Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment: unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature in which submission to or rejection of such conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s work or school performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work or school environment.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

2 Types of Sexual Harassment:
  1. Quid pro quo– When a perpetrator makes conditions of employment contingent on the victim providing sexual favors. This type of harassment is less common.
  2. Hostile environment– When unwelcome, severe and persistent sexual conduct on the part of a perpetrator creates an uncomfortable and hostile environment (e.g., jokes, lewd postures, leering, inappropriate touching, rape, etc.). This type of harassment constitutes up to 95% of all sexual harassment cases.


Variety of Circumstances
  • Survivor and harasser do not have to be of different genders; both can be men, both women, or they can be different genders.
  • Similarly, as with sexual assault, women can be perpetrators.
  • The harasser can be a supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
  • The survivor does not have to be the person that is directly harassed. It can be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
  • Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the survivor.
  • The harasser’s conduct must be unwelcome.
Common Emotional and Physical Reactions
  • Poor concentration at work
  • Stress on personal relationships
  • Fear/anxiety
  • Debilitating depression
  • Sleep/weight problems
  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Staff turnover
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Tarnished company reputation
  • Increased payouts for sick leave and medical benefits
  • Vulnerability to hostile confrontations
  • Legal and consultant costs
  • Lower staff productivity
  • Poor staff morale
  • Less teamwork
Options for Action
  • Say “No” clearly– Express in direct language (verbal or written) that behavior must stop.
  • Document the harassment– Keep a written log, keep track of dates, times, and behavior.
  • Get emotional support– Friends/family can be good outlets.
  • Document your work– Keep copies of performance evaluations and memos that attest to the quality of your work.
  • Explore company channels– Talk to a supervisor and/or contact the personnel officer or human resources department.
  • File a complaint– If the problem can’t be solved through company policy, you may choose to pursue a legal remedy.

Sexual Harassment in the Schools

Sexual harassment is not limited to offices and work arenas. Increasingly, sexual harassment is being displayed in our nation’s schools.

It Can Take Milder Forms
  • Looks
  • Jokes
  • Graffiti on bathroom walls
  • Comments about body parts
Or More Severe Forms
  • Physical intrusion into personal space
  • Grabbing
  • Brushed up against in a sexual way
Common Reactions
  • Less confident
  • More self-conscious
  • Ashamed
  • Embarrassed
  • Consequently lower grades

Learn more about the laws in your state through RAINN’s state database.

This section was adapted from materials provided by the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.

Sexual Exploitation by Helping Professionals

Sexual exploitation by a helping professional: sexual contact of any kind between a helping professional (doctor, therapist, teacher, priest, professor, police officer, lawyer, etc.) and a client/patient.

  • It is difficult for a client/patient to give informed consent to sexual contact or boundary violations because the helping professional holds a great deal of power over that client/patient.
  • 90% of sexual boundary violations occur between a male provider and a female client/patient (Plaut, S.M., 1997, p. 79).
  • Such behavior is regarded as unethical and, in every licensed profession, can be grounds for malpractice and possible loss of license.

There are three major types of sexual involvement between a client/patient and a professional:

  1. Sexual activity in the context of a professional treatment, evaluation, or service
  2. Seual activity with the implication that it has therapeutic benefit
  3. A sexually exploitative relationship

Why it is not acceptable behavior:

  • The helping professional starts from a position of great power over the client/patient and is expected to respect and maintain professional boundaries.
  • The professional has a responsibility to protect the interests of the client/patient and not to serve his/her own needs.
  • The client/patient has put his/her trust in that professional and the betrayal of that trust can have devastating consequences.

Within the Therapeutic Relationship:

  • Clients in therapy are the most susceptible because the client is already vulnerable and trusts the therapist t0 help her/him feel better.
  • Therapy relationships are particularly intimate, with clients sharing their innermost thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

Issue of Transference:

  • Transference- Way in which a client transfers negative/positive feelings about others to the therapist. Transference in and of itself is not a bad thing. In fact, it is necessary in all therapeutic relationships.
  • Countertransference- When the therapist projects his or her own feelings back onto the client.
  • Problem- When the therapist is unable to recognize transference and countertransference reactions and, instead, responds in a sexual manner.

