April Is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, a month dedicated to bringing attention to the prevalence of sexual assault in our communities and the services to combat it.

Sexual assault can take many different forms, but one thing remains the same: it’s never the victim’s fault. Sexual assault refers to sexual behavior or contact that happens without the consent of the victim and can be expressed in many ways such as penetration, attempted rape, unwanted sexual touching or fondling and forcing one to preform sexual acts.

The Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) defines sexual assault as “any nonconsensual sexual act proscribed by federal, tribal, or state law, including when the victim lacks the capacity to consent.”

Sexual violence at home during the COVID-19 pandemic

COVID-19 and social distancing present an extra hardship for those experiencing sexual assault and abuse in the home. This hardship is compounded with economic uncertainties and potential loss of income in a victim’s household.

During this time, anti-sexual and domestic violence agencies are still serving the public and are providing needed services. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please call the Domestic Violence Hotline 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233.

Also, if you or someone you know is expiring sexual violence, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673). Both these hotlines provide a safe and confidential service where you will be connected with services providers and resources in your area. If a phone call is not the option, you can also chat with a service provided online at https://hotline.rainn.org/online .

Sexual harassment as a form of employment discrimination

While sexual assault is a criminal offense, the law also recognizes sexual harassment as a form of employment discrimination. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) states that “unwelcome sexual advances, request for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.”

Such harassment may include unwelcome verbal, visual, nonverbal, or physical conduct that is of a sexual nature or based on someone’s sex. Case law has established that to meet the legal standards for action, workplace harassment must be “severe or pervasive” and affect working conditions.

Bringing a legal claim of sexual harassment

Sexual harassment constitutes illegal sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which is enforced by the EEOC. Anyone who wants to bring a legal claim of sexual harassment under Title VII has to bring a charge to the EEOC or a cooperating state agency first.

In 2017 the EEOC received 26,978 claims of workplace harassment, of which a little more than half (12,428) were about sex-based harassment and a quarter (6,696) specifically about sexual harassment.

Despite the growing awareness of sexual assault and various legal recourse against those who commit sexual assault, every 73 seconds another person in the United States is sexually assaulted. In a lifetime, 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men will experience sexual violence.

Additionally, 44 percent of lesbians, 61 percent of bisexual women, 26 percent of gay men and 37 percent of bisexual men experience sexual violence in their lifetime. Despite its prevalence, 8 out of 10 sexual assaults go unreported.

Graphic with heading How to 'Talk' with a Loved One About Sexual Violence. Intro paragraph says when someone you love discloses that they have experienced sexual violence you may not know what to say. RAAIN's 'TALK' method can help you remember how to respond with empathy. The steps included in the graphic are thank them for telling you, ask how you can help, listen without judgement, and keep supporting.

 

Source: “How to Get Involved in Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month 2020.” RAINN, www.rainn.org/SAAPM.

Addressing sexual harassment in the workplace

One great way to combat the issue of sexual assault is to address it in the workplace.

The EEOC recommends the following interventions to help address sexual harassment and assault in the workplace:

(1) Employers should conduct assessments for the risk factors associated with sexual harassment and assault and conduct climate surveys to assess the extent to which harassment is a problem within their organization

(2) Employers should adopt and maintain comprehensive anti-harassment policies, communicate the policies to employees frequently

(3) Employers should ensure that discipline for perpetrators of workplace harassment is prompt, consistent, and proportionate to the severity of the circumstance

(4) Employers should train middle-management and supervisors on how to respond effectively to observed instances of sexual harassment

(5) Employers should include workplace civility training and bystander intervention training.

Additionally, it is advised that all know the standards of consent. There is no single legal definition of consent. Each state sets its own definition, either in law or through court cases.

In general, there are three main ways that states analyze consent in relation to sexual acts:

  • Affirmative consent: Did the person express overt actions or words indicating agreement for sexual acts?
  • Freely given consent: Was the consent offered of the person’s own free will, without being induced by fraud, coercion, violence, or threat of violence?
  • Capacity to consent: Did the individual have the capacity, or legal ability, to consent?

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