Editorial: Sexual assault comes in many forms — don't be afraid to talk, or listen

April is sexual assault awareness month, and though the month will come to an end this week, it’s never the wrong time to talk about it.

In fact, while theme months can be an important tool to raise consciousness of many challenges we face as fragile human beings, it is more a reminder to be aware all year long.

What is the difference between sexual violence and rape? Rape is a specific crime with a specific definition and legal process, as difficult as that process can be.

Sexual assault, as defined by the The Center for Sexual Assault Crisis Counseling and Education, includes a variety of ways to be victimized.

Those include sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, sexual contact, rape, incest statutory rape, child sexual abuse/assault, drug- or alcohol-facilitated sexual assault, and date, marital, partner or gang rape.

While there are sexual assaults that reach the criminal level and punishable by law, there are others that don’t. And sometimes those nagging feelings of discomfort leave one questioning themselves versus realizing they are being victimized.

These situations can include repeatedly aggressive and unwanted sexual contact. It can be the overtly sexual text messages received repeatedly and inappropriately after someone has been asked to stop.

It can be co-workers who loudly regale last night’s sexual conquests in detail over the water cooler.

It can be a memory of sleeping with someone in high school or college who manipulated you into it, and then betrayed your trust afterward to all your peers.

It can be not getting ahead in your job because you aren’t viewed as sexually attractive or available compared to another. Or it can be having your career successes written off by colleagues as attributed to your sexual attractiveness, or worse, what you might have done with it to get there.

Though April is almost over, it’s not too late to reinforce sexual assault comes in many forms and no ages are exempt from it. What these experiences all have in common is the person is left to feel victimized, uncomfortable, afraid, unsafe and often untrustworthy of others.

But what can we do to help?

If we are victims, we need to talk. And if we aren’t, we can — we need to — listen.

One of the hardest things for victims of sexual assault to do is taking that first step to reach out to others to talk — especially when the two (or more) people involved know each other. Our instinct — whether it's our friend, coworker, or family member — can be to hold our ears, cover our eyes, and keep the status quo. Often it is to blame the victim, or to hope they just “get over it.”

Trust me, no one wants that more than the victim of sexual assault — but it’s not that easy.

If you, or someone you your love has been the victim of sexual assault — it’s never too late to encourage them to talk. If it is on a criminal level or if you are not sure if it is on the criminal level, call the police.

If you are unsure, need help, or just need to talk, for yourself, or a loved one, the Center for Sexual Assault has a confidential help available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Call
203-329-2929 or 888-999-5545.

Sexual assault can be a painful and lonely prison — it is never too late to help, or to seek help to free our loved ones, or ourselves.