Common Reactions:

  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Increased risk of suicide
  • Feelings of guilt, shame, anger, confusion, worthlessness
  • Loss of trust

Very Low Report Rate:

  • It is estimated that only 4-8% of survivors of sexual exploitation by helping professionals report the exploitation (Gartrell, N., et al.,1987 per TAASA, p. 168, 2004).
  • Often there is reluctance to report because of
    • Anticipated or real pain associated with pursuing the case
    • Fear that she/he won’t be believed.
  • It often takes several years for the client to recognize that she/he has been harmed.

3 Ways to Take Action:

  1. Licensing board complaints- Standards vary by state and profession. Possible punishments include suspension or revocation of a license or rehabilitation programs. In these cases the client’s confidentiality is protected in any public reports of the proceedings.
  2. Civil lawsuits- Client hires his or her own attorney and sues the therapist directly. Usually this is the only way to receive payment for damages. Procedures are public, and the burden of proof is on the client.
  3. Criminal proceedings- An option in some states. In these cases, the state prosecutes (State v. Therapist). The best possible outcome is a criminal sanction (probation, incarceration).

Additional Resources

Stop Educator Sexual Abuse, Misconduct and Exploitation (SESAME, Inc.)
Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP)

Learn more about the laws in your state through RAINN’s state database.

Plaut, S. Michael. “Boundary violations in professional-client relationships: overview and guidance for prevention.” Sexual and Marital Therapy, 12, 1, 1997.
Plaut, S. Michael. “Understanding and Managing Professional-Client Boundaries.” Handbook of Clinical Sexuality for Mental Health. Stephen B. Levine (ed). New York: Brunner-Routledge, 2003.
Texas Association Against Sexual Assault Sexual Assault Advocate Training Manual, 2004.


It was a scalding Texas Sunday not a cloud in the sky. My mother is taking my brother and me to the lake. We never went to the lake so I began to get excited about playing in the water. I also grew concerned, what did she have on her mind. Even at 6 years old I knew she always had an agenda. My brother was 3 years old and had no clue what the day would bring. We pulled up to the picnic tables on the far side of lake, nowhere near the water. She tells us our parents are getting  divorced. Not understanding what it meant I ask her to spell it for me. I kept repeating the spelling in my head so I could ask my friend.

I would find out sooner than later. We turned down our street, my grandfathers truck in front of  house with my father’s belongings. They were driving off as we rounded the corner. My parents relationship went from bad to hell My mother took every chance to tell us how much she hated my father. She married within six months, we called him Lucifer. He could get her closer to the white picket fence. We moved into a new house with a big back yard, things looked so normal on the outside. If people only knew the truth.

Custody was a nightmare, daddy would bring us home and she would throw things at him. One time she hit him in the head with the Sunday paper. This was the beginning of a twice a month cycle of harassment. After a couple of years we moved to the country population 137. It was almost a two-hour trip from my dad’s. One Thanksgiving my dad arrived 15 minutes early and she called the sheriff. My dad didn’t get out of the car, he knew he was early and she was crazy. It’s sad when parents separated or divorced talk bad about the other.

My mother did not abuse my brother. She physically and emotionally abused me from a young age.  Her grandmother and mother hated my dad. He forced her to get pregnant and I’m the mistake child. They would call our house ranting how I was mistake, ruined my mother’s future and how much they hated my father. We lived in a toxic environment because my mother was toxic.

The conflict between my parents reached a point where I had to pick up my brother to avoid fighting. My father was no angel but he never talked bad about my mother. My mother told me that daddy raped her and I was a mistake. She tells me several times a day, I hate your father and you’re just like him. At 9-10 years old it doesn’t take long to figure out your mother hates you because you’re just like your father.

I believed my dad raped my mother, I don”t know why. I held it in for years. I don’t know how we got to the topic. I was angry at my father and spit out what she had told me. The look in his eyes said everything. My father was so hurt and said I loved your mother.

When my father killed himself he had a lock box on the coffee table and papers spread everywhere. Their divorce papers were on the table, his Bible open to Job and a note pad with written words scattered on the page. No sentences, I did see the number for the suicide hotline and one of his oldest friends. Written in one corner was 11:00 and he died between 7-8 pm. I often wonder if it took him that long to pull the trigger or was he trying to fight his demons. There are tear stains in the book of Job.


