Author: Donna Rogers
Published: Oct 27 2017
When we think of sexual assault, we often have this image in our mind of a stranger attacking a woman in some dark alley and leaving her battered after the act. However, research shows that 7 out of 10 rapes are committed by someone known to the victim and 25% of all rapes are committed by a girlfriend, boyfriend or spouse. Moreover, women can be perpetrators too. Sexual violence involves a wide range of behaviors and is not limited only to forced penetration, nor does it always involve a weapon or physical injuries. In fact, 55% of sexual assaults occur near or at the victim's home.
In a majority of cases, the abuser is an acquaintance of the victim or their intimate partner. This means that the attacker can be a friend, a colleague, a family member, a client or a neighbor and that the act can occur in a space that is widely-regarded as "safe" such as the workplace or the victim’s home.
It is crucial to recognize that sexual abuse can and does happen in married couples and between intimate partners. It is still rape even if you are married, even if it is your lifelong boyfriend or girlfriend, even if you only said "no" or "stop" but did not fight off the attack physically and even if you froze up during it. It is still rape and it is punishable by law. Within an intimate relationship, the lines may be blurred, manipulation or emotional blackmail may be involved – but it is still sexual coercion. In order to protect yourself, please take a look at the most common misconceptions about sexual assault and some of the resources below to tell if your partner is sexually abusive.
Not only are cases of sexual abuse more frequent behind closed doors, but they are also the ones less likely to be reported to the police. In fact, according to the CDC, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men experience violence from their partners in their lifetimes. In addition, 1 in 3 teenagers experience physical or sexual abuse from a boyfriend or girlfriend in one year.
Sexual abuse is usually regarded as a separate act of violence. However, physical and emotional abuse often go hand in hand with sexual violence between intimate partners. It is estimated that between 40 and 45% of women involved in an abusive relationship will be sexually assaulted by their partner, according to the U.S. Department Of Justice. Furthermore, in cases involving marital rape or violence between partners, the event is oftentimes not a one-time occurrence, but rather a tactic of intimidation consistently used by the abuser to exert control and power over his or her victim.
Although many misconceptions about sexual assault can be damaging, there is one we would like to cover here which is particularly threatening and persistent. And that is the myth that acts like coercion, emotional manipulation or harassment do not count as sexual assault if they occur between intimate partners or spouses. Tactics used can be straightforward and violent or subtle and seemingly not coercive. However, it is important to recognize the patterns of abuse in order to protect yourself and your loved ones. Here are a few examples of phrases and behaviors that an abusive partner might use to force you into having sex with him or her (some of which might not be evident threats at first glance):
- Using intimidation, threats of physical violence or subtler tactics to initiate or continue unwanted sexual contact: "You started this and now you want to stop?", "You are a tease".
- Using children: if you have children with your partner, he or she may threaten to harm them if you do not comply with his/her demands.
- Using emotional abuse, making you feel worthless, guilty, helpless or embarrassed: "If you loved me you’d prove it", "You are being a prude", "I will tell everyone you’re gay if you don’t do this" (many abusers will coerce the victim into sex immediately after a physical incident as "proof" that the victim has forgiven them).
- Using shaming, gas lighting and blaming tactics to minimize your feelings: "But we’ve had sex before", "Women use sex against men – I thought you were different", "My friend’s wife does this for him", "It was a misunderstanding", "I would never do that to you", "You’re too sensitive".
- Using gender roles: "You are my wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend/partner and you need to have sex with me", "You owe me", "A good/loving wife has sex with her husband".
- Using threats and coercion: "I will make a huge scandal if you don’t do this", "I will injure your friends if you don’t want to do this", "I will kill myself if you don’t prove you love me right now", "I will hurt you if you don’t have sex with me".
If you have been sexually assaulted by your partner or are currently in a sexually abusive relationship, please reach out for help at The National Domestic Violence Hotline or The National Sexual Assault Online Hotline. If you are a man or an LGBTQ member, please read through the following resources: 1in6 Support Group and Pandora's Project. Furthermore, you can read more about different types of abuse and as well as ways to end this epidemic here.
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