Sexual Violence

What is Sexual Violence?

Sexual violence is the use of sexual actions and words that are unwanted by and/or harmful to another person. Some of these actions are defined as crimes by Minnesota statutes. Some experiences of sexual violence are hurtful violations of personal boundaries but may not rise to the level of a crime. However, that does not diminish the victim’s experience of being harmed. Sexual violence is widespread, can happen to anyone at any age, and threatens women and girls from a very young age. Sexual violence is wrong and harmful. *

*Provided by MNCASA (www.mncasa.org).

Types of Sexual Assault

  • Sexual Assault: Unwanted, coerced and/or forced sexual penetration and/or touch is defined in Minnesota Statute as varying degrees of Criminal Sexual Conduct (CSC). CSC in the first through fourth degrees are felonies in Minnesota; fifth degree CSC is a gross misdemeanor. Penetration may be of the victim or forcing the victim to penetrate the perpetrator; penetration can be accomplished with either a body part or other object. Similarly, contact can be sexual contact with the victim or forcing a victim to touch the perpetrator.
    • The terms sexual assault and sexual violence are often used interchangeably, however, both terms are used to describe a wide variety of abuses. Rape is a term that is often used to describe forced penetration but forced touch is also a serious crime in Minnesota.
  • Date/Acquaintance Rape: Unwanted, coerced and/or forced sexual penetration that occurs between people who are known to each other. This relationship may be a dating relationship, a blind date or “hook up.” They may know one another well or only briefly. The issue is not identifying who the perpetrator is; it is rather identifying how force or coercion is manifested.
  • Intimate Partner Sexual Violence (IPSV): When rape/sexual assault occurs between two people who have or have had a consensual sexual relationship it is understood as Intimate Partner Sexual Violence. Sometimes this is referred to as “marital rape.” Intimate partner sexual violence is often a part of relationships in which other types of violence or battering are occurring. IPSV can occur in dating relationships, marriages, or long term relationships, and is certainly unlawful regardless of previous sexual contact.
  • Alcohol/Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault: When alcohol or other drugs are used to subdue the victim in order to perpetrate a sexual attack. Many drugs have been used for this purpose, some of the more common are Rohypnol, GHB and Ketamine. However, it must be pointed out, that although these drugs are used for sexual violence, alcohol remains the most common substance used to subdue victims.
  • Child Sexual Abuse: Overt physical or emotional aggression is not always a part of child sexual abuse. By definition, any sexual contact with a child is illegal. Offenders who target children use a variety of strategies to engage a child: force, trickery, bribery, blackmail. Child sexual abuse can be perpetrated by another child, a young person, or an adult.
  • Incest: Sexual abuse that is committed by one family member against another. Also called familial sexual abuse, incest can be committed by a parent, sibling, other family member, or an unrelated person living with, or treated as part of the family.
  • Stalking: Stalking is defined primarily by state statute and while statutes vary, stalking is usually understood as a pattern of conduct that places a person in fear for their safety. The term “stalking” is commonly used to describe patterns of behaviors or acts used by a person to harass, threaten, or intimidate another. The variety of behaviors displayed by stalkers is limited only by the creativity of the stalkers themselves.
  • Pornography: Sexually graphic material that combines sex with violence, mistreatment, humiliation, or abuse. This includes the making of pornography when it involves violence, bribery and coercion, even if none is depicted. There is not agreement among those who are working to end sexual violence that pornography is automatically and by nature abusive. Expressions of sexuality in our culture are often targeted, misunderstood, and demonized. Child pornography is any sexually graphic material or any material produced for the purpose of sexual arousal that depicts children, and is always unlawful.
  • Commercial Sexual Exploitation: Paying someone else for sexual activities, or for sexually graphic materials or behaviors. Some forms of commercial sexual exploitation include: stripping, prostitution, nude bars, live sex shows, peep shows, trafficking people.
  • Systematic Sexual Abuse: This is an organized form of sexual abuse, frequently involving numerous perpetrators and victims and used to control, condition, or “initiate” victims. This type of ritualized abuse may be repeated frequently and be perpetrated under the guise of a spiritual expression or initiation into a gang or other secret or selective group.
  • Sexual Harassment: Unwanted verbal sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other visual, verbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment can occur in the workplace, school and other settings (such as public transportation, shopping malls, community events, social gatherings, places of worship, health care facilities) and can create an intimidating or hostile environment for the victim. The perception of the victim, not the intent of the harasser, determines whether particular words or actions are harassing.
  • Bullying: Bullying includes a wide variety of behaviors, but all involve a person or group repeatedly trying to harm someone who is weaker or more vulnerable. Much of bullying that occurs in elementary, middle, and high schools is related to sexuality, race, and gender issues. Bullying and sexual harassment often go hand-in-hand in school environments.

*Provided by MNCASA (www.mncasa.org).

What Causes Sexual Violence?

