To all who have been impacted by sexual violence, we are sorry it happened to you. We hope that by talking about sexual assault you might feel a little less alone on the harder days, and a little more able to reach out if and when you need help.
What Is Sexual Assault
We use the terms “sexual assault”, “sexual violence” and “sexual abuse” interchangeably to refer to a broad range of sexual behaviours towards another person, which are unwanted or where the person is unable to give consent.
Sexual assault includes rape, sexual harassment, indecent assault, inappropriate touching, forced pregnancy, forced abortion or sterilisation (including influencing decisions around gender affirmation), child pornography (coerced involvement or forced to view), sexual assault as a child, genital mutilation, and the non-consensual sharing of intimate images.
Sexual violence includes coercion and threats by intimate partners or others.
Despite the reality of a “rape culture” embedded in society at large, rape is not cultural or acceptable.
In the LGBTQ+ communities, we can still nurture a culture of sex positivity without jeopardising people’s sexual safety.
Sexual Assault Terminology
We use the terms “victim” and “survivor” interchangeably. Victim because many acts of sexual violence are crimes that can have serious impacts, and sexual assault is a serious crime.
Survivor is more the language of therapists, or the place a victim of crime has reached in their journey where they feel they have regained some choice and autonomy back in their lives.
We are often told that the word ‘rape’ is too confronting and that we should use something less harsh to describe this crime. In reality, we should be confronted by rape. It is serious and it harms those who are victims. We cannot make something terrible not so, and we do not want to minimise violence by choosing words that may be more palatable but do not speak to the seriousness of the act.
The Language You Use
Sexual assault is traumatic, as it is a definite traumatic experience or series of experiences. Sexual assault is an abuse of power that takes control away from the victim.
Support for someone who has been sexually assaulted aims to give the power back to the victim. Sexual assault is one of the few crimes where silence can be part of the impact of the trauma. It is due to this silence that self-blame and shame can have long lasting effects on a person’s life. Just as we do not always have the words to describe the terrible events and atrocities that happen in the world, to those around us, and to us personally, those who are impacted by sexual violence can find it hard to find the words to say what has happened to them. However, this does not mean that being sexually assaulted has not hurt them.
For this reason, it is important to be aware of the language we use when speaking about sexual violence. We encourage you to try to find the words to talk about what has happened, and the language to describe its impacts on victim’s/survivor’s lives. This allows those affected by sexual violence to begin to put the pieces of their life back together in a way that honours who they are and what they have lived through. At Say It Out Loud, we aim to use words that do not dilute the impact these experiences have had on people’s lives. Sexual assault, whilst common, should not be normalised.
The silence surrounding sexual violence must be broken, and by finding the right language through which we can discuss it, the power of shame and self-blame lose control over the lives of sexual violence survivors.