Sexual violence refers to sexual activity that occurs when consent is not obtained or freely given from both parties who are involved. It happens in every state but can be prevented through a variety of prevention measures that focus on increasing protective factors and decreasing risk factors. This can be done at the individual, relationship, community, and societal level.
Protective factors can eliminate risk in individuals, families and communities by increasing their health and well-being.
Examples of protective factors include:
- Nonviolent problem-solving skills (individual)
- Empathy (individual)
- Connection to a caring adult (relationships)
- Connection/commitment to school (relationships)
- Teaching healthy masculinity (community)
- Coordination of services among community (community)
Risk factors, on the other hand, can increase risk in individuals, families, and communities by decreasing their health and well-being.
Examples of risk factors include:
- Violent problem-solving skills (individual)
- Empathetic deficits (individual)
- No connection to a caring adult (relationships)
- Association with sexually aggressive, hypermasculine, or delinquent peers (relationships)
- Societal norms that support sexual violence (community)
- Cultural norms that support aggression (community)
- Societal norms that support male superiority and sexual entitlement; maintain women’s inferiority and sexual submissiveness (community)
Sexual violence is a sex act—completed or attempted—against a victim's will or when a victim is unable to consent due to age, illness, disability, or the influence of alcohol or other drugs. It may involve actual or threatened physical force, use of guns or other weapons, coercion, intimidation or pressure. Sexual violence also includes intentional touching of the genitals, anus, groin, or breast against a victim's will or when a victim is unable to consent.
Sexual violence can be verbal, visual, or anything that forces a person to join in unwanted sexual contact or attention. Examples of this are voyeurism (when someone watches private sexual acts), exhibitionism (when someone exposes him/herself in public), and incest (sexual contact between family members). There are several different forms of sexual violence including: sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and sexual assault.
Sexual harassment is defined as any unwelcome verbal and physical sexual attention. Some examples of sexual harassment include: unwanted touching, sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, verbal harassment of a sexual nature, exposing oneself, and unwanted sexually explicit digital communication (i.e. photos, emails, texts). This type of harassment typically occurs in the workplace or a learning environment and is directed towards an individual or group of people.
Sexual abuse is sexual activity that occurs without consent and involves a breach of trust. This kind of abuse repeats itself or occurs over a long period of time. One example of sexual abuse is between a minor and an adult. By Montana law, minors cannot consent to sexual activity before the age of 16, so any sexual activity that occurs (e.g. fondling, forced masturbation, producing pornographic images of children, intercourse) is illegal.
Sexual assault is any sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim. It includes all attempted or completed acts. Some of forms of sexual assault are: fondling, sexual touching, forced oral or anal sex, incest, child molestation, rape and more. Unlike sexual abuse, this type of assault usually occurs only one time by an individual or group of perpetrators.
Rape is defined as the penetration of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by another person’s sex organ, without the victim’s consent. It is a common form of sexual assault and can be committed in a variety of situations: on a date, by a friend or an acquaintance, or by a stranger. Often rape involves impairment of the victim by alcohol or “date rape” drugs which can be slipped into a drink when a victim is not looking. Attackers use date rape drugs to make a person unable to resist assault. These drugs can also cause memory loss, so the victim doesn’t know what happened.
Rape and sexual assault are never the victim’s fault — no matter where or how it happens.
Stalking is another behavior of concern that is directed towards an individual and causes them to be fearful. This behavior is often a pattern of repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, non-consensual communication, and other conducts (e.g. making threats, following someone, watching them from a distance). It is one method of exercising power and control over another person.
(Adapted from https://www.rainn.org/ and http://www.womenshealth.gov/.)
Domestic violence is another form of abuse where one partner uses a behavior pattern to maintain power and control in an intimate relationship. In this case, the abusive partner may physically harm (e.g. punch, slap, kick), emotionally abuse (e.g. insult, blame), arouse fear in (e.g. threats and intimidation), restrict the freedom of (e.g. economic deprivation) or force desired behaviors on their partner (e.g. sexual abuse and coercion). It can occur in past or present relationships between dating partners, spouses, and family members.
(Adapted from http://mcadsv.com/.)
One form of physical abuse that is often seen in these cases is strangulation. Strangulation occurs when one partner blocks the air passageways of their partner or family member. In 2017, Montana wrote strangulation into the law as a felony (MT Legislation). Research has shown that murder may be the next step after strangulation, so this crime must be taken seriously.
Affirmative consent occurs by continual, enthusiastic “yes” by all partners engaging in sexual activity. The continual part of this definition means that any partner can stop or change their mind at any time during sexual activity. In addition, just because someone said yes to one sexual act, that does not mean they have consented to other sexual acts. The other essential part of this definition is enthusiasm. All partners engaging in sexual activity must be as excited and into someone else’s enjoyment as much as they are excited and into their own enjoyment.
Legal consent cannot be given if a participant is:
- Under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol
- Being threatened, coerced, or manipulated
- Not mentally able to due to an illness or disability
- Not old enough to give legal consent (this varies by state, in Montana the legal age of consent is 16)
When a participant gives consent, they must understand what is going on, know what they want to do, have the choice to say yes or no, and be aware that they are giving consent. Their consent does not count towards future sexual activity. It can be withdrawn at any time, and all sexual activity must stop once consent has been withdrawn by a participant. Any sexual contact without consent, or that continues after consent has been withdrawn, is sexual assault or rape.
(Adapted from http://www.womenshealth.gov).
One important thing to be aware of is that the definitions for and laws that prohibit sexual assault, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and rape differ from state to state. The following link can be used to find Montana’s state laws regarding sexual violence and consent, as well as other states: https://apps.rainn.org/policy/.
Montana, despite its rural status, is not immune to sexual or domestic violence. Rape is acknowledged as one of the most under-reported crimes, so most experts see the numbers below as conservative estimates.
- 2016, 9.3% of Montanans said that someone had attempted to have sex with them after they said or showed that they didn’t want to.1
- 8.9% of Montanans said that someone had completed sex with them after they said or showed that they didn’t want to.2
- the number of rape crimes has increased 34% since 2010.3
- 2010-2012, 24.1% of Montanans indicated that they were raped at some point in their lifetime, and 41.4% reported that they had experienced other sexual violence other than rape.4
- 2015, it is estimated that 7.0% of women aged 18 – 24 who gave birth were pushed, hit, slapped, kicked, choked, or physically hurt by their husband or partner while pregnant.5