Murphy: Sexual assault myths and facts (column)
April 15, 2017
Advocates for Victims of Assault, Inc. started as a grass-roots organization in 1979. One of the first victim service organizations in Colorado, "Advocates" provides holistic services to victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and assault. Advocates not only provides safe housing to victims, we also provide advocacy, legal advocacy in both the civil and criminal court systems, and access to local counselors and mental health providers.
Our community outreach efforts are designed to impact all residents of Summit County. You are the members of our community that comprise our local juries and, in many cases, decide whether someone is convicted or acquitted of a criminal allegation.
April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month and there is no better time to reach out to you, our jurors, to attempt to break down myths and negative connotations associated with sexual assault that often contribute to stigma, victim blame and lack of reporting. While we cannot cover all aspects of this traumatic crime, nor do we expect you to read them over your morning coffee, we have provided information on some of the most pervasive myths regarding sexual assault.
Myth: Sexual assault occurs in dangerous places by strangers.
Truth: Individuals known to the victim perpetrate 80-90 percent of sexual assaults. In a recent study by the National Institute of Justice, survivors of rape knew their attackers as fellow classmates (35.5 percent), friends (34.2 percent), boyfriends or ex- boyfriends (23.7 percent), acquaintances (2.6 percent). Sex offenders reported having committed the sex crime at either their residence or at the victim's residence 85 percent of the time.
Myth: Once consent is given, a person cannot take it back.
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Truth: Providing consent for sex or any sexual act in the past does not constitute consent for sex or any sexual act in the future. A person has the right to refuse or revoke consent at any time. If consent is withdrawn, you must stop sexual contact immediately.
Myth: If someone is sexually assaulted, they would report it immediately.
Truth: Sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes in the nation. Rape victims do not report their victimization to legal authorities 85 percent of the time. Even in the small percentage of cases where a report to law enforcement is made, victims most commonly initially report to a family member or trusted friend. Many factors create barriers to delay or prevent victims from reporting altogether. These factors include fear that others will find out, including friends and family, fear of their identity being made public, embarrassment and shame, fear of retaliation from the assailant, fear of social isolation, fear that he or she will not be believed, and belief that the case will not be prosecuted or the perpetrator will not be held accountable. A victim may also just want to try to forget about what happened, which can be a symptom associated with psychological trauma.
Myth: You must say "no," if you do not consent to sexual contact.
Truth: If a person is too drunk or otherwise impaired to make decisions, they do not have the mental capacity to consent to sexual contact. Sex with a person who is asleep or unconscious is rape. Sexual assault can be, among other things, when a perpetrator causes the submission of another (by force), when a victim is incapable of appraising the nature of the victim's conduct, or when a victim is physically helpless and has not consented.
Myth: You cannot be sexually assaulted if you are drunk or under the influence of drugs.
Truth: Alcohol is the most commonly used drug to facilitate sexual assault. Alcohol and other drugs contribute to the vulnerability of victims. Alcohol decreases a victim's recall, willingness to report and ability to view the event as a sexual assault. Use of alcohol increases a victim's self-blame and may even impact how witnesses view an assault.
Myth: There is a high instance of false reporting of sexual assault.
Truth: Studies have shown that the instance of false reporting is no higher, and in many cases lower, than other crimes reported to law enforcement.
Advocates for Victims of Assault is partnering with the Forensic Nurse Exam Program and Colorado Mountain College for the "Clothesline Project," an educational outreach event that provides a platform for survivors of sexual violence to share their story. If you or anyone you know has been personally affected by sexual violence or want to show your support to survivors, please join us at CMC Breckenridge on Tuesday, April 11, 18, and 25 in classroom 135 from 5-8 p.m. where we will have T-shirts available for the project and a drop box. For any questions please contact Jessica Goncalves at VISTA@summitadvocates.org.
AVA is also partnering with Saint Anthony's Summit Medical Center to implement the Safe Bars Project and Stand Up Colorado. Safe Bars trains staff employed in alcohol-serving establishments to recognize and respond to incidents of sexual harassment and assault using a fresh and innovative curriculum. Through a partnership with the Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence, AVA is a campaign pilot site for Stand Up Colorado a statewide, collaborative multi-year domestic violence prevention campaign.
Braden served as a Deputy District Attorney in all counties of the Fifth Judicial District from 2007 until 2012. He is currently the Legal Advocate for Advocates for Victims of Assault, Inc. and has practiced law privately since 2012, focusing on victims' rights.