Sexual Violence is the use of sexual actions and words that are unwanted by and/or harmful to another person.
Some of these actions are defined as crimes by Minnesota statutes. Some experiences of sexual violence are hurtful violations of personal boundaries but may not rise to the level of a crime. However, that does not diminish the victim’s experience of being harmed.
What Causes Sexual Violence:
A related question to which most want the definitive answer is: What causes sexual violence? As a coalition, we recognize that there are multiple causes – some related to individual pathology of offenders, most related to a culture that in some ways supports, condones or ignores sexually violent messages and/or behavior. Some call this a “rape culture” and point to exploitive images of women and children in the media, the status of women and children in our culture, and the assumption of sexual availability of women, as examples of a “rape culture.” While it is impossible to agree on a single source for the cause of sexual violence, we can agree that this is a multidimensional issue that requires response on several fronts.
Sometimes the terms sexual abuse and sexual assault are used interchangeably with sexual violence. Generally, sexual abuse refers to the repeated sexual violation of a child by a family member or other. Sexual assault is the term most commonly used in Minnesota in reference to those instances that are called “rape.” Sexual assault or abuse (criminal sexual conduct) is defined by Minnesota law.
Some Key Terms:
Consent: Free and active agreement, given equally by both partners, to engage in a specific sexual activity. Giving in is not the same as giving consent! Consent is not present when either partner:
Fears the consequences of not consenting (including use of force)
Feels threatened or intimidated
Fears being “outed”
Says no, either verbally or physically (e.g., crying, kicking or pushing away)
Has communication barriers that prevent the person from understanding what is
Has differing abilities that prevent the person from making an informed choice
Is incapacitated by alcohol or drugs
Lacks full knowledge or information of what is happening
Is not an active participant in the activity
Is under the legal age of consent
Force: Minnesota statute defines force as the threat of bodily harm which causes the individual to reasonably believe that the threat could be carried out immediately, or the infliction of bodily harm, either of which cause the individual to submit to unwanted sexual behavior.
Statute defines coercion as words or circumstances that cause a person to fear that the other will inflict bodily harm, or confine the person. It also means the use of physical size or strength which causes the person to submit to an unwanted sexual act.
When talking about coercion, victims identify that they have been badgered, tricked, threatened with being “outed,” kept from eating, sleeping, leaving, using the bathroom, or otherwise held hostage until they quit resisting. Not all coercive acts fall under the statutory definition, but that does not deny a victim’s right to identify an experience as coercive. Giving in to coercion is not the same as giving consent!
Aspects of Sexual Violence
Sexual Assault: Unwanted, coerced and/or forced sexual penetration and/or touch is defined in Minnesota Statute as varying degrees of Criminal Sexual Conduct (CSC). CSC in the first through fourth degrees are felonies in Minnesota; fifth degree CSC is a gross misdemeanor. Penetration may be of the victim or forcing the victim to penetrate the actor; penetration can be accomplished with either a body part or other object. Similarly, contact can be sexual contact with the victim or forcing a victim to touch the actor.
The terms sexual assault and sexual violence are often used interchangeably, however, both terms are used to describe a wide variety of abuses. Rape is a term that is often used to describe forced penetration but forced touch is also a serious crime in Minnesota.
Date/Acquaintance Rape: Unwanted, coerced and/or forced sexual penetration that occurs between people who are known to each other. This relationship may be a dating relationship, a blind date or “hook up.” They may know one another well or only briefly. The issue is not identifying who the perpetrator is; it is rather identifying how force or coercion is manifested.
Intimate Partner Sexual Violence (IPSV): When rape/sexual assault occurs between two people who have or have had a consensual sexual relationship it is understood as Intimate Partner Sexual Violence. Sometimes this is referred to as “marital rape.” Intimate partner sexual violence is often a part of relationships in which other types of violence or battering are occurring. IPSV can occur in dating relationships, marriages or long term gay or lesbian relationships, and is certainly unlawful regardless of previous sexual contact.
Alcohol/Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault: When alcohol or other drugs are used to subdue the victim in order to perpetrate a sexual attack. Many drugs have been used for this purpose, some of the more common are Rohypnol, GHB and Ketamine. However, it must be pointed out, that although these drugs are used for sexual violence, alcohol remains the most common substance used to subdue victims.
