Today delivers a heavy topic but a particularly important one. It goes without saying (but must be very clearly stated) that sexual assault is only ever caused by one person, the perpetrator. FULLSTOP!!!
I believe that sex is a beautiful gift that was meant to be enjoyed by a man and woman who are united in holy matrimony and have consented to the act at that particular point in time. Obviously, sex takes place in other settings as well and it is important to acknowledge that. Like every good thing in this world, people misuse this gift in sadistic, disgusting ways. I wonder how God must feel when he sees this amazing thing, he created being perverted and used as a weapon to deeply hurt and scar people.
I want to briefly differentiate between rape and sexual assault. According to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), rape is the penetration of someone’s mouth, anus, or vagina by a penis without their consent. Thus, legally a person without a penis cannot commit rape but can be guilty of aiding the perpetrator. It saddens me that this legal definition of rape does not have enough scope to include women as perpetrators because there certainly are females who “rape” other people. Sexual assault is using physical force or coercion to engage in sexual acts against someone’s will. This includes touching another person with either a body part or an object.
It is important to explore what consent means as that underpins the whole concept of rape and sexual assault. The perpetrator must have reason to believe the victim was (not) consenting. For someone to have consent, they must have the capacity AND freedom to make a choice at a particular time. Capacity relates to being in a state of mind where a person has the ability to reason and come to an informed decision. For example, someone who is confused or drunk might not have the capacity to make an informed decision regarding sexual activity. In these instances, great care must be taken before proceeding.
Having the freedom to make a decision means there is no coercion or physical force applied. For example, where there is a power imbalance between two people, the person with more power in that dynamic might exert pressure on the other person to engage in sexual activities with them. Even if the vulnerable person in this dynamic “agrees”, that is not consent because they are agreeing for fear of negative repercussions.
Consent is not a blank cheque. It is action- and time-specific and therefore it is possible for a husband to rape his wife. If there is any doubt regarding the capacity or willingness of your partner to engage in sex, then there must be no sexual penetration or indeed sexual touching. When it comes to matters of sexual assault, the role of self-control is often underestimated. No one ever died from having ‘blue balls’ or knowing when to stop sexual contact. No matter how far gone you are, you can stop.
The absence of a verbal ‘No’ is not synonymous to consent. If you lean in for a kiss and someone leans away or turns their head away from you, in that moment, you do not have their consent to kiss them. This might change in the next moment and they might choose to kiss you but if there is unease and discomfort, there must be a verbal evaluation of whether there is consent. If in doubt, please ask and observe behaviour. Consent to kissing or other intimate touching is different from consent to sexual penetration.
I remember being on public transport (danfo) in Nigeria and the bus conductor tried to touch my breasts and was trying to put his hand down my clothing. I was horrified and yet felt powerless to raise alarm. I tried to move away and protect myself but anyone who has been on a bus in Nigeria knows there isn’t an abundance of space. I was not sure how people would react and whether I would have the support I needed. So, I suffered in silence and counted the minutes until I alighted! It was dreadful!
It is unfortunate that victim-shaming is rampant in society. People who have already endured harrowing experiences are gaslighted. Too often their actions and motives are questioned, their experiences doubted, their trauma dismissed. Allegations of sexual assault should NEVER be a weapon to punish someone who is not guilty of such a despicable act. Intentionally wrongfully accusing someone of sexual assault is another nail in the coffin for getting justice for assault victims.
Sexual assault can be extremely damaging. It attacks the core of a person and brings to question everything they believe about themselves. It causes them to question their self-worth, their value to themselves and to society. They may view themselves as damaged and unlovable. They may feel guilt and self-loathing. There can be healing but it is a long, painful, often lonely road full of potholes and rough terrain.
If someone discloses being a victim of sexual assault, it is important to support them. Find out what support they think they need. Don’t be intrusive and ask for all the gory details. Never blame. Please be sensitive. Let them know whether you can commit to being a part of their healing and be there! Be kind!