What is sexual violence

All too often, we define violence only when there is an injury due to physical force. We define violence only by its extreme. Violence involves any injury to someone — harm is done, a wrong is done or suffered.

Certainly, when sexual abuse or sexual assault is experienced, harm is done — emotional and psychological harm, spiritual harm and perhaps physical harm.

Sexual violence occurs in many forms:

Incest involves sexual behavior between family members. Often, incest involves sexual behavior between siblings, where one child is older, or a child forces another child. Incest is also often between an adult — a family member or perceived family member — and a child. Most frequently the adult is a parent, stepparent, grandfather, uncle, or a person seen as “part of the family.”

Child Sexual Abuse is sexual behaviors between non-family members, where one or both of the individuals involved is a child. This often involves an adult a child loves, trusts, respects, or an adult a child fears. Adults who engage in child sexual abuse may be anyone — a “friend” of the family, Scout leader, clergy, teacher, coach or babysitter. The sexual abuse may involve no direct physical contact — photographing children or exposing children to sexual behaviors.

Sexual Assault occurs between individuals when one of the parties does not freely consent to the sexual behavior. The behavior can include sexual touching, sexual contact or sexual acts. Sexual assault can occur within a marriage — being married does not mean a person gives up their right to consent. In addition, when someone is under the influence of alcohol, or other drugs, they cannot freely consent.

Sexual Harassment is any unwanted behaviors of a sexual nature that make the “target” (person who is experiencing sexual harassment) or “bystander” (person who is observing the sexual harassment) uncomfortable. Sexual harassment includes behaviors such as sexual name-calling, obscene/sexual gestures, offensive jokes, stares/leers, touching in a sexual manner, sexual text in e-mails/cell phones and use of sexual words/images that are offensive to others.

Stalking is when a person intentionally or knowingly intimidates, inconveniences, annoys or alarms another person. Signs of stalking may include following or surveillance; showing up at home or work uninvited and unwelcomed; unwanted phone calls, including hang ups; threats; threats to family and friends, unwanted e-mails, text messages, letters or gifts; and damage to property. Often times, stalking results in physical or sexual assault.

What can be done?

None of these types of sexual violence is “worse” than the other. All types of sexual violence affect those who are victimized. Talking to a safe, non-judgmental person who believes what has happened, helps to mend the harm that was done.

REACH, Oxford County’s Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Services, also serving the towns of Bridgton and Harrison, offers free and confidential services. Calls can be made to the REACH office (743-9777) or to the Oxford County 24-hour helpline (800-871-7741). For the towns of Bridgton and Harrison, call 800-213-6937.

In addition to phone and in-person contacts, REACH offers support groups and a lending library, as well as accompaniment to hospitals, police interviews and through the legal system, if that is what an individual chooses to do.

Take control of your life — reach out for help — you have a right to be safe, to be believed, to not be blamed for what someone has done to you, to be heard, to be in healthy relationships and to value yourself!

If you have any questions about today’s column or the Coalition, please feel free to contact, Stephanie (Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Services) at 743-9777 or Renee (Family Crisis Services) at 647-8501. 

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