Sexual assault is an aggressive act that many people face worldwide. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, in 2002, nearly 250 thousand people were assaulted sexually in the USA (WOAR, 2014). However, since only a part of rapes have been reported to official institutions, the real number of sexual assaults is even more impressive. According to the Worldwide Sexual Assault Statistics, one in three women living in the USA will be sexually abused during her life (WOAR, 2014). Therefore, it is crucial for health care professionals to have a clear understanding of the character, dynamics, forms, social and psychological factors of rape, as well as methods of preventing different kinds of sexual violence, in order to be able to offer objective, empathetic, and appropriate care to people.
Although such terms as “sexual assault”, “rape”, and “sexual violence” may be often considered synonymous and used interchangeably, they have different meanings. Thus, while rape implies “the use of force in unwanted sexual contact,” sexual assault is a more general term, which implies “sexual contact without consent”, which means that the use of force or threat is not compulsory (World Health Organization, 2003, p. 6). In contrast to sexual assault or rape that implies non-consensual intercourse, sexual violence may include many different forms, such as attempts to rape, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, child sexual abuse, voyeurism, coercion, forced abortion, genital mutilation, and any other forms of unwanted sexual contacts. Health care professionals should understand and know the differences in the implications of the terms in order to inform their clients properly.
All characteristics of a potential perpetrator are rather stereotypical, as sexually violent persons may have different backgrounds and take different positions in social life. However, the general research shows that in most cases, victims of sexual assault are women, and perpetrators are men (World Health Organization, 2003). More often than not, the perpetrator is someone, whom the victim knows, rather than a stranger, for example an acquaintance, relative, date, friend, or a former intimate partner.
Sexual assault can be conducted by one or several individuals, as well as can be planned by the perpetrator beforehand or spontaneously. Factors triggering sexual assaults may be the need for power, control, or the release of sexuality (Pardue & Arrigo, 2008). However, in most cases, the perpetrator is driven by aggression, hostility, and attention to humiliate the victim, rather than sexuality. Thus, for perpetrators, sex is not a motivating factor but a medium to express non-sexual violent feelings. A sexual intercourse can be facilitated by the use of alcohol and other drugs, and the application of physical force is unnecessary. Drugs can make the victim incapacitated, submissive, or even unconscious. Hereby, victims cannot remember that they have been raped.
There are social and cultural differences in perceptions of rape by people from different ethnic groups. According to the survey, white people tend to believe the statement that a black offender is a common type of a perpetrator committing sexual assault, and white persons are usually rape victims (Barrett & George, 2005). However, black people disagree with such a statement. Another survey shows that a black perpetrator responsible for interracial rape is regarded as more culpable by society as compared to a white one, who has also committed a similar crime (World Health Organization, 2003). However, today these racial differences tend to be levelled as an outcome of enhanced consciousness regarding gender and race.
Sexual assault may have both a physical and psychological impact on the victim’s life and well-being. The consequences of rape vary depending on the nature of abuse and personal characteristics of the perpetrator and the victim. Besides such physical consequences as different injuries, unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, for example AIDS, and infertility, rape can have such psychological effects as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Besides, sexual assault violates the sense of safety and privacy of the victim and may even lead to suicidal behavior. Hereby, according to the research, while white victims of rape have relatively less severe symptomatology, Hispanic and African American victims tend to blame themselves more and represent severer symptoms (Barrett & George, 2005).
The health care professional should know how to protect others, including clients and friends, as well as oneself from rape. In order to prevent acquaintance rape, a person should first meet with others, whom he/she does not know well in public places and do not leave parties, concerts, and bars with them until he/she trusts them. Second, the person should not drink excess alcohol or take drugs. He or she should be cautious so that any other cannot pour a drug in his/her glass. Third, the person should control the meeting and tell his/her plans in advance, carry enough money in order to pay for himself/herself, and be able to get home on her/his own. In order to prevent a date rape, that is a sexual assault conducted by a person, with whom there were potential sexual relationships in the past or who was his/her former sexual partner, the person should determine his/her own sexual limits. He or she should make sure that the other person understands these limits and communicate distinctly that sex is not acceptable (World Health Organization, 2003). Within the relationships, partners should discuss their sexual needs, attitudes, and expectations.
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According to the statistics, only from five to ten percent of people, who have been raped, report about sexual assault to the police (Postmus, 2013, p. 181). A forensic rape examination may be a solution for victims who do not wish to go to the police. Thus, after a sex crime has occurred, the victim should have a forensic examination in a hospital or in a rape processing center by a specially trained professional, whereby a sexual battery kit is used, which enables to get DNA left by the suspect and collect evidence for the use by the police. Hereby, having a sexual battery kit is an option for the victim rather than his or her responsibility (Postmus, 2013).
Overall, people should always remember that a conscious consent of both partners is an inevitable part of any sexual activity. Additionally, people have the right to stop their sexual communication regardless of whether they have enjoyed it sometime before or even consented at the beginning.