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The Appropriate Use of Sexual Violence Terms

What is Sexual Violence?

The #MeToo movement has brought many conversations about sexual violence and harassment to the forefront. While we theoretically understand that specific terms like sexual assault, sexual abuse, and rape are all terms that are used to describe sexual violence, it can be challenging to understand the differences of each and when reading an article, watching a news segment, or having a conversation about sexual violence. Here's a quick reference to help you get more familiar with the terms used to describe sexual violence.

Sexual Assault

Sexual assault refers to sexual contact or behaviors against another individual that has not given explicit consent. Some of the most common forms of sexual assault are:

  • Unwanted sexual touching
  • Forcing someone to perform sexual acts (oral sex or penetrating the perpetrator's body)
  • Penetration of a victim's body (rape)
  • Attempted rape

More specifically, rape is a form of sexual assault but not all sexual assault is rape. Rape means sexual penetration without consent. Force also doesn't necessarily mean physical pressure. The force of a sexual act can come in the form of phycological pressures and coercion such as threatening to hurt the victim or using other intimidation tactics such as threatening to disclose the victim's sexual orientation or threats to harm other family members.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse, also known as molestation, is abusive sexual behavior in which a perpetrator will use force, make threats, or take advantage of victims that cannot give consent. For example, children who don't understand what is happening to them may not know how to say no, stop the abuse from happening or tell their parents about the abuse. Typically someone who is sexually abused often knows their abuser. Sexual abuse may come in the following forms:

  • Exposing oneself to a minor
  • Fondling
  • Intercourse
  • Sending texts, phone calls, or any digital interaction of a sexual nature
  • Sharing pornographic images
  • Any contact of sexual nature with a child.

Other groups of people that are more vulnerable to sexual abuse are the elderly or persons who are mentally disabled.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment can include the following:

  • Unwanted pressure for sexual favors
  • Unwanted deliberate touching, cornering, or pinching
  • Unwanted sexual looks or gestures
  • Unwanted texts, letters, or phone calls of sexual nature
  • Unwanted pressure for dates
  • Unwanted teasing, jokes, remarks, or questions of a sexual nature
  • Calling adults names such as hunk, doll, babe, or honey
  • Whistling at someone in a sexual way
  • Sharing stories of a sexual nature.
  • Unwanted hugging, kissing, patting
  • Making sexual gestures with hands or body movements.

Other Phrases and Terms You Should Know

Victim vs. Survivor

The terms victim and survivor are often used interchangeably. However, the connotations of each are very different. When having a conversation with someone who has been sexually abused or assaulted, using survivor is a more empowering connotation to the person who has been abused. The term victim may be used in more legal settings or when authorities refer to an incident involving sexual violence.

Date Rape vs. Rape

According to RAINN, date rape is no longer a common term used. The reason why it's discouraged to use this term is that it can lead people to believe that date rape is less severe than rape. Statistics show that most survivors of sexual assault know their perpetrators. Instead, it's recommended to name the crime followed by information about the perpetrator. For example, you may say that someone was sexually assaulted by an intimate partner, or sexually abused by a teacher.

Helping Survivors Rebuild and Move Forward With Their Lives

Survivors of sexual assault and abuse have many fears about speaking out against their perpetrators. Survivors face many long-term challenges and suffer irreparable physical, emotional, and psychological damage. When you need help and support, The Zalkin Law Firm, P.C. is here for you. We believe you and are ready to guide you every step of the way.

Contact us today (800) 477-2989 to learn your rights.