Male Sexual Assault


Can men be sexually assaulted?

Men and boys are often the victims of the crimes of sexual assault, sexual abuse, and rape. In fact, in the U.S., about 10% of all victims are male.1

The term sexual assault refers to a number of different crimes, ranging from unwanted sexual touching to forced penetration.

Male survivors and others affected by sexual violence can receive free, confidential, live help through RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline, 24/7. Call 1.800.656.HOPE to be connected to a local rape crisis center in your area, or visit the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline to get live help in an instant-messaging format.


Although it can be difficult for male survivors to seek help for fear of how others will react, there are support resources available. Survivors can receive live help through RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline, 24/7.

Sometimes male survivors find it easier to first tell an anonymous hotline staffer rather than a loved one. This allows the survivor to speak to someone who is impartial and trained to listen and help. Many male survivors find that talking to the hotline first makes it easier to tell friends and family later.

What concerns do male survivors have when seeking support for a sexual assault?


Often, perpetrators use force or threats to prevent a survivor from seeking help. RAINN has tips and resources to help survivors stay safe. In addition, survivors can find local sexual assault service providers here on RAINN’s website. These organizations may be able to offer additional safety options and support in their local communities. The hotlines are also available to educate survivors about the resources available (1-800-656-HOPE and


Sexual assault is a very personal crime. Many survivors do not wish to share what happened to them publicly and fear that disclosing or reporting the attack may require them to talk publicly about their assault. There are several ways to learn more about recovery and resources anonymously by using the National Sexual Assault Hotlines (1-800-656-HOPE and, which are free and confidential.


Male survivors may blame themselves for the assault, believing they were not ‘strong enough’ to fight off the perpetrator. Many are confused by the fact that they became physically aroused during the attack, despite the assault or abuse they endured. However, these normal physiological responses do not in any way imply that the victim ‘wanted’ or ‘liked’ the assault.

Is it normal to feel this way?

While not every male survivor of sexual assault reacts in the same way, many reactions are quite common. If left untreated, these effects can have a long-term impact on a survivor’s well-being.

What are some possible effects of sexual assault on a male survivor?


  • Sense of self and concept of “reality” are disrupted.
  • Profound anxiety, depression, fearfulness.
  • Concern about sexual orientation.
  • Development of phobias related to the assault setting.
  • Fear of the worst happening and having a sense of a shortened future.
  • Withdrawal from interpersonal contact and a heightened sense of alienation.
  • Stress-induced reactions (problems sleeping, increased startle response, being unable to relax).
  • Psychological outcomes can be severe for men because men are socialized to believe that they are immune to sexual assault and because societal reactions to these assaults can be more isolating.

Heterosexual Male Survivors

  • May experience a fear that the assault will make them gay.
  • May feel that they are “less of a man.”

Homosexual Male Survivors

  • May feel the crime is “punishment” for their sexual orientation.
  • May worry that the assault affected their sexual orientation.
  • May fear they were targeted because they are gay. This fear may lead to withdrawal from the community.
  • May develop self-loathing related to their sexual orientation.

Relationships / Intimacy

  • Relationships may be disrupted by the assault.
  • Relationships may be disrupted by others’ reactions to the assault, such as a lack of belief/support.
  • Relationships may be disrupted by the survivor’s reaction to or coping with the assault.


  • Anger about the assault, leading to outward- and inward-focused hostility.
  • Avoidance of emotions or emotional situations, stemming from the overwhelming feelings that come with surviving a sexual assault.

If you, or someone you know, is experiencing any of the thoughts or feelings listed above, please contact The National Sexual Assault Hotline, either online or by phone at 1-800-656-HOPE to speak with a trained staffer.

Other Organizations

Survivors of military sexual assault can receive help via the Department of Defense(DoD) Safe Helpline, a groundbreaking crisis support service for members of the DoD community affected by sexual assault. The service is anonymous, secure, and available 24/7 to the worldwide DoD community — providing victims with the help they need, anytime, anywhere.

Learn more about the laws in your state through RAINN’s state database.

