Sexual assailants most often known by or relative of victim
The words “sexual assault” usually conjure up a picture of violent crime committed by a stranger in a dark alley.
But the fact is most sexual assaults against women, men or children are committed by someone known or related to the victim, said Carole O’Brien of the Advocate Safehouse Project in Glenwood Springs.
Sexual assault, in the form of marital rape, date rape and child sexual abuse, are a community problem, said Judy Martin, coordinator of the Ninth Judicial District’s Victim Witness Assistance Program.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month in Colorado. It is estimated that 11,000 women, men and children are victims of sexual assault each year in Colorado.
“Preventing sexual violence requires that everyone in the community believe that sexual assault is not an individual problem. We must talk about the issue in our homes, places of worship, workplaces and schools,” Martin said. “We must become a part of the effort to halt this epidemic.
“Marital, or partner sexual assault, like all other forms of sexual assault, is an act of violence used to gain power and control over a partner,” she said. “When a woman is sexually assaulted by a stranger, she lives with the experience for the rest of her life. When a woman is sexually assaulted by her husband, she lives with her assailant.”
In fact, states are only just coming around to recognizing marital sexual assault. Exclusions in Colorado rape law exempting men from prosecution in sexual assault against their wives was finally removed in 1988, O’Brien said.
Young women in their 20s are considered the most vulnerable to sexual assault, especially girls in their first semester of college, O’Brien said. For many, it is their first time away from home and away from the supervision and protection of their parents.
“A girl is most at risk from the time her parents drop her off at college until the time she comes home for the holidays,” she said.
It’s important for parents to understand that if their daughter is sexually assaulted, “it’s not her fault,” she said.
Reactions of anger, helplessness and guilt are normal.
“It’s important for the family to be aware of that and try to be supportive,” O’Brien added.
Even if the girl was drinking or taking drugs at the time of the assault, “it’s not what she did, but what was done to her,” that matters, O’Brien said.
Boys can be in danger of sexual assault as well.
“We warn girls about `stranger danger,’ but boys can be victimized as well,” she said.
Young children are also very vulnerable to sexual abuse.
According to Julie Goodell, coordinator of the sexual abuse program at the Garfield County Department of Social Services, parents can protect their children from sexual assault.
Parents should be alert to signs of sexual abuse including depression, sleep problems, secretiveness, anger, anxiety and problems with sexuality, she said.
“We are the eyes and ears of our children. Perhaps the most critical child sexual prevention strategy for parents and child care providers is good communication with your children,” she said.
She also pointed out that all people who work with children are required by law to report suspected abuse.
Anyone who suspects a case of child abuse should call child protective services at the Garfield County Department of Social Services, 625-5282 or 945-9191.
“Until we are able to believe survivors, talk about issues surrounding sexual assault, and come together to take action against this crime, we will be unable to continue to change the attitudes that have made this crime so acceptable to so many,” O’Brien said.
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