Too often, our society sends the message that sexual assault, harassment, and abuse are caused by an individual person’s choices and failings — that of the victim or the perpetrator.
We should never blame victims for what happened to them — sexual assault and abuse are actions that one person chooses to inflict on another. We need to hold individuals who commit abuse accountable, but we can’t stop there when it comes to ending sexual assault altogether. Focusing solely on individual perpetrators and instances of sexual assault, harassment, and abuse is often easier than facing the reality that this type of violence is widespread and common, and the driving forces behind it are hard to see.
Everyone’s beliefs, values, and behaviors are continually shaped by the world around them — by unwritten rules on how to behave, laws, policies, and pop culture. For instance, weak policies or lack of accountability for those who have committed sexual assault can lead to an increased risk for perpetration. This means our efforts to stop sexual assault before it happens must go beyond changing individuals. We must improve expectations for how we interact with one another, strengthen policies to support survivors, and promote safety throughout communities.
Personal Safety vs The Bigger Picture
Sometimes when people hear about preventing sexual assault, harassment, and abuse, they think about ways they can keep themselves safe. Prevention means much more than protecting ourselves, not to mention many factors that impact our safety are beyond our individual control. Stopping these types of violence before they happen requires us to work together to support healthy, safe, and respectful behaviors and environments.
What You Can Do
Nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men are victims of rape. But all of us are impacted by sexual violence. That’s because sexual violence affects communities and society — in addition to survivors and their loved ones.
Because of this, it’s on all of us to help prevent it.
Sexual violence is a widespread problem. Sexual violence includes rape, incest, child sexual assault, ritual abuse, non-stranger rape, statutory rape, marital or partner rape, sexual exploitation, sexual contact, sexual harassment, exposure, and voyeurism. It is a crime typically motivated by the desire to control, humiliate, and/or harm — not by sexual desire.
Sexual violence violates a person’s trust and feelings of safety. It happens to people of all ages, races, genders, sexual orientations, religions, professions, incomes, and ethnicities.
Impact on Survivors
An assault may impact daily life whether it happened recently or many years ago. Each survivor reacts to sexual violence in their own unique way. There are long-term and short-term impacts of sexual violence on overall health and well-being. Common emotional reactions include guilt, shame, fear, numbness, shock, and feelings of isolation. The psychological effects of sexual violence have been linked to long-term health risk behaviors. Reactions can range from PTSD and eating disorders to anxiety and depression. Physical impacts may include personal injuries, concerns about pregnancy, or risk of contracting an STI. Economic impacts of sexual violence include medical expenses and time off work.
Impact on Loved Ones
Sexual violence can affect parents, friends, partners, children, spouses, and/or coworkers of the survivor. As they try to make sense of what happened, loved ones may experience similar reactions and feelings to those of the survivor. Fear, guilt, self-blame, and anger are a few common reactions.
Impact on Community
Schools, workplaces, neighborhoods, campuses, and cultural or religious communities may feel fear, anger, or disbelief if a sexual assault happened in their community. Additionally, there are financial costs to communities. These costs include medical services, criminal justice expenses, crisis and mental health service fees, and the lost contributions of individuals affected by sexual violence.
Impact on Society
The contributions and achievements that may never come as a result of sexual violence represent a cost to society that cannot be measured. Sexual violence endangers critical societal structures because it creates a climate of violence and fear. According to the 1995 U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, sexual harassment alone cost the federal government an estimated $327 million in losses associated with job turnover, sick leave, and individual and group productivity among federal employees. Studies find sexual assault and the related trauma response can disrupt survivors’ employment in several ways, including time off, diminished performance, job loss, and inability to work. It is estimated that women in the U.S. lose about 8 million days of paid work and 5.6 million days of household chores because of violence perpetuated against them by an intimate partner.
If you or someone you love needs support, call our 24/7 hotline at 800.441.5555 to talk to an advocate. You are not alone.