  1. This section was adapted from materials provided by the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.

Partner Rape

Partner Rape is defined as sexual acts committed without a person’s consent and/or against a person’s will when the perpetrator is the individual’s current partner (married or not), previous partner, or co-habitator.

3 types of Partner Rape:
  1. Battering rape– the experience of both physical and sexual violence within a relationship. Some may experience physical abuse during the sexual assault. Others may experience sexual assault after a physical assault as an attempt to “make up.”
  2. Force-only rape– motivated by a perpetrator’s need to demonstrate power and maintain control. Therefore, he/she asserts his/her feelings of entitlement over his/her partner in the form of forced sexual contact.
  3. Obsessive/Sadistic rape– involves torture and perverse sexual acts. Such rape is characteristically violent and often leads to physical injury.

Emotional & Physical Reactions:

  • Injuries to the vaginal and anal areas
  • Lacerations
  • Soreness
  • Bruising
  • Torn muscles
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting
  • Broken bones
  • Black eyes
  • Injuries caused by weapons
  • Miscarriages
  • Stillbirths
  • Contraction of STIs , including HIV

Research indicates that survivors of partner rape are more likely to be raped multiple times when compared to stranger and acquaintance rape survivors. As such, partner rape survivors are more likely to suffer severe and long-lasting physical and psychological injuries.

Learn more about the laws in your state through RAINN’s state database.

This section was adapted from materials provided by the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.

Stranger Rape


3 Major Categories

  1. Blitz sexual assault– The perpetrator rapidly and brutally assaults the victim with no prior contact. Blitz assaults usually occur at night in a public place.
  2. Contact sexual assault– The suspect contacts the victim and tries to gain her or his trust and confidence before assaulting her or him. Contact perpetrators pick their victims in bars, lure them into their cars, or otherwise try to coerce the victim into a situation of sexual assault.
  3. Home invasion sexual assault– When a stranger breaks into the victim’s home to commit the assault.

Common Reactions

  • Shock
  • Numbness
  • Loss of control
  • Disorientation
  • Helplessness
  • Sense of vulnerability
  • Fear
  • Self-blame for “allowing” the crime to happen
  • Feeling that these reactions are a sign of weakness

Learn more about the laws in your state through RAINN’s state database.

This section was adapted from materials provided by the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.

Who are the Victims of Sexual Assault?


Breakdown by Gender and Age


1in6 graphic

1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (14.8% completed rape; 2.8% attempted rape). 1

17.7 million American women have been victims of attempted or completed rape.1

9 of every 10 rape victims were female in 2003. 2

Lifetime rate of rape /attempted rape for women by race: 1
  • All women: 17.6%
  • White women: 17.7%
  • Black women: 18.8%
  • Asian Pacific Islander women: 6.8%
  • American Indian/Alaskan women: 34.1%
  • Mixed race women: 24.4%


About 3% of American men — or 1 in 33 — have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. 1

  • In 2003, 1 in every ten rape victims were male. 2
  • 2.78 million men in the U.S. have been victims of sexual assault or rape. 1


15% of sexual assault and rape victims are under age 12. 3

  • 29% are age 12-17.
  • 44% are under age 18. 3
  • 80% are under age 30. 3
  • 12-34 are the highest risk years.
  • Girls ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.

7% of girls in grades 5-8 and 12% of girls in grades 9-12 said they had been sexually abused. 4

  • 3% of boys grades 5-8 and 5% of boys in grades 9-12 said they had been sexually abused.

In 1995, local child protection service agencies identified 126,000 children who were victims of either substantiated or indicated sexual abuse. 5

  • Of these, 75% were girls.
  • Nearly 30% of child victims were between the age of 4 and 7.

93% of juvenile sexual assault victims know their attacker. 6

  • 34.2% of attackers were family members.
  • 58.7% were acquaintances.
  • Only 7% of the perpetrators were strangers to the victim.

On average during 1992-2001, American Indians age 12 or older experienced annually an estimated 5,900 rapes or sexual assaults. 7

  • American Indians were twice as likely to experience a rape/sexual assault compared to all races.
  • Sexual violence makes up 5% of all violent crime committed against Indians (about the same as for other races).
  • Offender/victim relationship: 41% stranger; 34% acquaintance; 25% intimate or family member.

