Adolescents

What is sexual assault?

Sexual assault is a crime predominately committed by men against women and children, when there is forced or unwanted sexual contact with another person. This contact may include:

–          Touching or fondling of genitals, breasts, abdomen, thighs or buttocks

–          Unwanted nudity

–          Being watched or asked to undress while bathing, going to the toilet, etc…

–          Indecent exposure

–          Oral sex – either being forced to perform on the offender, or to have it forced on the victim

–          Penetration by a penis, finger, or object

–          Being forced to perform masturbation on the offender or themselves

–          Being made to look at pornography

–          Talking to you about sex in ways that make you feel uncomfortable

Young women and men from all backgrounds, ages, abilities, and cultures at some point in their lives may be exposed to or experience sexual assault or violence. It is known that one in three girls and one in six boys by the age of 18 will have experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact In some cases the sexual offender may be a stranger, however in 95% of all reported cases, the offender is known to the victim (Australian Crime: Facts and Figures 2011). The offender may have been someone the young person depended on, trusted, or liked, such as a family member, friend, boyfriend, teacher, neighbour, youth group leader, or other person in authority.

Some of the words used to name people who sexually abuse children or teenagers are sexual offender, perpetrator, and abuser. Laurel House information packages call the person a sexual offender.

Social myths of sexual assault/rape

Myth: Rape occurs only amongst strangers.
Fact: In over 90% of reported rapes, the offender is known to the victims (Australian Crime: Facts and Figures 2011)

Myth: Sex offenders are insane or sick.
Fact: Sex offenders come from all walks of life, and can appear to lead very stable, ordered lives. Sex offenders cannot be picked out of a crowd, and may be a father, brother, uncle, neighbour, friend, youth leader, teacher or acquaintance, just to name a few.

Myth: No one can be raped against their will.
Fact: Most adult victims, even those who are not physically harmed, fear injury and death during a sexual assault/rape. Children who are assaulted are often confused, unable to question the power and authority of the offender, and do not know how to get help. Survivors of sexual assault do not consent; they submit to avoid further harm.

Myth: Women don’t really suffer when they are raped.
Fact: A rape victim can suffer, whether in the short or long-term: physical injury, psychological injury, social injury, or emotional injury, or a combination of each.

Myth: Only attractive people are raped.
Fact: Rape is perpetrated on people regardless of age, cultural difference, ability/disability, religion, socio-economic status, or any other factor. Sexual offenders often plan attacks based on opportunity rather than attraction.

Myth: Rape is sex.
Fact: Rape is not sex. It is a violent crime motivated by a need to control, humiliate and harm. Rapists use sexual violence as a weapon to hurt and dominate others.

Myth: Women ask to be raped.
Fact: The way people look, act or dress does not invite sexual assault, nor does the place or the situation. Victims are selected because they appear vulnerable.

Myth: Children make up stories to get back at someone or to gain attention. Children lie about sexual assault.
Fact: Children do not lie about sexual assault. Younger children do not understand what it is, and older children are often too embarrassed or frightened to disclose actual assaults, let alone make them up. In reality, children tend to minimize the situation, rather than make it up or exaggerate.

Common feelings and reactions

Although the experience of sexual assault is different for everyone, there are some common reactions that many people experience. Some of these feelings may include anger, sadness, shock, shame, numbness, guilt, or being frightened. You may have experienced some or none of these feelings, there is no one way, and no right or wrong way to respond to rape or sexual assault.

You may be wishing you could make the sexual assault go away as remembering and thinking about the sexual abuse is difficult and painful. It is understandable that you would like to forget about the abuse.

You may also find for some time after the sexual assault that life may be unsettled. You might find it harder to concentrate at school or work, or feel uncomfortable where you live and want to move. Some survivors feel they don’t want to be left alone while others just want to be by themselves. These are all common reactions.

Before, during and after the disclosure of sexual assault it is important that you take care of yourself, physically and emotionally. It can be a stressful time that may disrupt your eating, sleeping and other normal functions. Although difficult, you may find it helpful to make time for yourself to be involved in activities that help you feel safe and relaxed. It may also help to find someone, whether a family member, friend, teacher or professional who you can speak with about how you are feeling and your options.

Often the effects of sexual assault continue to be experienced long after the actual abuse has ended. It can affect the way you think about yourself, your feelings, your behaviour, and your relationships with other people. Despite this, survivors have many strengths and resources to help them overcome these effects. Child sexual assault affects different people in different ways, and to varying degrees. You may experience long-term effects such as nightmares, night terrors or flashbacks of disturbing images from childhood. For some people, alcohol and other drug dependency, eating disorders, mental health problems, phobias or obsessions may be related to earlier abuse.

What is consent?

Consent is an agreement that two people must make if they want to have sex. The use of alcohol or others substances can interfere with someone’ ability to make clear decisions about the level of intimacy they are comfortable with and the more intoxicated a person is, the less they are able to give conscious consent.

As well as the above, consent cannot be given if you:

–          Are unable to understand the sexual nature of the act

–          Surrender because of force, fear of force, or fear of harm against you or someone else.

–          Surrender because you are kept against your will (e.g. locked in a house or unable to leave for other reasons).

If you are under 17, no one is allowed to have sex with you. Even if you agree to have sex with someone, it is still against the law for that person to have sex with you. They can be charged with a criminal offence. A person may be able to defend themselves against such a charge if:

–          You agreed to have sex with them; AND

–          You were 15-years or older at the time of having sex; AND

–          They were no more than five years older than you.

