Abuse, Assault, Harassment- Helping Survivors

Abuse, Assault, Harassment: Understanding the Explosion of Sexual Violence and Helping Survivors Heal and Recover

By Jennifer Cisney Ellers, MA and Francey True, MA. IDefining Sexual Violence: Definitions from CDC website at cdc.gov

Sexual violence is defined as a sexual act committed against someone without that person’s freely given consent. Sexual violence is divided into the following types:

  • Completed or attempted forced penetration of a victim
  • Completed or attempted alcohol/drug-facilitated penetration of a victim
  • Completed or attempted forced acts in which a victim is made to penetrate a perpetrator or someone else
  • Completed or attempted alcohol/drug-facilitated acts in which a victim is made to penetrate a perpetrator or someone else
  • Non-physically forced penetration which occurs after a person is pressured verbally or through intimidation or misuse of authority to consent or acquiesce
  • Unwanted sexual contact
  • Non-contact unwanted sexual experiences*Basile KC, Smith SG, Breiding MJ, Black MC, Mahendra RR. Sexual Violence Surveillance: Uniform Definitions and Recommended Data Elements, Version 2.0. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2014.Current Statistics – from RAINN – Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network
    • Every 98 seconds – an American is sexually assaulted
    • On average, there are 321,500 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assaulteach year in the United States.1
    • Younger people are at highest risk (graphic)
    • Women and girls experience sexual violence at higher rates
    • 1 in 6 women a victim of rape or completed rape in her lifetime
    • As of 1998, estimated that 17.7 American women victims of rape or attempted rape
    • Men and Boys also get sexually assaulted
    • As of 1998, 2.78 million men in the U.S. had been victims of attempted orcompleted rape.5
    • About 3% of American men—or 1 in 33—have experienced an attempted orcompleted rape in their lifetime.5
    • 1 out of every 10 rape victims are male.


The Neurobiology of Sexual Violence: Fight, Flight or Freeze – Understanding victim’s response to sexual violence

Studies show 50% of women and 60% of men who are sexually assaulted experience a Freeze response.

  • 94% of women who are raped experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress during the two weeks following the rape.9
  • 30% of women report symptoms of PTSD 9 months after the rape.10
  • 33% of women who are raped contemplate suicide.11
  • 13% of women who are raped attempt suicide.11
  • y 70% of rape or sexual assault victims experience moderate to severe distress, a larger percentage than for any other violent crime.12Keys to Support Survivors
  • Realize it can be difficult to talk about experiences of sexual violence. Be compassionate and understanding.
  • Listen
  • Be supportive and non-judgemental
  • Be helpful if the survivor wants to seek medical attention or report the crime but do not pressure them if they are reluctant.
  • Know resources such as counselors, groups, medical and legal professionals

What to Say

  • I believe you
  • It’s not your fault
  • You are not alone
  • I am here to help in any way I can
  • I’m sorry this happened to you or this should not have happened to you

What NOT to Say

Don’t interrogate or ask questions that suggest they are to blame.


  • “She must have asked for it.” (Blaming the victim)
  • “Boys will be boys, right?” (Trivializing sexual assault)
  • Sexually explicit jokes
  • Inflating false rape report statistics (historically only 2-3% are false)
  • Publicly scrutinizing a victim’s dress, mental state, motives, and history
  • Gratuitous gendered violence in movies and television
  • Defining “manhood” as dominant and sexually aggressive
  • Defining “womanhood” as submissive and sexually passive
  • Pressure on men to “score”
  • Pressure on women to not appear “cold”
  • Assuming only promiscuous women get raped
  • Assuming that men don’t get raped or that only “weak” men get raped
  • Tolerance of sexual harassment
  • Refusing to take rape accusations seriously (making excuses for offender’s actions)
  • Teaching women to avoid getting raped (dress differently, don’t walk alone, etc.)

Rape Myths (and the FACTS)

1. Myth: SV is an act of lust or sexual passion.
a. FACT: SA is about power, domination, anger – not sex

2. Myth: If the victim didn’t fight or run, they must have wanted it
a. FACT: The brain’s automatic response to an attack is often that of “freeze” during which the victim cannot run, fight, or defend themselves (not even


  1. MYTH: Many victims lie about their SA experience
    1. FACT: Only 2-8% falsely report; about same percentage as false reports of other felonies
    2. The Kanin Study (1994) has largely been debunked as flawed; this is an oft-cited study, showing 41% of the sample group having falsely reported (Voice is citation)
  2. MYTH: One cannot be sexually assaulted by a spouse or intimate partner

a. FACT: Nearly 1 in 10 women have experienced rape by their partner or

spouse in their lifetime
5. MYTH: Sexual assault most often occurs in public settings

a. FACT: 55% of sexual assaults occur at or near the victim’s home, and 12% at or near the home of a relative or acquaintance

6. MYTH: Most sexual assaults are perpetrated by strangers (e.g. “stranger danger”)

a. FACT: 7 out of 10 rapes are committed by someone known by their victim (RAINN)

7. MYTH: The headlines are a Hollywood thing. Rape is actually rather rare
a. FACT: As we said earlier, there is a rape every 98 seconds in America.

That is underreported and far from “rare” (cite RAINN)
8. MYTH: Someone who has been raped will react with hysteria, weeping, or

other obvious emotional distress
a. FACT: Trauma affects everyone differently. The victim may be hysterical,

or may be stoic w/flat affect. They may laugh. They may be mute. There

is no formulaic response.
9. MYTH: Men are not victims of sexual violence

a. FACT: 3%, or about 1 in 33, men have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime

10. MYTH: Dressing provocatively, drinking or getting high, or behaving in a flirtatious manner means the victim was “asking for it.”


a. FACT: Not true. Even if they were actually attention-seeking, it doesn’t mean they wanted to be raped, and it doesn’t justify violence. Rape is not an intimate act of affection. It is violence.

  1. MYTH: Being sexually assaulted by someone of the same gender means the victim is homosexual or that the victim will become gay or lesbian
    1. FACT: Sexual violence typically has no correlation to sexual orientation; it is an act of violence, not of sexual desire or lust.
    2. FACT: Being sexually abused or raped by someone of the same gender will not change the victim’s sexual orientation, nor does it mean the victim is homosexual.
  2. MYTH: People with disabilities are at low risk for sexual assault.

a. FACT: People with disabilities are twice as likely to experience sexual violence.

13. MYTH: Prostitutes cannot be raped because they sell sex

a. FACT: Prostitutes have the right to consent or not; therefore, they can experience sexual violence and rape just like anyone else

14. MYTH: Getting help after sexual assault is expensive
a. FACT: Not necessarily. There are resources available at low or no cost, in addition to traditionally-priced services