Sexual harassment awareness month is an annual campaign that takes place every April and is meant to bring consciousness around non-consensual acts of sexual violence all humans face, educate the public, and uplift victims of sexual assault.
Although what defines sexual harassment under the eyes of the law differs by the state or country one is a part of, the Women’s Health Organization defines it as the sexual activity or contact that one does not consent to. Sexual harassment can occur through physical force, the threat of force, exploitation, or through the use of drugs or alcohol as part of the assault. The acts can incorporate rape, non-consensual touching, and/or sexual coercion.
Sexual violence can affect everybody, including women, men, nonbinary, and children. Although most sexual violence acts occur towards women, men are also strongly affected by sexual assault and often go undetected. Sexual assault statistics are often hard to attain as most cases go unreported. The Association of Women for Action and Research describes three overlapping types of sexual harassment: physical, verbal, and visual.
We will first dig deep into what the three types of sexual harassment entail to then discuss how the alarming statistics revolving around sexual violence and assault are continuously impacting the lives of thousands around the world.
Physical sexual harassment refers to the act of being non-consensually touched intimately, brushed against, hugged, kissed, or being forced to touch another person. Such includes the act of or an attempt to rape, sexually assault, pressure someone to take part in sexual acts, touching someone’s body non-consensually, sexual gestures, and sexually rubbing against someone.
Verbal sexual violence is the use of written or spoken words to covey non-consensual sexual acts. It is the use of remarks, obscene, or insulting sounds such as, but not limited to catcalling, unwanted terms of endearment, inappropriate sexual jokes, whistling, sexual comments about clothing, asking about sexual fantasies, and spreading rumors about one’s sexual life.
Visual sexual violence refers to the act of being non-consensually exposed to private parts or receiving unwanted looks towards private areas. Such can take the form of unwanted nude photos, emails, and text messages of sexual nature, non-consensual looks, gestures, and nudity.
Sexual Violence Cases and Statistics
Earlier in March, the UN Women National Committee in the UK released a report stating that 97% of women ages 18-24 in the United Kingdom have experienced a form of sexual assault. The report encouraged women and men to use their social media platforms to express their support and open up about their own stories regarding sexual assault.
The report followed the horrific case of Sarah Everard that stroked the world. In March of this year, Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old English woman working as a marketing executive, was kidnapped and killed by a police officer while walking home from a friend’s house. Her case sparked marches and action towards male acts of violence against women all over the world.
According to RAINN,every 73 seconds someone is sexually assaulted in the United States.
In 2020, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that during their lifetime 1 in every 5 women experience rape or an attempt of rape, while 1 in 38 men experience it during their lives. 1 in 3 female and 1 in 4 male rape victims experience the act, or a first of many, between the ages of 11 to 17. 1 in 8 female and 1 in 4 male victims reported they have experienced it before the age of 10.
In most instances of rape, victims recognize their perpetrator. Out of all cases of rape reported to the police that included women, men, and children, 39% of the perpetrators were acquaintances, 33% were partners or former partners, 6% were by more than one person or the victim cannot recall, 2.5% by family members and 19.5% of them were strangers.
Sexual violence disproportionally affects minority groups such as women of color, LGBTQ+, and immigrant women. According to Trending The Garden, Native American and Alaskan Native women experience the greatest risk of sexual violence at 34.1%, women of mixed race at 24.4%, African American women 18.8%, Caucasian 17.7%, Hispanic/Latin 11.9%, and Asian/Pacific Islander at 6.8%.
Trending The Garden research also concludes that 60% of African American girls are likely to experience a form of sexual assault before the age of 18. Out of all rape cases reported to police, 80% are declared by Caucasian women, although statistically women of color are more likely to experience sexual assault.
433,648 people are affected by sexual assault and/or rape each year in the United States according to RAINN.
The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) is one of the nation’s largest anti-sexual abuse organizations, seeking to help victims of sexual harassment. They inform that out of every 1,000 sexual harassment cases, only 230 of them (or 23%) are reported to the police, 46 of them lead to arrests, 9 cases are prosecuted, 5 cases lead to felony convictions, and only 4.6 rapists get incarcerated.
Furthermore, the United States is ranked one of the highest human trafficking countries in the world, with over 199,000 cases every year. The U.S. Department of State defines sex trafficking as a person being forced to act in commercial sex as the result of force, threats of force, coercion, and or fraud.
In 2018, the United States was one of the top 3 countries with the most human trafficking victims, right next to Mexico, and the Philippines. Women and child sex trafficking are the most common form of human trafficking within these nations. While females make up 98% of sex trafficking, males experience higher numbers (60%) of labor exploitation in the private economy. According to Human Rights First, sex exploitation makes up most of the incurred profits in human trafficking of over $99 billion (66%).
Sexual Violence Impact on Victims’ Mental Health
Sexual violence can have long-lasting physical and mental impacts on an individual’s life. Some psychological effects include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, sleep, and eating disorders. Other effects include frequent flashbacks of the traumatic event, substance abuse, and dissociation.
About 31% of all rape victims developed PTSD sometime during their lifetime according to The Mental Health Impact of Rape.
Research conducted by Laura’s C. Wilson of 28 studies revealed that often women who have fallen victim to sexual assault do not label their experience as rape. The studies looked at a total of 5,917 women who were victims of rape. The research, which was conducted throughout the US, revealed that 60.4% of women do not recognize their traumatic experience as rape, even though it fits the description of non-consensual sexual acts through the use of threat or force.
The study illustrates the deep social and cultural influences both women and men go through that prevent them from reporting their sexual assault. Shame, fear, or being taught they had a choice and the acts where their fault are just some of the most common reasons why victims choose to stay quiet. Such mentality leads some survivors to suppress their thoughts and not view themselves as victims.
According to RAINN, male college students ages 18-24 are 5 times more likely to be victims of sexual violence than individuals their age who are not students.
Educating Yourself is Key to Support Sexual Harassment Victims
Change and progress will not occur unless everyone takes a stance to educate themselves on sexual violence, what it means, and how to further prevent cases from occurring. Educating oneself on how certain groups are significantly more impacted by sexual violence than others and providing resources to help all victims, will encourage progress.
Changes must be done to societal norms of victim-blaming, bringing awareness to the sexual harassment and violence women, minority groups, and men experience, while holding perpetrators accountable for their actions. Sexual violence organizations, hotlines, and movements such as #MeToo have taken a stance in bringing awareness and resources to such forms of sexual assault.
Together, we are standing in unity and fighting for justice!
If you or a loved one have experienced sexual assault, please seek out help from the following hotlines and organizations. Individuals are encouraged to visit the website, call, text, or chat 24/7. You are not alone.
Sexual Assault Hotline: 1(800) 656-4673
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1(800) 799-7233
National Human Trafficking Resource Center: 1(888) 373-7888. Text 233733
National Center for Victims of Crime: 1(855) 484-2846
National Helpline: Substance Abuse and Mental Health: 1(800) 622-4357
National Suicide Prevention Line: 1(800) 273-8255 or 988
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