Child Sexual Abuse: Overt physical or emotional aggression is not always a part of child sexual abuse. By definition, any sexual contact with a child is illegal. Offenders who target children use a variety of strategies to engage a child: force, trickery, bribery, blackmail. Child sexual abuse can be perpetrated by another child, a young person, or an adult. Child sexual abuse includes;
Incest: Sexual abuse that is committed by one family member against another. Also called familial sexual abuse, incest can be committed by a parent, sibling, other family member, or an unrelated person living with, or treated as part of the family.
Stalking: Stalking is defined primarily by state statute and while statutes vary, stalking is usually understood as a pattern of conduct that places a person in fear for their safety. The term “stalking” is commonly used to describe patterns of behaviors or acts used by a person to harass, threaten, or intimidate another. The variety of behaviors displayed by stalkers is limited only by the creativity of the stalkers themselves.
Pornography: Sexually graphic material that combines sex with violence, mistreatment, humiliation, or abuse. This includes the making of pornography when it involves violence, bribery and coercion, even if none is depicted. There is not agreement among those who are working to end sexual violence that pornography is automatically and by nature abusive. Expressions of sexuality in our culture are often targeted, misunderstood, and demonized. Child pornography is any sexually graphic material or any material produced for the purpose of sexual arousal that depicts children, and is always unlawful.
Commercial Sexual Exploitation: Paying someone else for sexual activities, or for sexually graphic materials or behaviors. Some forms of commercial sexual exploitation include: stripping, prostitution, nude bars, live sex shows, peep shows, trafficking people.
Professional Sexual Exploitation: Inappropriate use of sexual actions and words by professionals and volunteers within a helping context. Any sexual interaction between helping professionals and clients is sexual violation (even if the victim sees it as consensual.) Helping professionals are bound ethically and/or legally to abstain from sexual interaction with clients, patients, and others they serve. Helping professions can include counseling, psychology, social work, therapy, health care, clergy, law, victim advocacy, education, and public health.
Female Genital Mutilation: Female genital mutilation (FGM) is the term used to refer to the removal of part, or all, of the female genitalia. The most severe form is infibulation. The procedure consists of clitoridectomy (where all, or part of, the clitoris is removed), excision (removal of all, or part of, the labia minora), and cutting of the labia majora to create raw surfaces, which are then stitched or held together in order to form a cover over the vagina when they heal. A small hole is left to allow urine and menstrual blood to escape. The vast majority (85%) of genital mutilations performed in Africa consist of clitoridectomy or excision. The least radical procedure consists of the removal of the clitoral hood. While this may be an accepted practice in some cultures, it is illegal in the State of Minnesota.
Systematic Sexual Abuse: This is an organized form of sexual abuse, frequently involving numerous perpetrators and victims and used to control, condition, of “initiate” victims. This type of ritualized abuse may be repeated frequently and be perpetrated under the guise of a spiritual expression or initiation into a gang or other secret or selective group.
Sexual Harassment: Unwanted verbal sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other visual, verbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment can occur in the workplace, school and other settings (such as public transportation, shopping malls, community events, social gatherings, places of worship, health care facilities) and can create an intimidating or hostile environment for the victim. The perception of the victim, not the intent of the harasser, determines whether particular words or actions are harassing.
Bullying: Bullying includes a wide variety of behaviors, but all involve a person or group repeatedly trying to harm someone who is weaker or more vulnerable. Much of bullying that occurs in elementary, middle, and high schools is related to sexuality, race, and gender issues. Bullying and sexual harassment often go hand-in-hand in school environments.
Common Reactions to Sexual Violence: Sexual assault of any kind can result in a host of reactions – some are immediate, some are long term. The variety of reactions may depend on the victim’s previous life experience, the kind of force used, the relationship of the offender of the victim, the age of the victim, etc. Most victims experience levels of fear, anger, self-blame, depression and anxiety that can be exhibited both emotionally and physically. Difficulty sleeping and concentrating, nightmares, flashbacks, emotional numbing are all common reactions to sexual assault.