Section 1: Overview of Sexual Violence
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified sexual violence as an important public health problem that affects the lives of millions of people in the United States. They state, "These forms of violence can lead to serious short- and long-term consequences including physical injury, poor mental health, and chronic physical health problems. For some persons, violence victimization results in hospitalization, disability, or death. Furthermore, previous research indicates that victimization as a child or adolescent increases the likelihood that victimization will recur in adulthood. These forms of violence frequently are experienced at an early age because a majority of victims experienced their first victimization before age 25 years, with a substantial proportion experiencing victimization in childhood or adolescence."1
Ending sexual violence in our society requires a systemic response. No one group or person can prevent sexual violence. The message that sexual violence will not be tolerated must come in many forms from many voices. It is a problem that affects both girls and boys and is overwhelmingly perpetrated by someone the victim knows and trusts.2 In Connecticut, 14% of residents report that they have personally experienced childhood sexual assault.3 Nearly one in five girls and one in fourteen boys has been a victim of sexual abuse in our state4 and one in every seven of those victims was under the age of six.5 44% of victims of rape are under 18 years old.6 In addition, over 13% of college women in Connecticut indicate that they have been forced to have sex in a dating situation.7 According to the Connecticut School Health Survey, 15.5% of high school females 7.5% of high school males have been forced to have sex with someone.8
The Connecticut State Department of Public Health reports that six in ten sexual assault victims develop psychological issues including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.9 In their Healthy Connecticut 2020 State Health Improvement Plan, they have identified strategies to reduce the incidence of sexual violence in Connecticut. The guidance in this document is aligned with these strategies.
Connecticut Department of Public Health Strategies to Reduce Incidence of Sexual Violence in Connecticut
- Advocate for sexual assault educator training to build capacity for prevention efforts.
- Disseminate best practices and effective primary prevention strategies of sexual violence.
- Advocate for the implementation of school-based programs to reduce violence and promote healthy relationships for middle and high school-aged youth.
Definition of Terms
A multi-layered oppression that occurs at the societal and individual level and is connected to and influenced by other forms of oppression, in particular, sexism, racism, and heterosexism. On the societal level, it is the preponderance of attitudes, actions, social norms that perpetuate and sustain environments and behaviors that promote a cultural tolerance, acceptance, and denial of sexual assault and abuse. On an individual level, sexual violence is a wide range of sexual acts and behaviors that are unwanted, coerced, committed without consent, or forced either by physical means or through threats.10
Sexual assault can be defined as any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs by force or without consent of the recipient of the unwanted sexual activity. Falling under the definition of sexual assault is sexual activity such as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape. It includes sexual acts against people who are unable to consent either due to age or lack of capacity.11
Rape is defined as the penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.12
Victim / Survivor
The terms victim and survivor are often used interchangeably. Law enforcement and those that collect statistics often use the term victim when describing someone who has experienced sexual violence. Therefore you will often see this term used when referencing statistics or specific crimes. Victims and survivors cope with their experiences in different ways. Some might feel like victims, while others may feel like survivors – both responses are valid. For some, identifying as a survivor honors the work they have done and journey they have made from victim to survivor. In respect for the many emotions one may experience following sexual violence, those who have experienced sexual violence will be referred to as both victims and survivors interchangeably throughout this guidance document.13
Sexual harassment is unwelcome or unwanted sexual advances. These are not just physical or sexual acts, it also refers to an environment that is created by acceptance of sexual or gender influenced comment. Sexual harassment can occur in workplaces, schools, congregations, camps, community centers, and other places.14
What is Sexual Violence?
Misconceptions surrounding sexual violence, victims of sexual violence, and perpetrators of sexual violence have been counterproductive to implementation of truly successful prevention programs. For example, the “stranger danger” myth refers to the erroneous belief that the majority of rape and sexual violence is perpetrated in a violent attack by a stranger. However, consider the following data:
In four out of five rape cases, the victim knows the perpetrator.15 This is even more relevant in cases of childhood sexual assault where 93% of victims know and trust the perpetrator.16 Perpetrators are not always adults. Approximately one third of sexual assault perpetrators are under 18 years of age.17
In addition, one study showed that nine percent of youth age 14-21 reported being the perpetrator of some type of sexual violence in their lifetime, while four percent reported being the perpetrators of attempted or completed rape.18 Victims are not only women and perpetrators are not only men. In the United States, one in five women and one in seventy-one men will be raped in their lifetime.19 Learning self-defense and providing women with whistles and instructing them to never walk alone at night are techniques to reduce the risk of only a small proportion of sexual assaults and do not address prevention. Preventing sexual violence requires a shift in focus, from examining what potential victims can do to reduce their risk, to addressing perpetrator behavior and the causes of sexual violence.
A common misconception about sexual violence is that it is mainly about sexual desire. However, it is about power, control, hostility as evidenced by significantly higher incidences of sexual violence in vulnerable populations. It is therefore critical for any successful prevention effort to address attitudes of racism, gender bias, and oppression.
