Sexual Assault - Frequently Asked Questions
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What is sexual assault?
“Sexual assault” is any unwanted sexual, physical, verbal, or visual act that forces someone to have sexual contact against his or her will. It’s motivated by the need to control, humiliate, and harm. Some examples are: harassment, rape, incest, oral sex, molestation, forcing someone to pose for pictures, and unwanted touching.
What is rape?
It’s a specific type of sexual assault. It involves any forced, manipulated, or coerced penetration of the vagina, anus, or mouth by a penis or other object. It is not a crime of passion. It’s a crime of violence—often used to scare or degrade the victim. It’s a common misconception that sexual assault and rape are perpetrated by strangers. Most survivors know their perpetrators. According to Bureau of Justice statistics, 60 percent of survivors are assaulted by an intimate partner, relative, friend, or acquaintance. This rate is even higher for women who were assaulted or raped in college.
What is consent?
Sexual activity requires consent, which is defined as clear, unambiguous, and voluntary agreement between the participants to engage in specific activity. Consent is an enthusiastic, clearly communicated and ongoing yes. Consent is a clear “yes” to your partner, not the absence of a “no.” It’s not okay to assume that once someone consents to an activity, they are consenting to it anytime in the future as well. As LoveisRespect puts it, “Whether it’s the first time or the hundredth time, a hookup, a committed relationship or even marriage, nobody is ever obligated to give consent just because they have done so in the past. A person can decide to stop an activity at any time, even if they agreed to it earlier.”
Nonconsensual sex is rape. A person who is substantially impaired cannot give consent.
Consent is NOT:
● Pressuring or guilting someone into doing things they may not want to do
● Making someone feel like they “owe” their sexual partner something — because they’ve engaged in an activity in the past, because they’re dating, because they expressed a desired to do that activity earlier in the night, or because one person gave the other a gift, etc.
● Reacting negatively (with sadness, anger or resentment) if someone says “no” to something, or doesn’t immediately consent.
● Ignoring a sexual partner’s wishes, and not paying attention to nonverbal cues that could show you’re not consenting (ex: pulling/pushing away).
According to a 2010 Centers for Disease Control study: One in five women are raped in their lifetime in the United States. That’s 22 million women. One in 71 men are raped in their lifetime. This adds up to 1.6 million men.
I’ve been sexually assaulted. Where can I get help?
In an emergency, call 911. For counseling in Central Oregon, call Saving Grace. Or the National Sexual Assault Hotline for free counseling, 24 hours a day: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673). The call is anonymous and confidential unless you choose to share personally identifying information. You’ll be connected to your local rape crisis center and an advocate may be able to meet you at the hospital.
It doesn’t matter if you (or someone you know) was abused at an institution such as a university, a high school, a church, a daycare, a hospital; or abused by a “friend” or relative. You should always call the police first. Do not call the institution where the abuse took place directly. Similarly, never confront the perpetrator. Let the experts – law enforcement officers – do that. Call your local police station and tell them you want to report an incident of sexual assault.
If the abuse was recent, there may be physical evidence on clothes or on the victim’s body, such as semen or blood. The victim should not shower or bathe until told by the police to do so, and the clothing should not be washed or thrown away.
What will police do after it’s reported?
They will investigate. They will talk to the victim and potential witnesses to find out what happened. In many cases, the police will set up what is called a “pretext” call. In a pretext call, the police will work with the victim, victim’s friend, or family member who will then telephone the perpetrator, and engage in a conversation to ask the perpetrator to admit what they did. The calls are recorded, and when successful, they provide crucial information.
If the sexual assault was recent and there may be physical evidence such as semen or blood on the victim’s clothes or body, the victim should not shower or bathe until told by the police to do so, and the clothing should saved, not washed or thrown away.
Depending on the nature of the sexual abuse or assault, the officer may request that the victim undergo a Sexual Assault Forensic Exam (SAFE) by a certified Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) for the purpose of treating the victim and collecting forensic evidence. A victim always has the choice as to whether or not they wish to partake in this exam. A victim’s choice to not have the exam will not result in a failure to have the case investigated, but it may limit the evidence police could otherwise obtain.
If the police conclude that they have sufficient evidence to do so, they may arrest the perpetrator. If the perpetrator later gets out of jail on bail (pending a trial), there will be a “no contact” court order prohibiting the perpetrator from contacting the victim and witnesses. If the perpetrator violates the order, he or she will likely go back to jail and stay there until trial.
If I was sexually assaulted, at what point should I call a lawyer?
The best answer is, as soon as possible. Your statements to a potential lawyer are privileged and they can help you determine the best way to maintain the integrity of your case.
In criminal cases a lawyer from the District Attorney’s Office will prosecute the perpetrator, but a crime victim may also have a personal attorney appear on their behalf during the criminal case to assert their rights as a crime victim. In Oregon, crime victims have constitutional rights. Many of these rights go into effect automatically, while others must be requested through your local District Attorney’s office or Juvenile Department. Victims’ rights include the right to:
- play a meaningful role in the criminal or juvenile justice process.
- be treated with dignity and respect.
- receive fair and impartial treatment.
- receive reasonable protection from the offender.
