What is Sexual Assault?

(Note: Because most sexual assault victims are female, this article uses the feminine pronouns when referring to the victim.  It is important to keep in mind, however, that males are sometimes victims of sexual assault.  The information given here is also applicable to male victims.)

Sexual assault is any type of sexual activity that you do not want or agree to.  It is a crime of violence, anger, power, and control that stems from one person's determination to exercise power over another.  It is usually not related to sexual desire. 

Sexual assault ranges from inappropriate touching to penetration or intercourse.  It can also be verbal, visual, audio, textual, or any other form that forces a person to participate in unwanted sexual contact or attention.  Sexual assault includes rape and attempted rape, child molestation, voyeurism ("peeping Tom"), indecent exposure, incest, and sexual harassment.

All forms of sexual assault are crimes, even if you don't fight back.

What is Date Rape?

Date rape is also known as acquaintance rape.  It is defined as forced sexual activity against a person's will be someone she knows.  Date rape is as traumatic and serious as other forms of rape.

No matter who it is who attacks you, or what kind of relationship you have with that person, sexual assault is a crime.

What is Sexual Coercion?

Sexual coercion is being persuaded to have sex or participate in other forms of physical intimacy when you don't really want to.  The person who is persuaded may believe that s/he is freely choosing to have sex.  But in reality, someone or something makes the individual feel that s/he has to have sex or that sex is the right choice. 

Sexual coercion occurs in unbalanced relationships - relationships where there is unequal power.  One person always "gives," and the other always "takes."  Sexual coercion and aggression can occur at any stage in a relationship.  It may take any of the following forms:

  • Pressure - The person may say that everybody's doing it, that sex is the way to prove love, or that you've had sex before, so you can't say no now.
  • Threats - The person may threaten to hurt or leave you if you won't have sex.  You may feel afraid to say no.
  • Flattery - Compliments can be sincere.  But if someone keeps saying things that sound extreme or too good to be true, this may be sexual coercion.
  • Other forms include put-downs, guilt trips, buying gifts or spending money to make you feel that you "owe" sex.

Remember - You never owe anyone sex.

Who are the Offenders?

Nearly 99 percent of reported offenders are male.  Some are strangers.  But most sexual assaults and rapes are committed by someone known to the victim.  Offenders might include any of the following:

  • Spouses or intimate partners
  • Acquaintances, such as classmates, coworkers, or employers
  • Friends
  • Family members
  • Dates, girl/boyfriends, or former girl/boyfriends

No matter who attacks you, sexual assault is a crime. 

Possible Characteristics of Men Who Rape Women They Know

  • Hostility or anger toward women.
  • Domineering personality.  He makes all the decisions about what you should do and where you should go.  Perhaps he treats you as his property.
  • Wrong ideas about women.  He views women as sex objects, thinks that women are supposed to serve others' needs, or believes that only "loose" women get raped.
  • Unrealistic views of women.  He idolizes you and puts you on a pedestal.  Then he feels let down and angry if you don't live up to his image of you.

Who are the Victims of Sexual Assault?

Sexual assault affects women, children, and men of all ages, from infants to the elderly.  Victims come from all racial, cultural, and economic backgrounds.  An estimated 91 percent of the victims of rape and sexual assault are female and 9 percent are male. 

The 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, administered by the Centers for Disease Control, reported that following statistics:

Nearly 1 in 5 women has been raped at some time in her life.  Approximately 80 percent of female victims of rape were first raped before age 25.  More than one-quarter of male rape victims were first raped when they were 10 years old or younger.

Victims of violence (sexual violence, stalking, intimate partner violence) were significantly more likely to report physical and mental health problems than non-victims.

Across all forms of violence (sexual violence, stalking, intimate partner violence), the vast majority of victims knew their perpetrator (often an intimate partner or acquaintance and seldom a stranger).

Where Do Sexual Assaults Occur?

The offender often plans the assault ahead of time.  Nearly 6 out of 10 rape or sexual assault incidents are reported by victims to have occurred in their own home or at the home of a friend, relative, or neighbor.  Almost 70 percent of sexual assaults reported to law enforcement occur in the residence of the victim, the offender, or another individual.  Rape by a date tends to occur on weekends on the offender's turf (apartment, car, etc.).

How Can You Avoid Being Sexually Assaulted?

The following short slideshow of the Sexual Assault Triangle simplifies how to avoid being sexually assaulted.


Removing the Opportunity for Stranger Rape

  • Listen to the Spirit.  Trust your feelings.
  • In general, be alert to your surroundings.
  • Walk with confidence and trust your instincts.  Rapists often target those who appear weak or vulnerable.  If you feel uneasy or uncomfortable in your surroundings or think you may be in danger, leave.
  • Stay where there are other people.  Be wary of isolated spots, such as underground garages, offices after business hours, and apartment laundry rooms.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs.  They impair your judgment.
  • Avoid walking alone at night - even in Rexburg.  If you must walk home from campus in the dark, contact University Security at 496-3000 for a safety escort.
  • Park in well-lighted areas.
  • Never hitchhike or pick up a hitchhiker.
  • Lock your car, and have your keys ready as you approach your car.
  • If your car breaks down, turn on your flashers, lock the doors, stay in your car, and call for help.  If you don't have a phone, put on the flashers, lift your hood, use flares if possible, get back in the car, and lock the doors.  If someone stops to help you, roll the window down enough so he or she can hear you.  Ask them to call the police or a tow service. 
  • At home, lock your doors and windows.  Have a peephole in the door and well-lighted entrances.
  • Never open your door to strangers.  Always check the identification of salespersons or service people before opening the door.  It is a good idea to have another adult at home with you when service people come. 
  • Know a neighbor you can call or rely on if something happens.

