If you believe that you have been a victim of sexual violence, please call us at 407-500-HEAL to discuss options for care and support.
There are three main considerations determining whether or not a sexual act is consensual or is a crime. “Consensual” means that both people are old enough to consent, have the capacity to consent, and agreed to the sexual contact.
Are the participants old enough to consent?
- Each state sets an “age of consent” which is the minimum age someone must be to have sex. People below this age are considered children and cannot legally agree to have sex. In other words, even if the child or teenager says yes, the law says no.
- In most states, the age of consent is 16 or 18. In some states, the age of consent varies according to the age difference between the participants. Generally, “I thought she was 18” is not considered a legal excuse — it’s up to you to make sure your partner is old enough to legally take part.
- Because laws are different in every state, it is important to call us to find out more about the laws in our state.
Did both participants have the capacity to consent?
- States also define who has the mental and legal capacity to consent. Those with diminished capacity — for example, some people with disabilities, some elderly people and people who have been drugged or are unconscious — may not have the legal ability to agree to have sex.
- These categories and definitions vary widely by state, so it is important to call us and find out more about the laws in our state.
Did all participants agree to take part?
- Did someone use physical force to make you have sexual contact with him/her? Has someone threatened you to make you have intercourse with them? If so, it is sexual assault.
- It doesn’t matter if your partner thinks you meant yes, or if you’ve already started having sex — “No” also means “Stop.” If your partner proceeds despite your expressed instruction to stop, they have not only violated basic codes of morality and decency, they may have also committed a crime under the laws of your state (check your state’s laws for specifics).
As with any violent crime, there’s nothing you can do to guarantee that you will not be a victim of sexual violence. But there are steps you can take to help reduce your risk of being assaulted.
Who are the Offenders?
- It is not always the stranger hiding in the bushes. In fact, approximately two-thirds of victims know their perpetrators. It could be a social acquaintance, friend, neighbor, family member, coach, etc.
- Many perpetrators show no evidence of psychological disturbance. Most are in control of their behavior and know it is illegal.
Avoid Dangerous Situations
- Be aware of your surroundings. Knowing where you are and who is around you may help you to find a way to get out of a bad situation. Learn a well-lit route back to your place of residence and avoid putting headphones in both ears, especially if you are walking alone.
- Try to avoid isolated areas and becoming isolated with someone you don’t trust or someone you don’t know well. It is more difficult to get help if no one is around.
- Walk with purpose. Even if you don’t know where you are going, act like you do. Try not to load yourself down with packages or bags as this can make you appear more vulnerable.
- Trust your instincts. If a situation or location feels unsafe or uncomfortable, it probably isn’t the best place to be.
- Make sure your cell phone is with you and charged.
In a Social Situation
- When you go to a party, go with a group of friends. Arrive together, check in with each other and leave together.
- Practice safe drinking. If someone offers to get you a drink from the bar at a club or party, go with them to the bar to order it, watch it being poured, and carry it yourself. Don’t drink from punch bowls or other large, common open containers. Don’t leave your drink unattended while talking, dancing, using the restroom, or making a phone call. Watch out for your friends, and vice versa.
- Have a buddy system. Don’t be afraid to let a friend know if something is making you uncomfortable or if you are worried about your or your friend’s safety.
- If someone you don’t know or trust asks you to go somewhere alone, let him or her know that you would rather stay with the group.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Knowing where you are and who is around you may help you to find a way out of a bad situation.
If You Are Being Pressured
- Be true to yourself. Do what feels right to you and what you are comfortable with. Don’t feel obligated to do anything you don’t want to. “I don’t want to” is always a good enough reason.
- Have a code word with your friends or family so that if you feel threatened you can call them and communicate your discomfort without the person you are with knowing.
- If you don’t want to hurt the person’s feelings it is better to make up a reason to leave than to stay and be uncomfortable, scared, or worse.
- Try to think of an escape route. How would you try to get out of the room? Where are the doors? Windows? Are there people around who might be able to help you? Is there an emergency phone nearby?
- If you and/or the other person have been drinking, you can say that you would rather wait until you both have your full judgment.
If you are in danger, call 9-1-1. To speak to a crisis counselor, call our 24/7 helpline at 407-500-HEAL.