Q: How often does sexual assault happen?
A: We know that many women do not report sexual assaults when they occur. It is estimated that only 6% of sexual assaults are reported to police. Many women never tell anyone that they have been sexually assaulted. We do know that in 2004 the rate of reported sexual assaults was 82 per 100,000 population. Given that this figure represents only approximately 6% of the sexual assaults that occur each year, sexual assault is not uncommon in this country.
Q: Don’t men get sexually assaulted just as much as women do?
A: It is true that men can be the victims of sexual violence. However, the majority of victims are women and the vast majority of perpetrators are men. This reality reflects the context in which sexual violence occurs in our society: one that pressures men to seek power and control, and views women as weaker and sexualized.
Q: Who is most at risk for sexual assault?
A: Any woman, regardless of age, race, sexual orientation, dis/ability, socioeconomic status, or geographic location is at risk for sexual assault. That being said, some women are at greater risk than others. For example, 63% of sexual assaults reported to the police involve girls and young women under the age of eighteen. Women living in poverty (low household incomes, low levels of formal education and/or who are un/underemployed) are also at heightened risk for sexual assault. As well, women with disabilities are at greater risk than non-disabled women. Eighty-three percent of disabled women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.
Q: Am I more likely to be assaulted by a stranger or by someone I know? In my home or in a public place?
A: Contrary to popular belief, you are more likely to be assaulted by someone you know than by a stranger lurking in the bushes. Sixty-nine percent of women who have been sexually assaulted are assaulted by men they know. Statistics demonstrate that 31% of sexual assaults occur in dating and acquaintance relationships.
Most sexual assaults occur in private places. 24% took place in the victim’s home, 20% in the perpetrator’s home, 10% in someone else’s home, 25% in a car and 21% in a public place.
Q: What can I do to prevent sexual assault?
A: The best way to prevent sexual assault is to work with others to change a society that presently condones sexual assault and other forms of violence against women. Until that time, however, there are steps that can be taken to promote your safety.
As most sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim, it is important that you trust your instincts. If you are dating someone who does not respect your body or your autonomy, or seems untrustworthy, you may want to end the relationship. In public spaces stay aware of your surroundings and leave situations where you feel unsafe or threatened.
If an assault does occur, do whatever feels safe and appropriate for you, in the circumstances. It is important to remember that, sexual assault is never the victim’s fault. It is the perpetrator who is responsible for his actions.
Q: What can I do to help someone who has been sexually assaulted?
A: If a friend, relative or acquaintance discloses that she has been sexually assaulted, it is critical that you let her know that you believe her. This is the first step in helping her to begin to heal.
Second, let her know that she is not alone. One in three women will experience at least one incident of sexual violence in her lifetime. Surviving a sexual assault can be an isolating and lonely experience, and this information can help alleviate this.
Third, support any decision that the woman makes. Whether she chooses to go to the police or not, whether she chooses to go to a sexual assault centre or emergency room or not, it is important that she feel she has made the right decision for her, without judgment from others.