Signs of Sexual Assault
Sexual assault is defined as any kind of sexual activity that is unwanted, done by one person to another without consent. These acts may include coercion (being persuaded or manipulated into having sex) or rape (being forced to have sex by someone known or unfamiliar). If anyone says “Stop” or “No” during sexual contact, the other person must stop. If they do not stop they are committing sexual assault.
So how can you figure out if what happened was sexual assault? There are three main considerations in judging whether or not a sexual act was consensual (which means that both people are old enough to consent, have the capacity of consent, and agreed to the sexual contact) or whether the sexual act is a crime. Therefore, here are a few questions to consider:
Are the Participants Old Enough to Consent?
In Michigan, 16 is the age of legal consent. People below this age cannot legally agree to have sex. In other words, even if the child or teenager says yes, the law says no. Generally, “I thought she was 18” is not considered a legal excuse – it’s up to everyone to make sure their partner is old enough to legally take part in sexual contact.
Are Both People Legally Able to Consent?
People who cannot legally give consent:
- Cognitive Impairments
- Some Elderly – especially those with dementia or Alzheimer’s
- Intoxicated or Incapacitated – due to alcohol, drugs, or physical trauma, etc.
Did Both Participants Agree to Take Part?
If someone uses force or coercion to make another person have sexual contact that is illegal and considered sexual assault. If someone threatens another person, their children, their pet, etc. to force them to have sexual contact then that is sexual assault.
Does that Mean it isn’t Sexual Assualt?
I Didn’t Resist Physically
People respond to an assault in different ways. Just because you didn’t resist physically doesn’t mean it wasn’t rape — in fact, many victims make the good judgment that physical resistance would cause the attacker to become more violent. Lack of consent can be expressed (saying “no”) or it can be implied from the circumstances (for example, if you were under the age of 16, or if you had a mental defect, or if you were afraid to object because the perpetrator threatened you with serious physical injury).
I Used to Date the Person Who Assaulted Me
Sexual assault can occur when the offender and the victim have a pre-existing relationship (sometimes called “date rape” or “acquaintance rape”), or even when the offender is the victim’s spouse. It does not matter whether the other person is an ex-boyfriend or a complete stranger, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve had sex in the past. If it is non-consensual this time, it is sexual assault.
I Don’t Remember the Assault
Just because you don’t remember being assaulted doesn’t necessarily mean it didn’t happen and that it wasn’t rape. Memory loss can result from the ingestion of GHB and other “rape drugs” or from excessive alcohol consumption. That said, without clear memories or physical evidence, it may not be possible to pursue prosecution (talk to your local law enforcement for guidance).
I was Asleep or Unconscious When it Happened
Sexual assault can happen when the victim was unconscious or asleep. If you were asleep or unconscious, then you did not give consent. And if you didn’t give consent, then it is sexual assault.
I Was Drunk or He Was Drunk
Alcohol and drugs are not an excuse – or an alibi. The key question is still: did you consent or not? Regardless of whether you were drunk or sober, if the sex is nonconsensual, it is sexual assault. (If you were so drunk or drugged that you passed out and you were unable to consent, it was sexual assault. Both people must be conscious and willing participants.)
What Do I Do Now?
- Get Help
Know that what happened was not your fault, and no one deserves to be sexually assaulted.
- Decide whether you would like to receive medical support. Even with no physical injuries, it is important to determine the risk of sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy.
- If you would like medical support, the Jackson County SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) program can offer compassionate medical care at no cost. Please contact AWARE via our 24-hour Crisis Hotline at (517) 783-2861 or come to the AWARE Shelter (located at 706 W. Michigan Ave, Jackson MI 49201) to receive a free medical exam by a certified SANE nurse. These exams can take place immediately or within 96 hours of the assault. A SANE Nurse can perform a medical exam, administer antibiotics, and collect a forensic evidence kit, if you decide you would like any of these services. A SANE Nurse can collect the evidence kit, and you can decide if you would like that kit released to a police officer. The nurse will facilitate this on your behalf.
- You may choose to visit Allegiance Health’s Emergency Room (located at 205 N East Ave Jackson, MI 49201) to have a medical exam. In that case, the Jackson County SANE Program is called to the hospital.
- Decide whether you would like to report the attack.
- If you like to report the attack call the police at 911.
- If you choose to have a medical exam, the nurse administering the exam can contact the police for you if you decide you would like to report the attack.
- Ways to preserve evidence of the attack (if you choose to have an evidence kit collected):
• Avoid bathing or brushing your teeth
• Avoid drinking and eating, if possible
• Avoid using the bathroom, if possible. If not, avoid wiping. Blot/dab gently instead of wiping
• Save clothing, underwear, and other items (sheets, blankets, etc.) that were present during the assault
- If you suspect you were drugged, you can advise the SANE or ER nurse so a urine sample be collected and tested.
- You may choose to receive free, confidential counseling, at anytime (24/7). Feel free to call AWARE’s 24-hour Crisis Hotline at (517) 783-2861. AWARE serves survivors, family, and friends. Additional Resource: RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline (800) 656-HOPE.
- Healing from a rape takes time. Give yourself the time you need, and know that AWARE’s staff and counselors can help.
- Know that it’s never too late to call. Even if the attack happened years ago, AWARE can still help. Many victims do not realize they need help until months or years later.
- How Can I Help A Friend Who Was Sexually Assaulted?
How Can I Help A Friend Who Was Sexually Assaulted?
- Listen without judging.
- Let your friend know the assault was not his/her fault.
- Let your friend know that she/he did what was necessary to prevent further harm.
- Let your friend know that you care.
- Encourage your friend to talk about the assault with an advocate or counselor.
- Encourage your friend to seek medical attention.
If you suspect a friend or family member has been sexually assaulted, there are signs to look for. While there is no standard response, victims may experience a few, none or all of the following:
- Shock and Numbness – Feelings of lightheadedness, confusion, being easily overwhelmed, or not knowing how to feel or what to do.
- Loss of Control – Feeling like their whole life has been turned upside down and that they will never have control of their life again.
- Fear – Fear that the rapist may return; fear for general physical safety; fear of being alone; fear of other people or situations that may remind the victims of the assault.
- Guilt and Self Blame – Feeling like they could have or should have done something to avoid or prevent the assault; doubts regarding their ability to make judgments.
- Isolation – Feeling that this experience has set them apart from other people; feeling that other people can tell they have been sexually assaulted just by looking at them; not wanting to burden other people with their experience.
- Vulnerability/Distrust – Feeling that they are at the mercy of their own emotions or the actions of others; not knowing who to trust or how to trust themselves; feelings of suspicion and caution.
- Sexual Fears – Feeling that they do not want to have sexual relations; wondering whether they will ever want or enjoy sexual relationships again; fears that being sexually intimate may remind them of the assault.
- Anger – Feeling angry at the assailant. Victims might find themselves thinking about retaliation. They may be angry at the world since they no longer feel safe. If they are religious, they may feel angry that their faith did not prevent this from happening.