By Andrea Ortiz, LGSW, MSW
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), a month dedicated to raising public awareness about sexual violence and to educating communities on how to prevent it. Sexual assault is defined as any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.1 According to No More (www.nomore.org), “Consent is the presence of a clear yes, not the absence of a no.”
While JCADA is primarily a domestic abuse organization, sexual assault is something we encounter more than you would think. Sexual assault and domestic abuse are similar in that they are crimes motivated by a need to control, harm, and exert power over another person. Perpetrators, who can be strangers or partners, can use sexual assault as a weapon to hurt and dominate others. It is unfortunately also a type of violence that is not uncommon. According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey CDC report, “Nearly 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men experienced sexual violence victimization other than rape at some point in their lives, “ and “1 in 5 women will be raped in her lifetime." 2
Trauma from domestic abuse and sexual assault can be very difficult to talk about. When clients come to see us for our free counseling, we look for signs of and acknowledge the damaging effects of this abuse. It is important to help our clients identify what this means to them and if they have experienced any form of sexual trauma previously, as we know that trauma is cumulative. According to the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Study 3, when people are sexually assaulted at a younger age it increases their chances of being in an abusive relationship later in life. How many people is this in reality? According to No More, “1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men were sexually abused before the age of 18.” Therefore, it is important for us to understand not only what kind of relationship someone is in currently, but also any previous trauma they may have experienced in their lifetime.Through individual counseling and workshops at our safe and confidential office, we are able to support and encourage healing and community engagement for our clients, as they work through their past traumas towards healthier and safer lives.
To end domestic violence and sexual assault, we all need to be part of the solution. Educating yourself and others, speaking up, helping a friend who is being abused, and being an engaged bystander are all examples of things you can do to help.
Knowing what to say to someone who may be experiencing domestic abuse or sexual assault can be overwhelming and downright scary. The most important thing to remember is that you don’t need to be an expert. Here’s how you can help:
Listen without judgement
Let them know that you believe them
Ask what more you can do to help
Support their decisions
Take care of yourself too. Make sure you seek support and help if you are feeling overwhelmed.
And remember, you can always call our confidential helpline for free support for you or someone you know at 1-877-88-JCADA (52232).