Consider the following data:
- 38.2% of black non-Hispanic women experience at least one act of sexual violence in their lifetime.20
- 1 in 3 multiracial non-Hispanic women will be the victim of rape in her lifetime.21
- 49% of American Indian or Native Alaskan women experience sexual violence in their lifetime.22
- 1 in 7 Hispanic women have experienced rape at some point in their lifetime; over half of Hispanic women have experienced sexual violence other than rape in their lifetime.23
- 80% of women and 30% of men with intellectual disabilities have been sexually assaulted. 50% of those women have been assaulted more than ten times.24
- 50% of transgender people experience sexual violence in their lifetime.25
Acknowledging that sexual violence is rooted in power, control, and hostility helps to delineate a clearer path for primary prevention, which is aimed at stopping the assault before it occurs. Primary prevention will require addressing the behaviors that lead people to perpetrate. Hence, the most successful prevention programs focus on challenging attitudes and behaviors that embolden inappropriate interpersonal interactions and instead encourage effective communication skills, empathy, accountability and an understanding of respectful relationships and active consent. It is essential to begin talking about these attitudes and behaviors at an early age in order to build the foundation for respectful relationships.
Sexual violence is not inevitable and it can be prevented. Sexual assault and abuse awareness efforts begin by discussing with students the dynamics of healthy relationships and boundaries including establishing relationships with trusted adults with whom they can confide. Sexual assault and abuse prevention begins by articulating expectations for appropriate interpersonal interactions, thus setting the groundwork to preclude sexual assaults and abuses from occurring in the future. Awareness efforts and prevention efforts are to be clearly distinguished from risk reduction efforts that are focused on the victim’s behaviors and can easily turn into victim blaming. A student cannot be expected to protect themselves from sexual assault and abuse. Using non-blaming language when discussing sexual assault and abuse has a direct impact on whether or not a student will come forward and disclose if they are being or have been sexually abused or assaulted.
When discussing sexual violence, language matters. Talking to students about healthy and safe environments builds awareness. Talking about identifying and communicating with trusted adults teaches students where they can go to share their feelings or to ask for help. Alternatively, telling them that certain interactions are “good” or certain interactions are “bad,” may make them feel that they are being “bad” when things go wrong or they feel uncomfortable. If students feel that they have been bad, they may also feel like they will get into trouble if they tell, or that it is their fault and not the perpetrator’s fault, and as a result may be less likely to tell someone. It is also advisable to avoid telling a student that they “must” tell someone. It can be a very difficult dynamic for a student to decide that a person they love is doing something to them that is wrong. If there have been multiple incidences before they realize or make the connection, they may then feel like they have done something terrible by not telling someone sooner. Some perpetrators insist on silence as their special secret or sometimes as a threat. If a student feels like they have done something bad by not telling someone right away, the cycle of self-blame and secrecy may continue.
Similarly, teaching students about the difference between respectful and disrespectful relationships communicates to them both what to expect and what is expected of them in a relationship or interpersonal interaction which is primary prevention. Alternatively, telling students what not to wear, where they shouldn’t go and who they should avoid, may set one up to feel as if it is their fault if a sexual assault or abuse occurs. It puts the focus on them for preventing the assault. Sexual assault or abuse does not occur because of what someone wore, where they went, who they were with or what they ate or drank. It occurred because someone assaulted or abused them. The fault lies with the perpetrator, not the victim.
1. CDC Prevalence and Characteristics of Sexual Violence, Stalking, and Intimate Partner Violence Victimization — National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, United States, 2011
3. Connecticut Department of Public Health ORC MACRO Report, 2000
4. Connecticut Department of Public Health ORC MACRO Report, 2000
5. Rennison, Callie M., Violent Victimization and Race, 1993-98, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, NCJ 176354 (March 2001)
6. Connecticut Department of Public Health ORC MACRO Report, 2000 7.Connecticut Department of Public Health ORC MACRO Report, 2000 8.CSHS, 2013
9. Connecticut Department of Public Health. 2014. Healthy Connecticut 2020. 2: State Health Improvement Plan. Hartford, CT: Connecticut Department of Public Health
13. Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence (2015) Sexual Assault Counselor/Advocate Certification Training Manual. p.16.
14. http://www.janedoe.org/learn_more/what_is_sexual_violence/sexual_violence_terms_and_definitions (retrieved February 23, 2016)
15. U.S. Department of Justice, National Crime Victimization Study: 2009-2013.
16. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families. 1995 Child Maltreatment Survey. 1995 and U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. 2000 Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement. 2000
18. Michele L. Ybarra and Kimberly J. Mitchell, “Prevalence Rates of Male and Female Sexual Violence Perpetrators in a National Sample of Adolescents,” JAMA Pediatrics (2013), accessed September 24, 2014, http://archpedi.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1748355
19. Michelle Black et al., The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010 Summary Report, (Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011), 19, accessed October 24, 2014, http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/NISVS_Report2010-a.pdf; Matthew J. Breidling, Prevalence and Characteristics of Sexual Violence, Table 2)
20. Matthew J. Breidling et al, Prevalence and Characteristics of Sexual Violence, stalking and Intimate Partner Violence Victimization – National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, U.S., 2011, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, page 6.
21. Black, M.C., et al. (2011). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Summary Report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
22 Centers for Disease Control, National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey 2010 Summary Report (November 2011). p.20
23. Black, M.C., et al. (2011). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Summary Report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
24. Sobsey & Doe, 1991Patterns of Sexual Abuse and Assault 9(3), 243-259
25. Stotzer, R. (2009). Violence against transgender people: A review of United States data. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 14, 170-179