Removing the Opportunity in a Dating Situation

  • Listen to the Spirit.  Trust your feelings.
  • Make it clear what your limits are before you get into a sexual situation.
  • Insist on being treated with respect.  Assert yourself by standing up for your rights.
  • Take an equal role in your relationships and reject stereotypes that define women as weak.  Keep in mind that no one has the right to touch your body without your permission.
  • Stay away from isolated places, such as parks or deserted beaches.
  • Go out with a group.
  • Avoid alcohol and other drugs.  These harm your judgment and make it harder for you to resist coercion or otherwise stay in control of the situation.
  • Prepare your own drinks and don't let them out of your sight.
  • When out with friends at social events, never leave with someone you've just met.
  • Be wary of online relationships.  If you arrange to meet someone you have met online, never meet him alone.
  • If you are in an abusive relationship, get out.

Ways to respond to sexual pressure:

  • Say no firmly or leave.  Seek help, if needed.
  • "I really like you.  I just don't want to do this."
  • "If you really care about me, you'll respect my decision."
  • "I said no.  I don't owe you an explanation."

How do you handle a sexual assaulter?

There are no hard and fast, right or wrong answers to handle an attacker.  It depends on your emotional and physical state, the situation, and the attacker's personality.  The following are some possible ways of responding.

  • Listen to the Spirit.  Trust your feelings.
  • Surviving is the goal.  Sexual assault is a crime, even if you don't fight back.
  • Try to escape.  Scream.  Run toward light or people.
  • Be rude.  Make noise to discourage your attacker from following you.
  • Talk, stall for time, and assess your options.
  • If the attacker has a weapon, you may have no choice but to submit.  Do whatever it takes to survive.
  • Do something to make yourself less attractive and break into his fantasy.  For example, pass gas, urinate, tell him that you are on your period.
  • If you decide to fight back, you must be quick, determined, and effective, without telegraphing your intentions.

Self-Defense Targets

In an situation where you are attacked, you may be able to protect yourself by employing a self-defense strategy.  This would be a time to pay attention to the Spirit because sometimes an attacker will be further excited by the attempts of his victim to fight back.  In the movie, Miss Congeniality, Sandra Bullock demonstrates self-defense against a would-be attacker.

Some of the body areas that you might target include:

  • Eyes.  Jab your index finger into his eyeball.
  • Nose.  Thrust the palm of your hand upward to the underside of his nose.
  • Throat.  Jab your index finger into his Adam's apple area.
  • Groin.  Knee, kick, punch, or elbow this sensitive body part.
  • Knee.  Sharply kick his kneecap.
  • Feet.  Stomp on the top of his foot, near the ankle. 

Learning to be confident in the use of self-defense strategies takes practice.  If you are hesitant or somehow "telegraph" your intent, you are unlikely to be effective.  You can learn to defend yourself in danger situations by taking the campus Self-Defense Course, offered through the BYU-Idaho Activities program.

What Should You Do If You are Sexually Assaulted?

  • If you're raped, you should first get to a safe place, away from your attacker, as fast as you can.  Call a friend or family member you trust, or call a crisis center or a hotline to talk with a counselor.  The following are helpful resources:  
    • Family Crisis Center.  (208) 356-0065
    • BYU-Idaho Counseling Center.  (208) 496-9370 (during business hours) or (208) 496-HELP (4357) during non-business hours
    • National Domestic Violence Hotline.  1- (800) 799-SAFE or 1-(800) 787-3224 (TDD) 
  • Do not feel ashamed or guilty.  These feelings, as well as being afraid and shocked, are normal.  It is important to get counseling from a trusted professional.
  • Do not wash, comb, or clean any part of your body, or change clothes if possible.
  • Do not touch or change anything at the scene of the assault; it is a crime scene.
  • Go to your nearest hospital emergency room as soon as possible.  You need to be examined, treated for any injuries, and screened for possible sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy.  The doctor will collect evidence that the attacker may have left behind, like clothing fibers, hairs, saliva, or semen.  A standard "rape kit" is usually used to help collect these things. 
  • You or the hospital staff can call the police from the emergency room to file a report.  Unfortunately, rape is the violent crime least often reported to law enforcement.  You may think that nothing can be done or that it was a private matter.  You may be afraid of the police response or think that it is not important enough.  Remember, sexual assault is against the law.  You have the right to report this crime to the police and to be treated fairly.

What Emotional and Physical Issues Might You Face?

Being raped can have a huge effect on your life.  You may experience:

  • Shock or denial
  • Muscle tension and headaches
  • Changes in sleeping and eating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Feelings of fear, shame, or guilt
  • Anger, irritability, and anxiety
  • Nightmares and flashbacks
  • A sense of worthlessness, helplessness, or loss of control
  • Loss of trust
  • Withdrawal from others and loss of interest in usual activities
  • Loss of interest in sex

About half of all people who are raped say that they are depressed the first year after the attacks.  Those who submit to the attacker often feel guilt.  But a woman who submits to her attacker is not guilty of causing the rape, any more than the bank teller who hands money over to a bank robber is responsible for the robbery.  No one can take your virtue from you. 


Counseling can help you to heal.  It's important that you keep your appointments with your counselor.  Be sure to tell him or her about any physical, emotional, or sexual problems you have during this time, even if you don't think they are related to the rape.