Effects of Rape

Victims of sexual assault are: 8

3 times more likely to suffer from depression.

6 times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

13 times more likely to abuse alcohol.

26 times more likely to abuse drugs.

4 times more likely to contemplate suicide.

Pregnancies Resulting from Rape

In 2012, 346,830 women were raped. 9 According to medical reports, the incidence of pregnancy for one-time unprotected sexual intercourse is 5%. By applying the pregnancy rate to 346,830 female survivors, RAINN estimates that there were17,342 pregnancies as a result of rape in 2012.

This calculation does not account for the following factors which could lower the actual number of pregnancies:
  • Rape, as defined by the NCVS, is forced sexual intercourse. Forced sexual intercourse means vaginal, oral, or anal penetration by offender(s). This category includes incidents where the penetration is from a foreign object such as a bottle. Certain types of rape under this definition cannot cause pregnancy.
  • Some victims of rape may be utilizing birth control methods, such as the pill, which will prevent pregnancy.
  • Some rapists may wear condoms in an effort to avoid DNA detection.
  • Vicims of rape may not be able to become pregnant for medical or age-related reasons.
This calculation does not account for the following factors which could raise the actual number of pregnancies:
  • Medical estimates of a 5% pregnancy rate are for one-time, unprotected sexual intercourse. Some victimizations may include multiple incidents of intercourse.
  • Because of methodology, NCVS does not measure the victimization of Americans age 12 or younger. Rapes of these young people could results in pregnancies not accounted for in RAINN’s estimates.
  1. National Institute of Justice & Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.Prevalence, Incidence and Consequences of Violence Against Women Survey. 1998.
  2. U.S. Department of Justice. 2003 National Crime Victimization Survey. 2003.
  3. U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Sex Offenses and Offenders. 1997.
  4. 1998 Commonwealth Fund Survey of the Health of Adolescent Girls. 1998.
  5. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families. 1995 Child Maltreatment Survey. 1995.
  6. U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. 2000 Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement. 2000.
  7. U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. American Indians and Crime. 1992-2002.
  8. World Health Organization. 2002.
  9. U.S. Department of Justice. 2012 National Crime Victimization Survey. 2012.

AZ College FBI Rape Stats


Summary of Rape and Sexual Assault Victimization Among College-Age Females, 1995–2013 Created 1/14/15

Bureau of Justice Statistics. Summary created by SVPEP staff.

Link to full report. [Posted 1/2015]


This summary report was created from the findings of the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) report entitled, Rape and Sexual Assault Victimization Among College-Age Females, 1995– 2013 that was published in December 2014. The report details and makes comparisons between college student and nonstudent female victims of rape/sexual assault regarding background characteristics, victimization experiences, and perpetrator characteristics. College students were defined as individuals who were female victims age 18 to 24 enrolled who were enrolled part time or full time in a post-secondary institution (i.e., college or university, trade school, or vocational school).

This summary report represents aggregate estimates of rape and sexual assault utilizing the National Crime Victim Survey (NCVS) data from 1995 to 2013. Rape and sexual assault are defined by the NCVS to include completed and attempted rape, completed and attempted sexual assault, and threats of rape or sexual assault. The NCVS collects data regarding nonfatal crimes that are both reported and not reported to police against persons age 12 and over from a nationally representative sample of US households. The full report can be found at

Major Findings from for the Period of 1995-2013:

Similarities between groups

o For both college students and nonstudents, the offender was known to the victim in about 80% of all rape and sexual assault victimizations that occurred during their lifetime.

o The offender had a weapon in about 1 in 10 rape and sexual assault victimizations against both students and nonstudent victims.

Differences between groups

o Rape and sexual assault victimizations of student victims were unreported to police (80%) of the time. Whereas, nonstudent rape and sexual assault victimizations were unreported to police (67%) of the time.

o For student victims, offenders were more likely to be friends or acquaintances (50%) than intimate partners (24%). For nonstudent victims the likelihood of friends or acquaintances being the offender was (37%) and the rate of intimate partner offenders was (34%).

o The reasons for not reporting a rape/sexual assault victimization to police were varied between student and nonstudent victims. A greater percentage of nonstudent (19%) than student (9%) victims stated that they did not report to police because the police would not or could not do anything to help. Student victims (12%) were more likely than nonstudent victims (5%) to state that the rape/sexual assault incident was not important enough to report.

