Thousands of men and women have taken to Twitter to report of sexual harassment and sexual assault using the hashtag #metoo to raise awareness of the issue. But is it possible for someone to have been sexually assaulted or sexual harassed and not even know?
Deborah Corcoran, abuse lawyer, takes a look at the law regarding sexual assault and provides advice on what to do if you think you have been sexually assaulted.
Is Sexual Assault A Problem In The UK?
According to Rape Crisis, nearly half a million adults are sexually assaulted in England and Wales each year. Despite these staggering statistics, only around 15% of those who have experienced sexual assault choose to report the incident to the police.
Rape Crisis discuss the difficulties people face when it comes to sexual assault,
“Rape and sexual violence are understandably topics many people find difficult to talk about. But this contributes to a society in which myths and misinformation are common.”
What Is The Law Regarding Sexual Assault?
Sexual assault is the umbrella term for any sexual act between two people where it is against the will of one of the people involved.
Sexual assault can be:
- When someone intentionally grabs or touches you in a sexual way
- Being forced to kiss someone against your will
- Being forced to do something sexual against your will
It is important to note that the above counts as sexual assault whether you are clothed or not.
If you are forced to have penetrative sex with someone or if someone has sex with you without your consent, this is rape.
What Can I Do If I Have Been Sexually Assaulted?
If you have been sexually assaulted in any way, there is help available to you. It is also possible to get help without contacting the police, if you aren’t ready or willing to do so. .
It is, however, important to seek medical help as soon as possible as you could be at risk of pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections.
If you do decide that you want the crime to be investigated, the sooner you seek a forensic medical examination, the better. It is also important not to change or wash your clothes immediately after a sexual assault as this could destroy forensic evidence.
One of the best places to contact after a sexual assault is a Sexual Assault Referral Centre. These centres have specially trained doctors, nurses and support workers that can help you both physically and mentally after an attack.
They can also provide support for you if you do decide to report the sexual assault to the police. They will also be on hand to explain the process involved before you make the decision to report the incidence to police.
Why Is Sexual Assault Not Always Reported?
It is common for sexual assault survivors to struggle with feelings of self-blame, guilt and shame, which can make it very difficult to talk about the experience with anyone, let alone a police officer.
Many survivors of sexual assault worry about telling the police because they:
- Had been drinking alcohol or taking drugs when the assault happened
- Are in a relationship with the perpetrator
- Had previously had a sexual relationship with the perpetrator
- Had been kissing or touching the person before the attack
- were assaulted by someone of the same sex
- Didn’t say ‘no’ or fight back
- Can’t really remember what happened
It does not matter what happened or what your relationship is with the person who sexually assaulted you, the police will take it very seriously and there is lots of experienced support available that can help you through any legal proceedings following a report.
Can Men Be Sexually Assaulted?
Sexual assault is the abuse of power and that can happen to either gender. Sexual assault also doesn’t depend on your sexuality. It is important that if you are a male survivor of sexual assault, that you understand that it does not mean that you are weak. Men can often feel as though they should have stopped an attack because of their gender but the shock and level of violence means that stopping any sexual assault is difficult.
How Can I Help Someone Who Has Been Sexually Assaulted?
If you are the friend or family member of someone who has been sexually assaulted, it can be difficult to know what the right thing to do is. Be aware that your loved one will be trying to make sense of what has happened and you can be a valuable support in this process.
You can support a survivor of sexual assault by:
- Listening – Try not to ask for details as they might not want to tell you everything but let them know that you are there to listen to them whenever they want to talk.
- Believe – It is common for abuse and sexual assault survivors to worry about not being believed. Believe them and tell them so.
- Ask about touching – Whilst a hug might seem the right thing to do, someone who has gone through sexual assault may find this quite frightening. Respect their wishes.
- Be patient – It may take a long time for them to deal with their feelings and it is important that you allow them time to deal with their emotions. Don’t tell them to forget about it.
“Sexual assault is so common. I think more work needs to be done to make everyone aware of what sexual assault really is.”
“It is often felt that sexual assault has grey areas. There are no grey areas. Someone has either consented or they haven’t and entertaining the idea of grey area is dangerous and wrong.”
“Sexual assault survivors so often don’t report for a multitude of reasons and society must respect that. For some sexual assault victims, legal action can be cathartic, but it is a choice.”
If you have questions regarding reporting a sexual assault and the legal proceedings following, you can call one of our specialist abuse solicitors who will provide you with sensitive and empathetic approach to any questions you might have.