Week Without Violence: Sexual Assault

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Week Without Violence: Sexual Assault


By Qudsia Jafree
Advocacy & Policy Manager of Health and Safety, YWCA USA

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According to a 2013 report by the National Alliance to End Sexual Assault (NAESV), over 1.3 million women are raped each year in the U.S., with 1 out of every 5 women experiencing attempted or completed rape. Contrary to what is commonly understood about sexual assault, rape doesn’t look like the scary man hiding in a dark alley waiting to attack:

  • Over 70% of rapes are committed by a partner, friend, relative or acquaintance known by the victim.
  • More than 50% of rapes occur within a 1-mile radius of the victims home.
  • 52% of rapists are white.
  • In a third of rape cases, victims report that the perpetrator was intoxicated.
  • Only about 11% reported rapes involved the use of a weapon.

Most adult perpetrators of sexual assault have reported that they first attempted to prey on a victim when they were teens. In an effort to understand the overwhelming prevalence of rape, the National Institute of Justice recently conducted a study in which they found that 1 in 10 teens between the ages of 14 – 21 admitted to some form of forced sexual behavior or activity with a partner:

  • Half of the teens survey blamed the victims for their behavior, and a third blamed themselves.
  • Over 63% reported that no form of physical coercion was involved, instead relying on guilt, arguments, and alcohol over-consumption as a way to coerce their partners.
  • There is a high correlation between teens who are exposed to sexual and violent content through magazines, television and the internet and those that are likely to commit violent sexual acts.

While there is much to be extrapolated just from this slice of information, it goes without saying that sexual assault perpetrated by teens looks strikingly similar to that perpetrated by adults. The prevalence of victim blaming, the use of guilt, alcohol and substance abuse as a means to control and coerce the victim, and the causality of exposure to sexually explicit content with sexually violent behavior are patterns that are all too familiar to advocates serving victims of sexual assault.

And, while this information may be overwhelming at first, being able to identify the root of the problem has the potential to help advocates and service providers better aid victims and create smarter, more effective prevention programs. For example, in 2011, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) implemented the Dating Matters program in several key areas across the country with the aim of addressing and preventing teen dating violence. Their approach is multifaceted, working in conjunction with schools, the public health sector, parents and youth. Notably, the Dating Matters program is not only addressing sexual violence in a vacuum, but tackling intersectionality and multiple exposures of violence that youth face: gun violence, gang violence, hunger and poverty.

Meanwhile, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Blue Shield of California Foundation have created their own initiative to address dating and sexual violence among youth: Start Strong: Building Healthy Teen Relationships. In a report released this September, Start Strong found that targeted preventative curriculum had a positive impact on middle school students and their attitudes towards violence.

As one of the leading service providers advocating for the health and safety of women and families, the YWCA is deeply invested in the conversation around improving education and prevention efforts to address dating and sexual violence.

Take Action!

  1. Share your thoughts in the comments below, or participate in our blog carnival.
  2. Find your local YWCA and learn about ways to get involved.
  3. Learn more about the dynamics of sexual assault and share this information with at least 5 friends.

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