Protecting Yourself from Sexual Assault

Contrary to popular belief, most sexual assaults are planned. The assailant may not plan to sexually assault or rape a specific individual, but they usually do plan to assault someone. This plan may range from a specific plan to find someone to rape to a general intention of “scoring.” Although this fact can be disheartening, it also gives us an edge in protecting ourselves from sexual assault. Because assaults are usually planned, there are typical behaviors and patterns that you can be aware of and watch out for. This section will outline some of these typical patterns and suggest various things you can do to keep yourself safe. There are three areas to consider in thinking about personal safety – the environment, the assailant, and yourself.

Awareness: The Environment The environment consists of the people and things around you, as well as the place you are in, all of which can contribute to the level of safety or danger at any given moment.

  • The People around you can help keep you safe or increase the level of danger, depending on who they are and what your relationship with them is. If you are in a group of your friends, they are more likely to contribute to your safety. If you are among a group of the assailant’s friends, you may not be able to turn to them for help. If you are among strangers, it may be harder to tell. If you find yourself in a position where you are in danger of sexual assault, pay attention to the people around you – can you turn to them for help or are they increasing the level of danger?
  • The Things around you can also be used in your defense. Pens and pencils, keys, chairs, books, and other furniture can all be used as weapons. You can put large objects between you and the assailant; smaller objects can be used to hit or stab the assailant or to block strikes against you.
  • The Place that you are in will affect the level of danger and how you choose to defend yourself. Since most sexual assaults occur between people who know each other, they are more likely to happen indoors. The stereotype of the stranger in the bushes does happen, but is much more rare than sexual assault in your home, someone else’s home, at a party or a bar.
  • If you are in your home, you have an advantage in that you know the layout much better than the assailant. It will be easier for you to move around, to put furniture or doors between you, to get to the phone. You might try turning out the lights, because it will be easier for you to move around in the dark. In addition, common safety tips for preventing stranger assault in your home include strong locks on the doors and windows and secure entry into apartment buildings.
  • If you are in the assailant’s home, the advantage goes the other way. Generally speaking, it is better to avoid being alone with dates until you know them well enough to trust them, and to inform friends or family of your whereabouts and when you are likely to return. However, even long-term, trusted friends or partners commit sexual assault. If you feel you are in danger, look around for things you can use to defend yourself, be aware of the exits and the location of a telephone.
  • If you are at a party or a bar, the people around you are likely to be your best resource, particularly if they are friends of yours. Try not to be left alone with someone you don’t know or do not feel safe with.
  • If you are in a deserted area, look for a more populated or well-lit area that you can go to if you feel you are in danger.

The Assailant
Unfortunately, there are few obvious distinguishing characteristics of assailants that can be used to identify and avoid them – rapists can be of almost any group. However, there are some people who are more likely to commit sexual assault. General Characteristics

Men are considerably more likely to commit sexual assaults than are women.

  • The myth of the black rapist is exactly that – a myth. African-American men are no more likely to commit sexual assault than men of any other ethnic group. Most sexual assaults tend to be intraracial rather than interracial, and when it does occur across ethnic groups, it is usually the case of a white man assaulting a woman of color.
  • Men who hold strong beliefs in traditional gender roles are more likely to sexually assault a woman because they are less likely to believe that she has the right to say no or that she means it.
  • People who do not take “no” for an answer or listen to your opinion in smaller areas, such as where to eat dinner, who will drive, etc., are unlikely to do so in more important areas, such as when, where, how, and whether you will have sex.

Specific Characteristics
Along with these general aspects of a potential assailant, there are important specific factors to be aware of. First, pay attention to details that might help you in deciding the best way to handle the situation, examples include:

  • Is the assailant drunk or high? If he/she is intoxicated, he/she may be less likely to respond to either assertiveness or physical self-defense techniques.
  • Is the assailant someone you know? Sometimes, if you know the assailant, it may be easier to defuse the situation using verbal defense skills and assertiveness. However, using physical self-defense techniques may be necessary to use.
  • Is the assailant considerably bigger or stronger than you? If he/she is, it may be harder to defend yourself physically and you may need to rely more upon the two most important skills, running and yelling.

