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Your biggest defense against the criminality of sexual assault in the workplace or greater society, is equipping yourself with the definition of the act. The repercussions of being sexually assaulted leave the victim feeling guilty, ashamed and often in a state of shock. The emotional rollercoaster that follows is part of the recovery process and we stress that you are not to blame yourself. It is never the victim’s fault, regardless of the circumstances. Talking about the incident is not easy and victims often feel that they won’t be heard or believed for that matter, since the cases that take place within a working environment are often at the hands of a senior employee or by a family member/friend.
What is Sexual Assault?
It is any type of sexual activity or contact that is not consensual, in other words, that you did not agree to. These behaviors are often inflicted by people in positions of power and are used to control their subordinates. In saying that, this act can occur in any environment and is not restricted to the workplace.
Sexual behavior that makes you feel uncomfortable in any way includes indecent behavior of a sexual nature, fondling, groping and forced, unwanted sexual acts. The difference between rape and sexual assault is that rape involves any form of penetration but is still considered as assault because it is unwanted sexual activity. Sexual assault also refers to verbal, visual or non-contact behavior.
What Does Consent Mean?
Consent to sexual activity can be hazy for those who are not sure if their actions were the cause of the assault. If you feel forced or coerced into the act, you are not willingly consenting. Non-consent includes a person not being able to respond because of not being conscious (sometimes as a result of drugs/alcohol), they are too young to know what consent actually is or if the person has an intellectual disability.
We’d like to highlight that the following points are NOT considered as sexual consent:
- Silence. Silence does not mean “yes”.
- Your choice of clothing. What a person chooses to wear is in no way consent for sexual activity.
- Surrendering/Not putting up a fight. A lack of struggle against your attacker is not regarded as consent. Submitting because of a threat or forcefully is not considered as consent.
- Having consented previously. “Yes” in the past does not mean “yes” every time. This applies to marriage, dating, casually etc. Being in a relationship currently or previously does not give a person the right to engage you in sexual activity without your agreement.
- The victim is incapable of consenting, due to age, mental capacity or any other reason for lack of understanding as to what is being done to you/them.
- You change your mind. You consented at first but decide you’d rather not continue. “No” is NO!
Sexual activity with a spouse or partner that you do not agree to is considered as sexual assault. There is a common misconception that because you are in a relationship with a person, this is a given role you need to play and is acceptable when it is demanded from one partner, at the expense of another. Being forced into sexual acts through the use of threats or fear and which make you feel uncomfortable is sexual assault.
The Effects Of Being Sexually Assaulted
Every person will respond differently as a victim of sexual assault. You may still need time to process what has taken place and this may present itself in different emotions. The point of highlighting these emotions is to assist you in identifying what you may be currently going through and help you find the much-needed support during this time. These emotions are normal and are part of dealing with your ordeal.
Fear of the person who assaulted you, fear of it happening again, fear of the world around you or the fear that you might not be believed.
That YOU were assaulted (why me?) and perhaps by someone you trusted.
Was it actually sexual assault? Did this really happen to me?
Blaming yourself for allowing it to happen and thinking that you should/could have done more to fight back. It is not your fault.
Having images or memories of the attack. Your mind is trying to process the situation either through sleep or in your daily life.
- Loss of Trust
In the people around you such as your social circle and in the people you once felt safe around.
- Loss of Confidence/Low Self-Esteem
You might feel ashamed, dirty and worthless. You feel your confidence in yourself slipping.
A feeling of being unsafe, on edge and unable to relax. This could overflow into having trouble with your sleeping.
A combination of the above emotions could lead to depression as you make your way through the effects of sexual assault. It is not uncommon to experience depression and sadness.
Getting support after an incident is an important part of the healing process. Whether this person is in a position of power and you require a sexual assault lawyer to help you navigate volatile environments, if this person is a stranger or if you have experienced sexual assault by a spouse or partner, you are entitled to support systems by the law and other private avenues. If you’re struggling to deal with the effects of sexual assault, do not be embarrassed. There are organizations that have been set up to guide you through this confusing time.