What is Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behaviors in the context of an intimate relationship. Abusive behaviors are used by one individual to control or exert power over another individual. Domestic violence typically increases in frequency and severity over time. It often begins as emotional abuse and escalates to physical abuse. Both emotional and physical abuse can be devastating for the individual. Various forms are Physical Abuse, Emotional Abuse, Environmental Abuse, Social Abuse, and Sexual Abuse.
Physical abuse is the most commonly recognized form of violence. It ranges from actions like punching, kicking, breaking bones or using household objects as weapons; denying sleep, nutrition and medical care; and/or causing internal or permanent injury. In the extreme, physical violence may lead to homicide. Additionally, sexual violence is a specific form of physical abuse.
Emotional abuse is another form of violence and is used to render a person helpless and dependent on the abuser. Examples of emotional abuse include the use of derogatory and degrading names, threats of physical/sexual abuse, denial of an individual’s feelings and abilities, blaming an individual for the violence or accusing the individual of promiscuity.
Environmental abuse also is a form of violence and becomes apparent when the individual is kept economically dependent on the abuser, imprisoned by geographic isolation or denied any freedom. Destruction of the individual’s possessions, abuse of the children and the driving away of friends and family also fall into the category of environmental abuse.
Social abuse may well be the hidden form of violence that supports and reinforces the other three forms of abuse. Rigid social roles that limit the expression of feelings such as anger or depression, teach individuals that they are not as capable or as important as their abuser. Other rigid social roles convey that individuals need to be protected and controlled. These are just a few examples of social norms that can become constraining and abusive. Social abuse exists in the family, the church, the school system and the media. The police and legal system, medical system, social service and the economic system also may support social abuse by undervaluing requests for help or blaming the individual experiencing domestic or sexual violence
What is Sexual ASSAULT?
Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual contact, including unwanted intercourse (rape), unwanted touching, and unwanted kissing. It is a crime of violence, power and control in which sex is used as the weapon. Sexual assault can take the form of rape, child molestation, incest or sexual harassment.
What is Sexual consent?
Any sexual activity is classified as sexual assault if the victim does not or is unable to give consent. Consent cannot be given by anyone who is:
Under the age of consent, which is 14 in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Under the influence of any alcohol or drugs.
Incapacitated, either physically or mentally, due to mental illness, mental retardation, physical illness or disability, advanced age and other causes.
Giving consent, however, is NOT an absence of the word “no.” Any unwanted sexual activity that is accomplished through threat, intimidation or coercion is still sexual assault even if the victim did not say no or if s/he complied under duress. Often, this can be a point of self-blaming for the victim if s/he “gave in” to the perpetrator’s advances because s/he may have been unable to escape or get away.
Sexual ASSAULT by an Acquaintance
The majority of rapes are perpetrated by someone the individual knows – a friend, a date, a neighbor, a coworker or a spouse. Sexual violence by an acquaintance is particularly devastating because the individual’s trust is violated; doubts are then raised in the individual’s mind about her or his ability to judge others. Individuals that experience acquaintance violence are more likely to blame themselves for the attack and are less likely to be believed by others. It is important to stress to these individuals that sexual violence is unacceptable under any circumstances.
Sexual ASSAULT by a Stranger
Stranger sexual violence is committed by someone the individual does not know. This type of assault is not as common as sexual violence by an acquaintance but tends to get more attention. This type of violence is very frightening and traumatic. It is important to remember that any type of violence can gravely affect the individual whether or not the perpetrator is known to them.
Marital Sexual ASSAULT
Marital sexual violence is any non-consensual sexual encounter between married partners. As it is a prevalent myth that spouses cannot sexually assault one another, many women and men who are sexually abused or raped in marriage do not seek help. If you suspect someone you know has experienced martial sexual violence, it is important to validate her or his experience and to only approach the subject when the individual feels comfortable.
Male Sexual ASSAULT
Males can experience sexual violence as well. Male individuals reporting they have been sexually assaulted are usually young boys or teenagers and the assailants are usually lone heterosexual males or groups of heterosexual males. Female rapists, although extremely rare, do exist. Males are usually reluctant to report a sexual assault for fear of ridicule or rejection. As women are 7 to 14 percent more likely to report sexual violence, an estimated 90 percent of all males that experience sexual violence never report their assault to police or hospitals.
Child Sexual ASSAULT
Child sexual violence is any exploitative or coercive sexual experience involving a person under the age of 18. Children are made vulnerable to sexual violence by their age, naiveté and trust in adult or authority figures. Child sexual violence is difficult to talk about and although public awareness has increased in recent years, there remains a need for accurate information, practical strategies to reduce children’s vulnerability and assist those in need.
Child sexual violence or abuse encompasses a wide range of actions and behaviors including:
Being touched in sexual areas
Being touched, kissed or held in ways that feel uncomfortable
Being shown sexual movies or forced to watch sexual acts
Being told sexual jokes or stories
Being spoken to in sexual ways
Being forced to pose for sexual or seductive photographs
Being encouraged, threatened or forced to perform sexual acts including: sexual intercourse, oral or anal sex with an adult or other child
Being forced to look at or touch one another
Being bathed or dressed in uncomfortable ways or being watched in an uncomfortable ways
Being ridiculed about their body
Making suggestive or sexual remarks about their body
Being told that all they are good for is sex
Being involved in child prostitution or pornography
It is important to remember that children rarely lie about sexual assault. Most molestations occur with someone the child knows (family member, teacher, coach, neighbor, etc.), and the abuse is usually on-going. The sexual contact usually escalates gradually over time. If a child reports sexual abuse, do not panic or express shock; make sure the child knows you believe them. Let the child know that you will do your best to protect and support them. Help is available.
Elder Sexual assault
Each year, more cases of elder sexual violence and elder abuse are reported to authorities. The impact of sexual violence is different for an elderly individual in that they may be less likely to feel the guilt and self-blame felt by many younger individuals. Elderly individuals may be angry, outraged or embarrassed about discussing “private” matters and may not seek help. As always, remember to be respectful and supportive.