When Your Consent is Taken Away

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” ~Martin Luther King Jr.

Almost a year and a half ago, Alyssa Milano posted on Twitter: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” 24 hours later, there were more than 500,000 responses. 12 months later, the hashtag was estimated to have been tweeted over 18 million times. The #MeToo movement has caught people’s attention worldwide, yet sexual assault continues to be a difficult topic. Although uncomfortable to discuss, it is prevalent and life-altering, and worthy of our attention and dialogue. I write this post in line with April’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month campaign to raise public awareness about sexual violence and to educate communities on how to prevent it.

In my initial research for this blog post, I found some staggering statistics I would like to include:

  • Approximately eight out of 10 sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim
  • More than half of female victims of rape reported being raped by an intimate partner and 40.8% by an acquaintance.
  • A forcible rape occurs every 6.2 minutes within the United States.
  • Nearly 1 in 5 women (18.3%) and 1 in 71 men (1.4%) have been raped at some time in their lives
  • Most female victims of completed rape (79.6%) experienced their first rape before the age of 25, and 42.2% before the age of 18.
  • More than 1 in 4 male victims of completed rape (27.8%) experienced their first rape when they were 10 years of age or younger.

Call 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

Let’s discuss the basics of sexual assault. The term “sexual assault” refers to sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim. Some examples of sexual assault include attempted rape; fondling or unwanted sexual touching; forcing a victim to perform sexual acts; penetration of the victim’s body; sexual intercourse against a person’s will; forcible sodomy (anal or oral sex against a person’s will); forcible object penetration; marital rape; sexual contact with minors, whether consensual or not; incest; or any unwanted or coerced sexual contact.

Sexual assault can happen to anyone of any age, gender, race, and socioeconomic background. It can happen at any time or place. Assailants may be strangers, acquaintances, friends, or family members, and they may use violence, threats, coercion, manipulation, or other forms of pressure or deception to commit sexual assault.

Not all sexual assault is rape, but rape is one of the more well-known forms of sexual assault,. For its Uniform Crime Reports, the FBI defines rape as “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” This can be done in one of three ways; the first is called a “blitz” sexual assault, which is when a perpetrator quickly and brutally assaults the victim with no prior contact, often at night in public.  The second is called “contact sexual assault”, and is when a perpetrator tries to gain their victim’s trust by flirting, luring the victim to their car, or otherwise trying to coerce the victim into a situation where the sexual assault will occur. The third type of rape is a home invasion sexual assault–when a stranger breaks into the victim’s home to commit the assault.

Call 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

The distinguishing line between sexual assault and consensual sexual activity is just that: CONSENT. Consent is a voluntary, sober, enthusiastic, informed, mutual, honest and verbal agreement. It is an active agreement that cannot be coerced. Consent is a process which must be asked for every step of the way. Consent is never implied and cannot be assumed, even in a relationship; simply dating a person does not give the right to sexual interactions. Legally, an intoxicated person cannot give consent!

Survivors of sexual assault often blame themselves for somehow behaving in a way that encouraged the perpetrator. When your consent is forcefully taken away, it is not your fault. I cannot possibly stress this enough: The victim is never to blame for the actions of the perpetrator! In my experience as a clinician, guilt is a feeling that each victim experiences during his/her healing process. Because of this, it is essential that victims get the appropriate and necessary treatment from a licensed, experienced therapist. I have treated numerous clients who have experienced sexual assault, and am equipped to help you or your loved one along this difficult yet beautiful path to healing. It is possible, and I am here for you. Please contact me today or click here to schedule a session.

Call 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.


Are You a Secondary Survivor?

Cluff Counseling - Sexual Trauma SupportI read an article last week about a young woman, barely 18, who was accosted and raped as she walked to the beach near her house one night. She wrote about her journey to finding self-worth and peace after that traumatic incident. Her story, and all those like hers, strikes a chord with me. One of my areas of focus is trauma; I see many patients who are survivors of rape and sexual abuse. While their experiences are heartbreaking and difficult to work through, I am always amazed by the courage these people have to pick themselves up and get on the path of healing. This process of restoration takes time and requires support from family, friends, and loved ones. According to recent research, whether you know someone who has been a victim of rape or sexual abuse or not, it is likely you will come to know someone touched by sexual abuse, and so this article is for you.

If you have a family or loved one that was sexually assaulted, you are a secondary survivor. Although what primary survivors go through is horrifyingly difficult, your job is also quite strenuous. You sit by, walk next to, and cry with the primary survivor–or the individual who suffered the abuse. You hear their story, comfort them, remind them they are not to blame, and support them to pick up the pieces of their seemingly-shattered lives. You play a fundamental role in their healing and progression!

Secondary survivors commonly feel helpless and incapable of being a support to those who suffered the trauma. They may wonder what to say, what to do, and what specific steps they can urge the primary survivor to take to recover. I fully understand that watching your friend or loved one suffer also causes you great pain. It is difficult to think clearly in this situation! I have five pieces of advice that I would like to share with you secondary survivors:

1) Know that you are capable of helping your loved one through this incredibly difficult trauma. They need you–your love and your support. Your mere presence will play a crucial part of the healing process!

2) Remember that they need your compassionate and validating responses. This can make a real difference for primary survivors–especially as they may suffer feelings of guilt or shame for something that was not necessarily their fault or choice.

3) Remind yourself that it is okay to not have all the answers. You may not know the perfect things to say, and that is 100% okay. Remember #1, they need you. They need your empathy and to know they are not alone. Just because you may not have all the answers, please don’t avoid your loved one during this shared painful time.

4) Use your resources. There are a plethora of resources online and in libraries for both you and the primary survivor. This page contains a list of helpful reads tailored especially for survivors of rape and sexual abuse.

5) Get help. I am trained to assist survivors of rape and sexual abuse in the healing process. I have completed years of school and specialized training in order to be educated and qualified enough to do so. I know how to guide your brave loved one along the path of recovery. Feel free to contact me with any questions you may have, or click here to schedule your first appointment.

Pandora’s Project: “Resources”
Pandora’s Project: “For Friends, Family & Partners of Rape & Sexual Abuse Survivors”