What is sexual harassment?

it’s april Sexual Harassment Awareness Month.

I was a carefree 11-year-old kid walking down the street when a man approached me, quickly grabbing my chest before running away. Although I didn’t have the words for it at the time, it was sexual assault, and it wouldn’t be my only experience. There was the time when a man pushed his erect penis on my thigh in a crowded subway. Then there was the time I was walking to work and a man came up behind me on a bike and grabbed my butt in such a way that the pain (not to mention the violation) made me cry.

Such experiences are alarmingly common.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a person in America is sexually assaulted every 68 seconds, and more than half of women experience physical sexual assault in their lifetime. But what is sexual harassment and what steps should you take if it has happened to you? Here’s what you need to know.

What does sexual harassment mean?

Simply put, sexual harassment is any type of sexual contact that occurs without the person’s consent or consent to that sexual activity. This includes situations where a person cannot give consent, which includes anyone who is a minor, mentally disabled, unconscious, high or intoxicated.

People often think of sexual harassment as rape, but there are many other types of sexual harassment, including incidents that don’t involve physical touching, such as someone sharing sexually explicit photos or “flashing” exposing their genitals.

Physical types of sexual harassment can range from touching or fondling on or under clothing to rape. What is always the same is that the person committing the assault is crossing a line and forcing a sexual act that is unwanted on another.

Sexual harassment is an extremely mild crime that can happen to anyone, but women and transgender people are overwhelmingly targeted. Nine out of 10 victims are women, and some reports suggest that half of all transgender people experience sexual harassment or violence.

Types of sexual violence

  • Rape or attempted rape. The Department of Justice defines rape as “any light penetration of the vagina or anus by any body part or object, or oral penetration by another person’s genitalia, without the victim’s consent.” Rape can be committed by a stranger or someone you know. In fact, 8 out of 10 rapes are committed by someone known to the victim. Date rape and spousal rape, which occurs between romantic partners or spouses, are familiar forms of rape.
  • Unwanted touch. This includes any intentional sexual touching, over or under clothing, that is unwanted.
  • Sexual contact with a minor. The age of consent, which is the age at which it is legal for a person to consent to sexual activity, ranges from 16 to 18, depending on the state. Any sexual contact by an adult with someone under the age of consent, even with consent, is considered rape or statutory rape.
  • Incest. Sexual contact between family members and often involves ongoing sexual abuse of children.
  • Indecent exposure. When someone exposes their genitals in public or to another person without consent.
  • Look. When someone watches private sexual acts without the consent of the people involved in those acts.
  • Sexual images/video. Forcing someone to look at or be photographed with sexually explicit images or videos against their will.
  • Sharing sexual content. Often called “revenge porn,” when done online, sharing intimate content without the other party’s consent is a form of sexual harassment.
  • Sexual threats or harassment. Coercing or persuading someone to engage in sexual activity with threats of violence or harm to their family, career or reputation.

What is the meaning of consent?

Whether an act constitutes sexual harassment depends on consent. Although the legal meaning of consent varies by state and situation, it boils down to the fact that the people involved actively and knowingly agree to have sex.

Consent can be reversible, which means it’s okay to change your mind if you’ve previously agreed. Consent is not given by circumstances, such as how you are dressed, how many sexual partners you have had, or whether you have had sex with the same partner before. Physiological responses, such as arousal or even having an orgasm, do not mean you have consented.

Sex can be non-consensual even if you don’t outright say no, especially if you’re turned off or show that you’re uncomfortable or upset.

The best course of action to ensure agreement is to both ask about your partner’s boundaries and be specific about your own.

What to do if you have been sexually assaulted?

  • First, know that it is not your fault. “There are a lot of mixed messages, judgments, and shaming about the body and sexuality in our culture,” says Erica Shershun, LMFT, a somatic therapist and author of The Healing Sexual Trauma Workbook. “Often the deep agreement on these issues creates a sense of shame about something [the victim] was not in control … most survivors freeze up, then blame themselves for not doing more to fight back.”
  • If you are in danger, call 911 or a trusted friend and get to safety.
  • Note the details of what happened and any details about the person who attacked you.
  • If you have been physically abused, save anything that may contain the perpetrator’s DNA. Do not comb, brush, clean or wash any part of your body and do not change your clothes if possible. If you change your clothes, keep what you are wearing in a bag that you can bring to the hospital or police station. Do not change or touch anything from the site of the attack. Even if you ultimately decide not to report the crime, keeping the evidence intact will help the investigation if you do.
  • Get medical help if you are injured. Call an ambulance or go to the nearest hospital to treat any injuries immediately. If you’ve been raped, it’s a good idea to prepare a rape kit to provide evidence if you decide to take legal action. You can get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), get post-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to help prevent HIV, and get Plan B emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy. If you think you have been drugged, ask to be tested.
  • Get support for emotional trauma and be patient with yourself. “Shock, fear, grief, shame, anger and/or rage are common emotions that arise before and during the healing process,” Shershun said. “Some repress, minimize or compartmentalize the trauma, and some have repressed memory. This is not a conscious choice. rather, their mind and body, so as not to cause further strain on their system and therefore further injury.’

Working with a therapist, calling a rape crisis hotline, talking to a trusted friend, and keeping a journal can help you process what happened.

“Whatever happened to you, it wasn’t your fault, you didn’t give permission,” Shershun said. “Your body did what it had to do to help you survive. It’s never too late to heal. With the right tools and support, healing is always possible. You are not alone.”

If you or someone you know is or has been a victim of sexual assault, contact National Sexual Violence Hotline 800-656-HOPE (4673) or: National Domestic Violence Hotline
at 800-799-SAFE (7233).

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