For over 40 years, Safe+Sound Somerset has provided safety, hope, and healing for survivors of domestic abuse in Somerset County. As of October 1st, 2021, we expanded our mission to also serve survivors of sexual assault with the same high-quality intervention services – 24/7 helpline, Sexual Assault Response Team, advocacy, and counseling – that have been available to survivors of domestic abuse since 1978.
We’d like to share with you what exactly that means to the community and the impact we will have with survivors of sexual violence and assault.
Sexual assault refers to sexual contact or behaviors that happen without the consent or permission of the victim. Examples of sexual assault are rape or attempted rape, unwanted sexual touching, or forcing a victim to perform sexual acts. An estimated 1 in 6 women, and 1 in 33 men, have experienced rape or attempted rape during their lifetime.1
Even though S+SS only recently started serving all survivors of sexual assault, many survivors of domestic abuse who utilize our programs are also victims of sexual assault. Perpetrators of domestic violence often use sexual violence, including sexual assault, to control, intimidate, or humiliate their partners. Between 40 and 45 percent of women in abusive relationships will also be sexually assaulted by their partner over the course of the relationship, with most being sexually assaulted multiple times by the same partner. Yet marital rape, or rape by a spouse, is the most underreported form of sexual assault.2 These victims suffer severe and long-lasting impacts such as higher rates of depression and anxiety.
Sexual assault is a form of sexual violence, which is defined as any action that involves unwanted or non-consensual behavior that is sexual in nature or targets someone’s gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation. Sexual violence can include but is not limited to rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, groping, indecent exposure, or forcing someone to view sexual content. Although sexual in nature, sexual violence is not about sex, love, jealousy, or attraction – it is purposeful, abusive actions meant to gain power and control over someone else.
Intimate partner rape and sexual assault don’t usually happen in a vacuum or as isolated incidents; often, these behaviors happen on a continuum of other acts of sexual violence meant to gain power and control over the target of abuse. People might also receive mixed messages about what is acceptable or expected sexually in a relationship, so it can be difficult for someone to realize that they are in an abusive relationship with sexual violence.
Someone may be experiencing intimate partner sexual violence, as part of domestic abuse, if their partner:
- Uses force, threats, tricks, or manipulation for sexual activity
- Uses alcohol or drugs to engage in sexual activity
- Demands sex even if the other partner is sick, tired, or injured
- Pressures someone to record or view pornography
- Insults or embarrasses their partner in a sexual way
- Enforces strict gender roles without consent or criticizes their partner for their gender identity, the way their partner expresses their gender or their partner’s sexual orientation
- Controls access to or refuse to use contraception
- Takes and/or shares sexual images of their partner without their knowledge or posts “revenge porn”
- Uses jealousy as an excuse to control and manipulate their partner’s actions or the way they dress.
The actions above are examples of sexual violence that take place without consent. Partners need to have consent for every sexual activity, no matter how long the couple has been together or what a partner has said “Yes” to previously. True consent must be given without pressure, threats, or tricks, it can be taken away without fear of revenge or punishment, and it needs to be enthusiastic.
If you have been a target of sexual violence by an intimate partner or anyone else, you are not alone. Safe+Sound Somerset has confidential services provided at no charge in a safe, trauma-informed, culturally sensitive environment.
If you or someone you know needs help, call or text our 24/7 confidential helpline at 866-685-1122 for support, information, safety planning, and crisis services. Additional information can be found online at www.safe-sound.org.
1 National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 2015. National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2015 Data Brief – Updated Release. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/2015data-brief508.pdf
2 National Coalition Against Domestic Violence https://assets.speakcdn.com/assets/2497/sexual_assault_dv.pdf