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What Is Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is a crime of violence, not sexual passion. It is meant to degrade, humiliate, and control. The attacker can be a stranger or someone known and trusted. It can happen to anyone, at any time, at any place. The trauma of being assaulted is a shock from which many victims never fully recover.

No matter which form it takes, sexual assault is as much a problem today as it has been throughout history. While those most at risk are people between the ages of 10 and 29, it can happen to anyone at any age.

There is no portrait of a "typical" rapist. These men, like their victims, are all ages and come from all racial and social backgrounds. They can be college students, married men, doctors, teachers, or unemployed transients. Most are not crazy or deranged men looking for sex. In fact the majority of offenders are highly intelligent, married men with families and have ready access to consensual sex; but they rape to control, dominate, and humiliate the victim.

Here are some Myths and Facts about sexual assaults.

MYTH: Sexual assault is a crime of passion and lust.
FACT: Sexual assault is a crime of violence. Assailants seek to dominate, humiliate and punish their victims.

MYTH: You cannot be assaulted against your will.
FACT: Assailants overpower their victim with the threat of violence or with actual violence. In cases of acquaintance rape or incest, an assailant often uses the victim's trust of the assailant to isolate the victim.

MYTH: A person who has really been assaulted will be hysterical.
FACT: Survivors exhibit a spectrum of emotional responses to the assault: calm, hysteria, laughter, guilt, apathy, shock. Each survivor copes with the trauma of the assault in a different way.

MYTH: Sexual assault is an impulsive act.
FACT: Seventy-five (75%) percent of all assaults are planned in advance. When three or more assailants are involved, 90% are planned. If two assailants are involved, 83%. With one assailant, 58% are planned.

MYTH: Assailants are usually crazed psychopaths who do not know their victims.
FACT: As many as 80% of all assaults involve either a known acquaintance, or someone the victim has had contact with, but does not know personally.

MYTH: Gang rape is rare.
FACT: In 43% of all reported cases, more than one assailant was involved.

MYTH: Many women claim they have been sexually assaulted because they want revenge upon the man they accuse.
FACT: Only 4% - 6% of sexual assault cases are based on false accusations. This percentage of unsubstantiated cases is the same as with many other reported crimes.

MYTH: Persons who dress or act in a sexy way are asking to be sexually assaulted.
FACT: Many convicted sexual assault assailants are unable to remember what their victims looked like or were wearing.

MYTH: All women secretly want to be raped.
FACT: While women and men may fantasize about being overpowered during sexual relations, it is usually with a person of their choosing, who they trust. They are in control of the fantasy. No one wants the physical and emotional pain caused by a sexual assault.

MYTH: Only young, pretty women are assaulted.
FACT: There is no such thing as a "typical victim." Both men and women are assaulted by both male and female assailants. Victims have ranged in age from newborns to 100 years old.

MYTH: It is impossible to sexually assault a man.
FACT: Men fall victim for the same reasons as women; they are overwhelmed by threats or acts of physical and emotional violence. Also, most sexual assaults that involve a male victim are gang assaults, by other males.

MYTH: If you do not struggle or use physical force to resist you have not been sexually assaulted.
FACT: If you are forced to have sex without your consent, you have been assaulted whether or not a struggle was involved.

The information listed below provides suggestions on how to possibly avoid dangerous situations, and ways to resist if threatened or attacked. They are not a guarantee that you will never be a victim of an sexual assault, attack, and as a result of this, and injury. They are intended to reduce opportunity for a crime to be committed.

How To Reduce Your Risk of Becoming a Sexual Assault Victim

While statistics say that most sexual assaults are premeditated, in some instances it is a "crime of opportunity," such as a date rape. The victim and offender, for whatever reason, are at the same place at the same time. Whether the assault is one of opportunity or premeditation, there are simple precautions a person can follow to reduce, avoid, and even eliminate their chances of becoming a victim.

