By Munyale Kwabe
With the growing awareness of sexual violence all over the world, the month of April is declared worldwide as the ‘Sexual Assault Awareness Month’ and it is good that we talk about what sexual assault means. Now, it is important to note that sexual assault is a form, amongst the many forms of sexual violence.
What is Sexual Violence?
According to RAINN (2017) in simple terms, “sexual violence” is an all-encompassing, non-legal term that refers to crimes like sexual assault, rape, marital rape, child sexual abuse, drug facilitated sexual assault, prison rape, sexual harassment and sexual abuse.
What is Sexual Assault?
According to RAINN (2015) The term sexual assault refers to sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim. Some forms of sexual assault include:
- Attempted rape
- Fondling or unwanted sexual touching
- Forcing a victim to perform sexual acts, such as oral sex or penetrating the perpetrator’s body
- Penetration of the victim’s body, also known as rape
Wikipedia gives a more holistic definition. According to Wikipedia, Sexual assault is an act in which a person sexually touches another person without that person’s consent, or coerces or physically forces a person to engage in a sexual act against their will. It is a form of sexual violence which includes rape (forced vaginal, anal or oral penetration or drug facilitated sexual assault), groping, child sexual abuse or the torture of the person in a sexual manner.
Now that we have an understanding of what sexual assault is, the next question is why does it need awareness?
The Need for Awareness
- The Perpetrator: It is approximated that 7 out of 10 cases of sexual assault are carried out by people known by the victim. They could be family members, classmates, boyfriends/girlfriends, neighbours etc. This factor makes it ridiculously hard to fight this form of sexual violence in some communities. For instance, in some places in Nigeria, cases of rape are still treated and termed as family issues that should be sorted at home. This is why there is a need for awareness. It is time that issues regarding sexual assault is treated as a crime against humanity and as a crime against the state. We have treated cases where victims tell us about a relation that has assaulted them in the past but was told not to say anything because “You are not the only one it has happened to”. It used to be a norm for people to get sexually assaulted and laugh about it or bury their feeling, but those days are over now.
- The Environment: How can we achieve this awareness and make sure its effective? We need to study the environment. In systems theory, they teach us how the environment responds to different issues and how the output can ultimately determine the longevity of every policy. It is the job of our legislative to see the dire need for laws to protect everyone (man, women and child) from being sexually assaulted. The environment must be studied and educated. They should be taught on the damages sexual assault can do to the society. They should be made to understand that everyone is at risk and we must protect the society at all cost.
- Stigmatization: We as a people need to rise above the stigmatization that comes with being sexually violated. I was at a waiting room one day and i overheard some students pointing at a girl and saying “That is the girl that was rape”. The girl didn’t hear them but I did. This is why we need this awareness. We have to learn and unlearn so many misconceptions about sexual assault. We need to stop the stigmatization and see that those people affected are only victims to a heinous crime.
- The Victim: This I consider to be one of the major reasons why sexual awareness in needed all over the world. The victims need a safe, non-judgemental and protective space. One that doesn’t judge them, one that does not blame them, one that punishes their perpetrators and one that has their well being at heart. Many countries, including Nigeria has failed to give the victims what they need. This can be attributed to factors like religion, culture, status quo and basic societal norm. Once a parent told me “I don’t want to be known as the mother who let her child be raped”. In other words, I care about my name more than the well being of my child. The problem here is that most people don’t see the lasting effect of what sexual assault can do to the victim and this is why we need the Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
In the next piece, we would be looking at how you, as an individual can help in the Sexual Assault Awareness.