For more information on Oregon Crime Victim Rights, see (the attached PDF.) ttps://www.doj.state.or.us/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/victims_rights_guide-1.pdf
If you would like to have an attorney help you assert and enforce your rights in a criminal case, you can contact the Oregon Crime Victim Law Center http://www.ocvlc.org/ or the National Crime Victim Law Institute https://law.lclark.edu/centers/national_crime_victim_law_institute
In a civil case, for monetary compensation, you will need a personal injury attorney to represent you. Ethical, experienced lawyers who represent victims in civil suits for money damages do not charge money “up front” or work by the hour when representing survivors of sexual abuse. Generally, the survivor only pays the lawyer a portion of the damages recovered. The lawyer advances all of the costs and expenses involved in bringing the lawsuit, and is only repaid when there is a recovery. In the rare case where there is no recovery, the survivor owes nothing.
What is institutional sexual abuse?
Institutional sex abuse is sexual abuse that occurred when the victim was under the care or supervision of a public or private entity, such as a school or church. The abuse is typically committed by employees or volunteer workers, but may be perpetrated by a stranger. At the time of the sexual abuse, the victim may have been a minor, a mentally challenged adult, or even a senior.
Institutions have a legal duty to keep those in their care safe from sex abuse. Institutions where sexual abuse is known to occur include schools; places of worship; child care, elder care centers, or disability care centers; sports organizations; foster family agencies and foster homes; and youth organizations such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Big Brother and Big Sister, or the YMCA.
What if I didn’t fight back or it wasn’t reported right away?
Many survivors blame themselves for sexual assault, but it is not your fault. Sexual contact must be consensual and just because a person did not say “no!” fight, or scream, does not mean there was consent. It is both parties responsibility to ensure the other person is a willing, consenting participant in sexual contact.
Minors and impaired adults can not legally consent to sex.
Sexual predators use many tactics to gain false consent to sex. These tactics include:
- Providing alcohol or drugs to impair the victim
- Using their position of authority to coerce the victim
- Threatening to harm the victim or the others close to the victim
- Telling the victim that no one will believe him or her
- Leading the victim to believe they are in a romantic relationship
- Making the victim feel as though it was their fault the sex happened
- Threats of economic harm
- Telling the victim the sex was an “accident”
The majority of sexual assault survivors do not report the abuse right away. It is very common for victims to wait until they feel safe in reporting. In Oregon, there are extended time limits to file criminal charges for sexual offenses.
What compensation is available in a civil suit?
Simply put, the effects of sexual abuse or assault can last a lifetime. Some victims of sex abuse initially believe what happened to them was “no big deal” and that they can handle what happened to them. But the reality is that while the effects of sexual abuse and assault can be suppressed or “pushed down” for a while, they may never go away.
The harms of sexual abuse and assault affect all parts of the victim’s life: their mental health, physical health, and their relationships with others. Sexual abuse can be a cause of substance abuse, criminal activity and other types of self-harm (such as cutting). Sex abuse can cause self-esteem issues, including shame and self-guilt, which can make it very difficult to be in loving, intimate relationships.
In addition, victims of sexual abuse can suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), depression, and other mental problems that can cause nightmares, flashbacks, lack of motivation, and many other problems.
Timely, continual, and effective treatment of sexual trauma can provide victims with tools to cope with these issues, and make it easier for them to participate fully in life.
What if I can’t remember all the details?
Reporting sexual abuse is not easy. Victims often feel guilt, shame, and extreme embarrassment in talking about what happened. It can take years for victims to find the courage to fully disclose what happened to them, so it is not unusual for them to forget some details about the abuse. Victims of sexual abuse can consciously (or unconsciously) forget certain details, often as a method of avoiding dealing with what happened to them in an effort to move on with their lives.
Although it may be very difficult, sexual abuse should be reported as quickly as possible. Delaying reporting only helps the predator avoid consequences for what he or she did. Witnesses may become unavailable, and physical evidence may be lost. Fortunately, there is a legal basis to hold those responsible accountable for sexual abuse, even if many years have passed since the abuse occurred.
Why file a civil suit?
There are many potential benefits to filing a claim for both the victim and society at large. For the survivor of sexual abuse, there are proven therapeutic benefits when the victim uses the legal system to confront their abuser. Victims are often entitled to substantial amounts of money for the harms they have suffered. These cases require local institutions to review their policies and improve their hiring and evaluation processes, thus benefiting the community. Last but not least, civil lawsuits and criminal cases against perpetrators can protect others who may otherwise become victims of sex abuse by the same predator.
What are the drawbacks of filing a civil suit?
First of all, the victim must tell his or her story to strangers, and some people may doubt the victim. It is common for defendant’s family members to support the defendant regardless of the evidence. Coming forward is not easy, and it is often accompanied by strong emotions like guilt, shame, and extreme embarrassment. Sometimes, details of what has happened in the life of the victim since the abuse took place – including psychiatric or substance abuse issues – come out in confidential settings. Nobody likes to talk about these things. Finally, telling the story of what happened can make it temporarily more difficult to deal with the effects of the sexual abuse because it brings back memories of the abuse.
Will my privacy be respected?
Yes. If you are a minor, your true identity is not disclosed in court or settlement documents. You will be referred to as “John Doe” or “Jane Doe” or a similar name. If you are an adult, you can also proceed in a lawsuit under a pseudonym.
If you are an adult, Oregon requires that complaint include the names of all parties, however, in sexual assault cases, the court may allow a pseudonym to be used if certain privacy factors are met.
How long is the legal process?
This depends on where the suit is filed. Typically, civil cases take about 1 ½ – 2 ½ years from the time of filing to resolve.
Can you put the perpetrator in jail?
Only law enforcement, based on probable cause, can put a perpetrator in jail. The criminal case is a separate process from a civil suit, in which a victim sues for money damages.