While Driving
  • Carry a cellular phone with you.
  • Keep your car in good working order and the gas tank at least half full.
  • Park in well-lighted areas and lock the doors, even if you'll only be gone a short time.
  • Before returning to your car look around the parking lot for suspicious persons.
  • When you return to your car have your key ready and check the front and rear seats and floor before getting in.
  • Drive with all the doors locked.
  • Never pick up hitchhikers.
  • If your car breaks down, put the hood up, lock the doors, and put on the flashers. Use flares if you have them and tie a white cloth to the antenna.
  • If someone stops to help, don't get out of the car, but roll down the window slightly and ask the person to call the police or a tow service for you.
  • If you see another motorist in trouble, don't stop. Help by going to a telephone and calling the police for assistance.
  • Exercise extra caution when using underground and enclosed parking garages. Try not to go alone.
  • If you are being followed, don't drive home. Go to the nearest police or fire station and honk your horn. Or drive to an open gas station or other business where you can safely call the police. Don't leave your car unless you are certain you can get inside the building safely. Try to obtain license plate number and description of the car following you.
While At Home
  • Make sure all windows and doors in your home can be locked securely, particularly sliding glass doors. - Use the locks. Keep entrances well-lighted.
  • Install a peephole in the door and always use it when someone knocks.
  • Check the identification of an sales or service person before letting them in. If in any doubt, do not open door to them.
  • Don't let any stranger into your home when you're alone - no matter what the reason or how dire the emergency is supposed to be. Offer to make an emergency phone call while they wait outside.
  • Get to know your neighbors - someone you can turn to if you're worried.
  • If you come home alone and find a door or window open or signs of forced entry, do not go in. Go to the nearest phone and call the police.
While Walking
  • Be alert to your surroundings and the people around you. Keep your head up and look alert.
  • Stay in well-lighted areas.
  • Walk confidently at a steady pace on the side of the street facing traffic.
  • Walk close to the curb. Avoid doorways, bushes, and alleys.
  • Wear clothes and shoes that give you freedom of movement. If you wear high heels at work, carry them with you and wear athletic shoes to work. You can change when you get there.
  • Don't walk alone at night if possible. If you have to, stay alert.
  • Be careful when people stop you for directions. Always reply from a distance, and never get too close to the car. If you are in trouble, attract help any way you can. Yell something other people will understand, "Help", "Police", "Fire!"
  • Keep your head. Stay as calm as possible, think rationally and evaluate your resources and options.
  • It may be more advisable to submit (this does not mean you consent) than resist and risk severe injury or death. Everyone has different strengths and abilities. You will have to make this decision based on the circumstances. But, don't resist if the attacker has a weapon.
  • Keep assessing the situation as it is happening. If one strategy doesn't work, try another.
  • Possible options in addition to non-resistance are negotiating, stalling for time, distracting the assailant and fleeing to a safe place, verbal assertiveness, screaming to attract attention and physical resistance.
  • If you think fighting back/struggling may discourage the attack, remember you must hurt the attacker bad enough to create the time you need to escape. Consider scratching with your fingernails, biting, poking in the eyes, kicking in the knee or groin, hitting on the nose, or jabbing the eyes or throat.
  • Weapons such as guns, knives, and chemical sprays can easily be turned against you unless you are trained to, and are not afraid to use them. You must be prepared to possibly injure or kill the attacker.
  • If you are determined to carry some type of weapon, a chemical spray (such as pepper spray) is your best choice. It's non-lethal if used against you. Remember, you already have weapons with you, your keys, pens, pencils, etc. You also have your most important weapon, your brain.
  • You may be able to turn the attacker off with bizarre behavior such as throwing up, urinating, or defecating.
  • Remember, that whatever you do, the most important thing is your survival.

If you are a victim of sexual assault in New Orleans you can get help from the Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office or call the Victims Services Division at 504-827-7225. The District Attorney's office provides assistance with the criminal justice system, courtroom advocacy, referrals, information, crisis counseling, long term individual counseling and group counseling for adults and all services are free and confidential. For victims under the age of 18 you can contact the Childrens Bureau at 504-525-2366.

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