her or himself, against that person's will
  • Marital rape
  • Unwanted sexual touching
  • Sexual contact with minors, whether consensual or not
  • Incest (sexual intercourse or sexual intrusion between family members)
  • Any unwanted or coerced sexual contact

Other sexual crimes include:

  • Sexual harassment
  • Solicitation of minors through the Internet
  • Possession of child pornography

Myths and Facts

Make sure you have the right information. If you think……

"It can't happen to me."

Yes, it can. Sexual violence can happen to anyone – regardless of gender, race, age, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, or religion. Victims of sexual assault include infants, adults in later life, people of color, LGBT individuals, individuals with disabilities, women and men. In West Virginia, it is estimated that 1 in 6 adult women and 1 in 21 adult men will be a victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault in her/his lifetime (WV Health Statistics Center, BRFSS, 2008).

  • Teens 16 to 19 are 4 times more likely to be victims of rape than the general population (National Crime Victimization Survey, 2000).
  • Ages12-24 are the highest risk years.
  • 15% of victims are under the age of 12 (RAINN).

"Sexual violence can sometimes be the victim's fault."

Sexual violence is NEVER the victim's fault. It doesn't matter if someone was dressed seductively, drinking or using drugs, out at night alone, on a date with the perpetrator, etc. – no one asks to be raped. The responsibility and blame lie with the perpetrator, never with the victim.

The absence of injuries often suggests to others that the victim failed to resist and, therefore, must have consented. Often, rapists only need the threat of violence to control their victims. They also sometimes use drugs to incapacitate their victims.

Some victims submit to the assault for fear of greater harm. Submitting does not mean the victim gave consent. Each rape victim does whatever she/he needs to do at the time in order to survive.

"If a child I know was being sexually abused, she/he would tell me right away."

Because they are confused by the abuse, feel responsible, or are being threatened by the abuser, children don't automatically tell a parent.

Be sure to talk frequently and openly about sexual abuse with your child. The more they know and the more comfortable they feel talking to you, the more willing they may be to report sexual abuse.

"Males should be able to prevent their rape."

Many people mistakenly believe that men should be able to prevent the assault by putting up a fight. A common belief is that if a man failed to fight off an attack, he is weak. No rape victim – male or female, gay or straight – should be judged for failure to stop an assault.

Some people also believe that if the victim is homosexual or had an erection during the assault, he enjoyed it. A sexual response is physiological and not within the victim's control – just because his body reacted sexually does not mean he enjoyed the abuse.

"Rape can't happen in a dating relationship."

Rape is rape, no matter what the relationship is between the victim and perpetrator. Rape is not just committed by strangers. In 2009, 46.6% of assaults were committed by an acquaintance, 7.4% of those were by an intimate partner (WV-IBRS).

Everyone has the right to change their mind – including about sex. One form of sexual contact does not necessarily open the door to other sexual activity. Even if two people have had sex before, one does not have the right to force sex on the other.

There are many ways a person can be forced into sexual activity. Sometimes perpetrators use physical force or a weapon, but more often they use coercion, manipulation, or psychological pressure.

"Most rapes are committed by strangers."

It is a common misconception that most sexual assaults are committed by strangers. You are more likely to be sexually assaulted by someone you know – a friend, date, classmate, neighbor, or relative – than by a stranger. Familiar people and places are often more dangerous.

More than 50% of all rape/sexual assault incidents were reported by victims to have occurred within 1 mile of their home or at their home (RAINN).

  • 4 in 10 take place at the victim's home.
  • 2 in 10 take place at the home of a friend, neighbor, or relative.
  • 1 in 12 take place in a parking garage.

In West Virginia (WV-IBRS, 2009):

  • 70% of reported sex offenses occurred at a residence or in a home.
  • Nearly 82% of all sexual assaults were committed by someone known to the victim. 46.6% of assaults were committed by an acquaintance, 7.4% by an intimate partner, and 27.6% by 'other' family (e.g., in-law, sibling).

"Most rapes are false reports or 'regretted sex'."

According to studies, false accusations of rape only account for 2%-8% of all reported sexual assaults – no higher than false reports for any other crimes.

"When an individual commits rape it's because she/he is 'turned on' and has uncontrollable sexual urges."

Forcing someone to engage in a sexual act against her/his will is an act of violence and aggression. The perpetrator is using sex as a weapon to gain power and control over the other person. Most sexual assaults are planned in advance, making the excuse implausible that what a victim was wearing seduced the offender, therefore causing the rape.

Additional Factors

Drugs and Alcohol: Although drugs and alcohol are often involved in sexual assaults, they are not the cause. Offenders become less inhibited with drug and alcohol use, but since most assaults are planned in advance drugs do not cause the assault. Many victims have found that their ability to react was impaired because they were drinking or taking drugs, or that they were drugged to a level of incapacitation. In West Virginia, someone who is incapacitated cannot consent to sexual intercourse.

Research indicates at least half of all acquaintance sexual assaults involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, the victim or most commonly, both (Norris, 2008; NIJ Special Report).

Believing "No" Means "Yes": People who regard sex as "scoring" often believe "no" can be changed to "yes" with a little more pressure or force. Acquaintance rape often masquerades as seduction, with the perpetrators rarely feeling they have done anything wrong. They believe that pressure is a legitimate way to get what they want.

Risk Reduction:

Sexual violence is never the victim's fault, but the following suggestions potentially could reduce your risk of being assaulted.

  • Trust your instinct. If you don't feel comfortable in a situation, leave.
  • Stay in charge of your own life. If possible, don't put yourself in situations where you have to rely on others financially or for housing or are made to feel you "owe" someone.
  • Be cautious inviting someone into your home or going to someone else's home.
  • Do not mix sexual decisions with drugs and alcohol.
  • When going out with someone new, go out with a group or meet in a public place.
  • Be aware of drugs used to facilitate rape. Don't accept beverages from open containers and don't leave your drink unattended.
  • Do not be pressured by lines such as, "If you loved me." If your partner loved you, he/she would respect your feelings.
  • Avoid individuals who:
    • don't respect you
    • ignore personal boundaries
    • make you feel guilty or accuse you of being "uptight" for resisting sexual advances
    • express sexist attitudes and jokes
    • are jealous or possessive
  • Communicate. Think about what you really want before you get into a sexual situation. Clearly and assertively communicate your feelings to your partner or date.


Norris, J. (2008, December). The Relationship Between Alcohol Consumption and Sexual Violence. Harrisburg, PA: VAWnet Retrieved April, 2011 from:

Retrieved April, 2011 from Original Source: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Statistics. 1997 Sex Offenses and Offenders Study. 1997

U.S. Department of Justice, NIJ Special Report. Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey. Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Rape Victimization from

U.S. Department of Justice. 2000 National Crime Victimization Survey, 2000.

West Virginia Bureau for Public Health, Health Statistics Center (2008). Behavioral risk factor surveillance system survey. Charleston, WV: Department of Health and Human Resources. See

West Virginia Incident-Based Reporting System, 2009. Retrieved April, 2011 from:

To speak with someone who is trained to help, call the

National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673)

or call the Family Crisis Center at 1-800-698-1240.