Or

–          You agreed to have sex with them; AND

–          You were 12-years or older at the time of having sex; AND

–          They were no more than three years older than you.

Or

–          You agreed to have sex with them; AND

–          They believed on reasonable grounds that you were 17 or older

For someone to believe on reasonable grounds that you were 17 or over means more than not asking how old you are.

Once you are 17, you can legally have sex with any other person who is 17 or over as long as you both agree to it.

What happens when you decide to tell?

It is very natural to have mixed feelings about telling your family and friends about a sexual assault. You may be worried about whether your family will believe you or not, or you might not want to upset them. These are okay feelings to have. It is your decision you and when you want to tell people about your experience of sexual assault.

You may prefer to speak with a counsellor from Laurel House about what you have experienced, and later speak with your family and friends. You may find that your family and friends can sometimes be a helpful and valuable resource to support you as you work through how you feel.

Clients who come to Laurel House have the right to confidentiality. This means that information about you will not be given to anyone without your consent, except in the case where you disclose that you are currently being subjected to physical or sexual abuse. There may also be some cases where the counsellor receives information about a self-harm or suicide risk, or that a crime may be committed and the counsellor is then required to report to Child Protection or Police. Your counsellor will talk with you in your first session about their obligations, and will let you know if they need to contact the necessary services. This confidentiality also means that your counsellor will not give information to your parents or school unless you have given permission for this to happen.

As a victim/survivor of sexual assault, you may choose to make a statement to the police about what you have experienced. The police may then investigate what you have told them, and question the offender. In some cases the offender will be charged and it will go to court.

Tactics offenders may use to sexually assault someone

Studies of sexual offenders have found that deliberate tactics are often used to select victims and engage them in sexual abuse. This is described as the grooming process. Sexual offenders have often claimed to identify vulnerable children – for example, those who are less able to tell about the abuse, or who are unhappy or needy.

There are a number of specific techniques that offenders use to mask their behaviour prior to the assault, as well as during and after the assault. Many deliberately establish themselves as the kind of person you wouldn’t suspect to be a sex offender because they are ‘too nice’ or an upstanding person in the community who helps a lot of people out. This is a powerful tactic as it allows offenders to become embedded in a community and be involved in a number of socially responsible activities such as youth groups, churches, and schools, which can give the offender access to a number of potential victims without ever being suspected.

Sexual offenders recruit children by establishing a trusting relationship, for example spending time with them and listening to them. They may treat the child as ‘special’, giving them presents and compliments. Offenders also use gifts and trickery to manipulate and silence the child into keeping the sexual assault a secret. This treatment can isolate the child from siblings, friends or parents. The offender may also establish a trusting relationship with the family and friends of a child, in order to have access to the child alone. When they have obtained the trust of the child and family it makes it much easier for the offender to sexually abuse the child.

Sexual offenders also use coercion to gain access to their victims. They may send emails, letters, text messages or say to you that if you don’t have sex with him that he will hurt you, tell other people things about you, or even threaten to hurt those close to you. Sexual offenders don’t have to be older than you, they may be a boyfriend, friend at school or work, or even a relative.

Sexual offenders typically plan their sexual abuse of children and young people with care. They may gradually desensitise the child and violate their boundaries, for example, they may spend a lot of time with the child when he or she is bathing, dressing, or going to bed. They may kiss and hug the child a lot. There may be ‘accidental’ sexual touching, or sexual touching as a game. There may be talk about sex and sexual jokes as well as tickling, wrestling or being rough towards the child as a sign of affection. If the abuse isn’t stopped, the behaviour can progress to increasingly intimate acts.

Sexual offenders do and say many things to control a child’s silence about sexual assault, such as:

–          “It is a fun game played between lots of children and adults”

–          “Children are special and this is the way people who how special they are”

–          “I spoke to your mother and she said it was okay with her to let this happen”

–          “Your family won’t believe you and won’t love you anymore for saying and doing such bad things”

–          “If you tell anyone, you will be sent away, taken at night to a place where bad children go”

–          “You have been bad and this is your punishment”

–          “If you tell, worse things will happen to you or your family”

Sometimes children and young people who are being abused feel they have tried to tell, by hints or clues, or something they have said or done. Sometimes they just feel that it must be obvious to others what is happening, especially if it is in the family. If no one appears to be doing anything to stop it, it can seem as if it is okay.

Where to find help

Laurel House provides free and confidential counselling and information for all people affected by rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, or child abuse in the 63 and 64 telephone regions of Tasmania. We also have a number of information packages and books that may assist you. If you would like to make an appointment to speak with a counsellor at Laurel House, please call Laurel House (North) on 6334 2740, Laurel House North-West on 6431 9711, or email counsellors@laurelhouse.org.au

If you do decide to make an appointment to see someone at Laurel House, your first visit may seem scary. If you are worried, you have the choice to only speak to a counsellor on the phone or by email until you are ready to come in to see someone, and you are welcome to bring and friend or support person with you to your appointments if this will help you to feel more comfortable.

Remember

–          Sexual assault is always the offender’s fault, never yours

–          It is against the law for anyone to force another person to have sex, or to participate in any sexual act, regardless of age, gender, cultural and religious beliefs.

–          Sexual assault is not uncommon. It is a crime experienced by women, children and men. You are not alone.

–          Every child has the right to be sage.

–          Every adult has the responsibility to protect children.