Sexual Assault Against Adults
Sexual assault is a widespread type of violence that many individuals experience in their lifetimes. Among adults, it is women who are most often targeted for sexual assault. Although this flyer focuses on rape, the telephone harassment, stalking, voyeurism, and exhibitionism that many experience are all part of a larger continuum of sexual violence, and should be taken seriously.
Some Information on Rapists
Rapists are not motivated by sexual desire; instead, they are motivated by the desire to control, degrade, and exert power over others. So, rapists target those they believe they can intimidate, isolate, and overpower. Most of the time, these are people who rapists are acquainted with - socially, professionally, intimately, or as part of the same family.
Rapists rarely match our stereotypes of who we believe is dangerous. Often, they are men with appealing looks and engaging personalities who are skilled at gaining women’s trust. They test potential victim’s boundaries - over time, or at first meetings, to be sure that they won’t be met with resistance. They attempt to catch their targets off guard in homes, cars, or in other private locations where they do not expect that others would intervene. They generally deny their assault, or, suggest that survivors provoked them, or, that sexual activity was consensual.
Rapists make active, conscious choices. Regardless of any personal choices that survivors may make that create opportunities to exploit their trust, rapists remain exclusively responsible for the violent acts that they choose to inflict.
Reducing our Vulnerability
Sexual violence will end when individuals stop making the choice to be violent, and when societal norms change. As social change progresses, we can develop our personal knowledge and strength to reduce our vulnerability. Although not tangible like locks and alarms, this knowledge and strength provides the foundation for our self-defense and survival skills. Some ideas:
Develop strong boundaries. Rapists often select potential victims using gut feeling. Subtle attempts to invade our personal space and to force conversation with us are tests of our boundaries used by rapists to confirm their gut feeling. We send a strong message when we enforce our limits and preferences for touching, revealing personal information and feelings, and having people in the space that surrounds us. Anger is effective fuel for enforcing these boundaries!
Trust your intuition, and act on it. Acting on our intuition, regardless of the criticism, embarrassment, or inconvenience that may result, can help prevent assaults. Hoping for the best in an uneasy situation can increase our vulnerability if it keeps us from enforcing our boundaries or leaving a situation. Intuition is our internal alarm system that deserves our valued attention!
Options for Creating an Escape
Research indicates that the likelihood of escaping from a sexual assault increases with the number of escape strategies we use. We can improve our skills in these strategies through ongoing practice, training classes, and visualizing ourselves combining various options to create escapes.
Weapons have the potential to incapacitate an assailant, but must be available and ready to use. They can be taken away and used against us, or they may not work as expected. Ordinary objects at home, school, or work are often more available than those we purchase for defense.
Unexpected Behavior can distract a rapist and may buy us some time to try other options. To be effective, it needs to be surprising and not leave us in a more vulnerable physical position.
Waiting gives us an opportunity to choose the safest time to escape or try other options. It gives us time to observe identifying features if the rapist is a stranger, and to leave behind or take something that would prove we were at the location of the assault. If we choose to wait during the entire attack, it is not the same as consent.
Running from a threat and to a place with people is the fastest way to eliminate the isolation that a rapist typically needs to complete a sexual assault. There are two things to consider: Can I outrun this person? Is there somewhere to run to? Work on conditioning to maximize your chances of getting away by running.
Verbal defense is virtually always a component of escapes. No personal body alarm can communicate anger, strength, and the need for assistance like the human voice can. Yelling at an assailant can startle him, potentially loosening a hold. Yelling causes our adrenaline to rush, giving us energy and clear thinking. If anyone is in earshot, yelling can call attention to our situation. A target angrily yelling NO! or BACK OFF! or LEAVE ME ALONE! is not consistent with the fantasy that most rapists have likely had of a fearful and compliant victim.
Talking is a form of verbal defense that could cause an attacker to reconsider their choice, and has the potential to buy us some time to try more strategies. It can include lying, such as pretending that someone is expected to drop by. It can include naming the act as rape. It can include negotiating. Negotiation has been used successfully to change the elements of assaults in ways such as having weapons put aside and requesting that a condom be worn.
Fighting is the option about which there are the most misconceptions. It is untrue that women who fight a potential rapist are more likely to be killed. And it is untrue that women must be black belts in a martial art to fight effectively.
If we choose to fight, we must be committed to injuring the rapist. Expect blows to be returned. Our wits, the element of surprise, and well-placed strikes to vulnerable body parts are our greatest weapons for creating an escape with physical defense. Research indicates that acting aggressively early in the face of an immediate threat increases our chances of creating an escape.
Getting Support After A Sexual Assault
Sexual assault is life changing, and there are many individuals and organizations committed to assisting survivors in regaining a sense of security, comfort, hopefulness, and empowerment. A listing of some local resources is available from the Portland Police Bureau's WomenStrength Program at (503) 823-0260, and is also available on this website.
Revised February 2007