We recognize that there are multiple causes, some related to individual pathology of offenders, and most related to a culture that in some ways supports, condones or ignores sexually violent messages and/or behavior. Some call this a “rape culture” and point to exploitive images of women and children in the media, the status of women and children in our culture, and the assumption of sexual availability of women, as examples of a “rape culture.” While it is impossible to agree on a single source for the cause of sexual violence, we can agree that this is a multidimensional issue that requires response on several fronts. Sometimes the terms “sexual abuse” and “sexual assault” are used interchangeably with “sexual violence.” Generally, sexual abuse refers to the repeated sexual violation of a child by a family member or other. Sexual assault is the term most commonly used in Minnesota in reference to those instances that are called “rape.” Read more about how Minnesota law defines sexual assault or abuse (criminal sexual conduct).

*Provided by MNCASA (www.mncasa.org).

How to Help

When someone you know or care about has been assaulted, it is normal for you to feel upset and confused. At a time when you may want to help most, you will be dealing with a crisis of your own. This guide may help you know what you can do to support a person who has been sexually assaulted.

The victim needs your support
Your support at a time like this can be extremely helpful to a sexual assault victim. Consider the following guidelines to help you through this time:

  • Believe the victim. Believe her/his experience without question.
  • Do not blame her/him. Whatever the circumstances she/he was not looking for or asking to be assaulted. It is very common for the victim of a sexual assault to blame her/himself. Reassure her/him that the blame for rape rests squarely and only with the assailant and that s/he has no way of knowing what would have happened if she/he had acted differently.
  • Respect the victim. Respect her/his fear. Assailants commonly threaten to kill or seriously harm the victim if she/he does not comply. Most victims feared that they would not survive the assault. This fear does not go away when the rapist does. This fear is real. Help her/him deal with it by finding ways to increase her/his safety.
  • Accept the victim. Accept her/his strong feelings. She/he has the right to any emotion. She/he has the right to be numb, sad, angry, in denial, terrified, depressed, agitated, withdrawn, etc. Being supportive is an attitude of acceptance of all her/his feelings, an atmosphere of warmth and safety that she/he can rest in. Tolerate her/his needs, be there for her/him.
  • Listen to the victim. Let her/him know you want to listen. It doesn’t matter so much what you say, but more how you listen. Try to understand what she/he is going through. She/he did the very best s/he knew how in a dangerous situation. S/he survived. Give her/him credit.
    • Let her/him talk, do not interrupt.
    • Find time to focus on the victim. Ask her/him what she/he needs
    • You may feel nervous about stalls and silences. They are okay, just let them happen.
    • If she/he needs help to continue talking, try repeating back to her/him the things she has said.
  • Reassure her/him that she/he is not to blame. Blaming questions such as, “Why didn’t you scream?” or “Why did you go there?” are not helpful. Instead, you might say, “It’s difficult to scream when you are frightened” or “Going someplace unfamiliar is risky, but you were not asking to be assaulted.”
  • Take her/him seriously. Pay attention. This will help her/him validate the seriousness of her/his feelings and her/his need to work them through. Sexual assault is a shattering experience which a victim does not get over in a hurry or alone. It may be months or years before s/he feels fully recovered. Recovery is a process of acceptance and healing which takes time.
  • Stay with the victim. Stay with her/him as long as she wants you to. One of the most upsetting losses experienced by rape victims is the loss of independence and solitude. For a while, many victims feel too frightened and vulnerable to endure being alone. This will pass with time. Meanwhile, be good company.
  • Let the victim make her/his own decisions. Do no pressure her/him into making decisions or doing things she/he is not ready to do. Help her/him explore all the options. It is essential to respect her confidentiality. Let her decide who knows about the sexual assault.
  • Care. Care about her/his well-being. In order to care about your friend, you may need to cope with some difficult emotions of your own. If you are experiencing rage, blame or changes in how you feel about your friend/relative, you can be most helpful to her/him by finding ways of coping with your own emotions. Sexual assault is not provoked nor desired by the victim. In fact, sexual assault is motivated by the assailant’s need for power and control and his desire to humiliate and degrade the victim.

*Provided by MNCASA (www.mncasa.org).

Sex Trafficking

Sex Trafficking is a form of modern day slavery and involuntary servitude. This human rights violation involves someone profiting from the sexual exploitation of another person resulting in psychological and physical harm for the victim. Sex Trafficking is not new to the United States and Minnesota nor is it confined to urban settings; it has been found in communities throughout the state including suburban and rural areas. Simply put, human sex trafficking occurs when someone is made to perform any kind of sexual activity in exchange for something of value: money, food, shelter, drugs, etc.

Other Forms of Commercial Sexual Exploitation

A lack of understanding of the interconnection of sex trafficking and other forms of commercial sexual exploitation has significantly marginalized large groups of women and girls. At Alexandra House we recognize all forms of commercial sexual exploitation such as survival sex, exotic dancing, escorting, pornography, brothels, etc. to be sexual violence and harmful to victims.

Additional Resources

National Human Trafficking Hotline – 1-888-373-7888
Polaris Project – www.polarisproject.org
Breaking Free – www.breakingfree.net
Sexual Assault Victim Fund – Application for Victim Fund