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Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Every 73 seconds, another person becomes a victim of sexual assault. Sexual assaults are one of the most common crimes in the United States with the majority going underreported. For many years, a lot of work has been devoted to changing the stigma around sexual assault and allowing victims to speak up. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and there is no better time than now to learn about sexual assault and what you can do to help.

What Is Sexual Assault?

Sexual assault consists of the performance of unwanted sexual acts. These acts are performed without consent and against a person’s will. But what does consent mean? Consent is the act of giving permission, and saying yes. In some cases, consent is not given due to mental issues, under the influence of drugs, age, and various other reasons. Abusers will then force these individuals to perform sexual acts against their will, resulting in sexual assault. Often, abusers tend to be spouses or family members, but can also be friends, coworkers, or complete strangers. Knowing signs of sexual assault can help victims to come forward and report their crimes.

Signs of Sexual Assault:
  • Depression symptoms.
  • Appetite and sleep changes.
  • Disconnecting from friends and family, and extreme sadness.
  • Thoughts of suicide or self-harming.
  • Increased anxiety.
  • Avoiding specific people and places.
  • Alcohol or drug use.
  • Physical markings, such as bruises or cuts.

How COVID-19 has Affected Sexual and Domestic Violence.

Sexual and domestic violence have been common crimes for many decades. Today, with COVID-19, lockdowns, and stay-at-home orders, domestic and sexual assault cases in the home are on the rise. People forced to stay at home during these stressful times increases the risk of violence, especially from a spouse or partner. Travel restrictions due to the pandemic have also made it difficult for those victims of sexual assault. Closures of shelters, hotels, and housing leave victims with nowhere to go except for at home with their abuser.

“33 percent of sexual assaults are perpetrated by a current or former intimate partner.”
Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)

Difficulties for Survivors

Not only is COVID-19 increasing the risk of domestic and sexual violence, but it is also causing obstacles for survivors. Survivors are scared to seek medical help from hospitals, with fear that they will contract the virus. Survivors are dealing with pandemic-related problems and are waiting to go to the hospital. Time to collect evidence after an assault ranges from 120 hours, or five days, for adults and 72 hours or 3 days for children. After these time periods, evidence of an assault is gone forever. Without physical evidence collected at the hospital, it makes it more difficult to conduct a case against their abusers.

Domestic and sexual violence survivors are also avoiding hospitals due to the mass amount of care going towards COVID-19. As hospitals become overrun with COVID-19 patients, sexual assault survivors do not want to seek care in an already overwhelmed hospital. Even those survivors who are going to the hospitals after an assault are noticing certain resources are no longer available. Normally, when a sexual assault is reported survivors are matched with a social worker or licensed volunteer to provide trauma support during their exams. Because of COVID-19 volunteers are not allowed to be with patients in hospitals. Leaving survivors with phone options for support after a traumatic event and for some survivors, it is not enough.

Heightened Violence Against Children

Although sexual violence among adults is common, the pandemic has caused an increase of children becoming sexual assault victims. Commonly, child sexual assaults are committed by a family member or family friend. With most schools going online and parents working at home, this is a perfect environment for abusers to attack. This can also remain true for babysitters or child caregivers who have been at home with children during the pandemic as parents work. It is important to always listen to children who state that sexual assault has occurred, even if they accuse family members. Reporting them and getting them checked right away can help catch the abuser and make your children feel safer.

“Even in the midst of a pandemic, we want survivors to seek the care they need.”

Barbara Osborne, director of The Philadelphia Sexual Assault Response Center

Sexual Assault in the Age of Technology

As a society, we have become a digital country. Advances in technology have made major impacts to the medical field. But what most people do not realize is that the internet is also a common place for sexual exploitation to occur. Most children today live with cell phones, computers, and tablets making them vulnerable to online predators at the click of a button. Monitoring children to recognize signs of predators online, can make the internet safer for adults and children.

Signs of Online Sexual Exploitation:
  • Sends or asks for sexual images against your will.
  • Performing sexual acts virtually without your consent.
  • Grooming children for future sexual abuse.
  • Threatening you into performing/sharing sexual content.
  • Sends you sexual photos.

Men are Victims Too

Most sexual assault cases tend to be female with 1 in 5 women in the United States have experienced sexual assault. It is important to recognize both male and female victims of sexual violence as they are equally important. Although less common than women, 1 in 71 men in the United States have experienced sexual assault. These numbers for male victims are still alarming because in a perfect world, sexual assault would not occur at all.

Resources and Hotlines

There is a great number of resources available to domestic and sexual abuse survivors. Getting help and discussing what happened with a professional is the first step in coping with the trauma. Never be afraid to ask for help and use these servicesat any time. Remember to be an advocate for yourself and others and speak up when you or someone you know has been sexual assaulted. You are not alone.