It’s misrepresented

Sexual assault is incredibly common, but the vast majority of experiences go unacknowledged. Why is this? We do hear about sexual assault in the news, but we usually only hear about one version.

This version is almost always a stranger assault against a woman, and often involves high levels of physical violence. Unfortunately these stories represent only 18% of what’s actually occurring [1].

Here’s the truth about sexual assault. The bulk of cases are perpetrated by someone the survivor knows- acquaintances, friends, partners, family members. It can happen to anyone of any gender,  any age, or any sexual orientation . This means it happens to men too. It happens at parties, at clubs, in people’s homes, in workplaces, on sports teams, on first dates, and in long term relationships. It often happens without any physical violence [1]. And it happens often. Way too often.

These non-stereotypical experiences are no less valid or serious than the stranger assault we hear about on the news, although our society often considers them to be less legitimate. This does not mean that a person is sensitive for being affected by non-stereotypical sexual assault, but rather that our culture has been desensitized by the overwhelming presence of sexual violence in day-to-day life.

This makes sexual assault a very lonely issue for some survivors. It’s a lot harder to recover from something when you don’t even have a name for it.

The farther someone’s experience is from the stereotype, the more difficult it can be for them to identify what happened as sexual assault and access supports.

The impact is the same, but the context in which it happens can be a barrier.

There is no hierarchy of validity or severity in sexual assault. Recognizing all experiences of sexual assault, regardless of how they fit into a stereotype, is the first step in breaking down barriers to support and holding perpetrators accountable.

[1] Statistics Canada. Sexual Assault in Canada. Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics Profile Series, 2004 & 2007.