What it means to be “at risk for sexual assault”
by Christina Hays
Every April, during Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), Crisis Services of North Alabama (CSNA) and Jackson County Coalition Against Domestic Violence (JCCADV) promote sharing knowledge and facts regarding sexual assault. In a lot of statistics and articles we talk about ensuring the safety of people at risk or the most vulnerable in our communities. What does that mean? There are people who are more susceptible to sexual assault because of certain factors. This at-risk population needs help safety planning and being aware to avoid situations that can be potentially dangerous. The only way we can help stop sexual assault is to have open, honest communication and call it what it is.
According to RAINN.org every 73 seconds an American is sexually assaulted, and every 9 minutes that victim is a child. The highest risk populations for sexual assault in the United States are our children and young adults ages 0-24. The only way to prevent the sexual assault of children is safety planning, and even with safety planning it does not mean that it cannot happen. Talking to our children and young people about ways to be safe with their body, what consent means and how to defend themselves from assault are some ways we can protect them. Listening and believing a child, teen, college student or young adult when they tell you someone is making them uncomfortable could save them from a potential attacker. If you do not know how to start these conversations with your children, teens or young adults please reach out to CSNA’s sexual assault response coordinator, Teresia Smith.
Resources provided to RAINN.org by the Department of Defense state that in 2018 the estimated number of sexual assaults were 20,500 with only 6,053 military members reporting. The men and women being trained and prepared to defend themselves and our nation are also at risk for becoming victims of sexual violence. With only 3.38% of assaults being reported, this could mean that members of our armed forces are at greater risk of sexual violence than private citizens age 35-65+.
When we discuss people who are at risk for any victimization we mention people who have been diagnosed with mental illness. Because of the stigma still attached with mental illness and the need for more treatment options to treat mental illness, anyone with a mental health diagnosis is more vulnerable than someone who has not been diagnosed. Treatmentadvocacycenter.org published a compilation of studies regarding reports of sexual assault and mental illness which was updated in November 2014. According to the compilation in 2013 63% of the women who reported rape in Washington D.C. were diagnosed with mental illness and were homeless. In England, a study of 303 psychiatric outpatients revealed that 10% of the women had experienced sexual assault. Several of these studies show that with increased compliance with medication and treatment there was a decrease in reports of violent victimizations.
These are just three categories of people who are at risk for sexual assault. RAINN.org statistics show victimization of Native Americans, prisoners and college students. Other people not mentioned include the homeless population, addicts, people in relationships with domestic violence, human trafficking victims/sex workers and members of the LGBTQ+ community. When looking through statistics and reports regarding sexual assault, we see almost everyone has a potential to be a victim of sexual violence without the proper safety. People who have experienced sexual assault in the past are just as likely to be re-victimized without services to help them through the trauma and to safety plan for the future.
We call for immediate action. Holding perpetrators accountable and talking about why we have sexual violence occurring at such a high rate are a few of the conversations we need to have. If we want a violent-free future we have to get to the root of the problem. Intervention programs for intimate partner violence have started all over the globe regarding domestic violence, but we need to address intervention of all perpetrators of violence. Jail sentences as well as registries help victims feel safer for a short time, but it does not stop the violence from reoccurring when perpetrators are released.
Our jails and prisons are full of people who have violated the registry, failed to comply or have been found guilty of new assault charges.
Please help us continue these important conversations not just in April for Sexual Assault Awareness Month but year round. We always advocate for a future free from violence. For more information on sexual assault or intimate partner violence please feel free to contact Crisis Services of North Alabama locally at 256-574-5826 or at our 24/7 HELPline at 256-716-1000. Please help spread information regarding Sexual Assault Awareness Month throughout April by following CSNA on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Jackson County Coalition Against Domestic Violence will also be sharing facts and statistics all month long via their Facebook page.