Finally, you may want to pay attention to details about the assailant that will help you describe him/her to the police, if you choose to contact them. If you know the assailant, this is obviously easier, as you may be able to give the police his/her name, address, or phone number. If you do not know the assailant, however, you will have to pay attention to physical details. The rule for describing an assailant is to go from general to specific and to try to note those details that the assailant cannot easily change. For example, height and weight are not easily changed and are larger details. Then go on to note race or ethnicity, followed by eye and hair color. Any distinguishing characteristics, such as tattoos, scars, moles, odd facial characteristics, piercings, or unique jewelry are also useful. Clothing should be the one of the last characteristics to note, as it can be changed easily.

The third factor that will be present in an assault situation, and the only one you truly have control over, is yourself. It is important to remember that no one is to blame for a sexual assault except for the assailant – the survivor is never responsible for the assault. However, there are things that you can do to protect yourself and try to keep yourself safe. Unfortunately, there are no safety guarantees; you can only try to improve our chances of escaping an assault safely. Furthermore, if you do not take particular safety precautions, that does not mean that you deserved to be sexually assaulted. It is impossible to follow every safety tip all the time, and safety must be balanced with living a relatively free and unencumbered life. Given that, there are a number of areas in which awareness about yourself can help you to avoid or escape an assault. These include internal factors such as state of mind and level of intoxication, as well as external factors, such as how easily you can run in the clothes and shoes you are wearing. Other important factors include your verbal and physical self-defense skills, which will be further discussed below. When thinking about this third factor – yourself – there are two important areas to consider: Availability and Vulnerability.

  • Availability simply refers to how accessible you are to an assailant. For example, if you are in a room alone with a date or partner, you are available to him/her. If you are in a deserted parking lot, you are available.
  • Vulnerability has to do with more internal factors and how prepared you are to defend yourself. Vulnerability concerns physical, emotional, or mental disability and level of awareness.
  • Injured people are vulnerable because it may be harder for them to fight back.
  • Developmentally delayed individuals are vulnerable because they may lack the cognitive skills to defend themselves.
  • People who are depressed, sick, or preoccupied are often vulnerable because they are less likely to pay attention to the environment around them.
  • People who are drunk, high, or drugged (particularly with “rape drugs”, such as Rohypnol or GHB) are especially vulnerable because their judgment is impaired and they are not able to think clearly.
  • People wearing tight clothing, high-heeled shoes, or who are burdened with bags or packages are vulnerable because it is harder for them to run away.
  • Dates, spouses, and partners are also vulnerable because they generally do not expect their partner to attack them and are less likely to report the assault.

We are all vulnerable sometimes- everyone gets sick, has to walk to their car at night, or becomes preoccupied. The goal here is to try to minimize your availability and vulnerability as much as is reasonably possible.

Your feelings about sexual assault and self-defense
It is also helpful if you pay attention to your own feelings about sexual assault and self-defense. If you are worried that you will freeze up and not be able to defend yourself in an assault situation, you might find it helpful to take a self-defense course and learn some skills. If you are a survivor of a previous sexual assault or sexual abuse, it may be helpful for you to talk to someone about your experiences and how they have affected your life. If you do know some self-defense skills, are you prepared to use them? Are there things you feel you just cannot do, even in your own defense? If so, learn some different skills – don’t try to make yourself do something you’re not comfortable with.

Possible signs of an impending assault
Assailants, whether they are a stranger or someone you know, tend to “test the waters” before they actually begin the attack. A sign that you are being tested is when someone invades your personal space and keeps asking personal questions, even after you have asked him/her to leave you alone. They may try to touch you or get too close or ask questions or make comments that make you feel uncomfortable. Remember, if you feel unsafe, pay attention to your gut feelings. Don’t feel that you have to be nice or that you must be imagining things. If the person is truly innocent, they will understand. If they get offended when you ask them to leave you alone, to stop touching you or to move further away, then they are probably testing you. These are reasonable requests and reasonable people who are not trying to harm you will have no problem complying.