Every two minutes, someone in the United States becomes a victim of sexual assault. This amounts to a total of around 210,000 cases of sexual assault per year. Even more discouraging, over half of all incidents of sexual assault go unreported. In many cases, victims of sexual assault are too afraid or ashamed to seek help; they may also lack awareness of what forms sexual assault can take. They may believe that any act short of completed sexual intercourse does not meet the definition of sexual assault.
However, sexual assault is not limited to one specific act or scenario. There are a number of different types of sexual assault, and each carries profound and lasting impacts for those who experience any form of it. The following categories represent the most common types of sexual assault.
A Complete Sexual Act
A complete sexual act is typically defined as any form of sexual intercourse. Penetration of the vagina or anus by a foreign object would also fall into this category.
An Incomplete Sexual Act
If a perpetrator attempts penetration but does not succeed, this is considered an incomplete sexual act.
Abusive Sexual Contact
Abusive sexual contact is defined as any unwanted touching of the sexual areas of the body. This type of sexual assault can include injury to the private areas as well.
Sexual Abuse without Contact
Any form of sexual assault that does not involve actual physical touch would qualify as sexual abuse without contact. Some examples of sexual abuse without contact include exposing others to unwanted sexual images, nudity, or pornography, or verbally assaulting someone with sexually explicit terms or descriptions. Even the act of preventing a partner from using birth control or from taking measures to protect against sexually transmitted infections can be considered sexual abuse without contact. This may be the most poorly-recognized form of sexual assault, precisely because it does not involve touching or visible injury.
The effects of sexual assault are often devastating to those who experience it. Victims of sexual assault are at much greater risk for depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and drug and alcohol abuse than the average American. One of the most powerful tools we have against preventing sexual assault and all of its associated trauma is increased awareness. A key aspect of increased awareness is education regarding the various forms sexual assault can take, because so many victims don’t even realize that what’s happening to them is wrong and must not continue. Children are at a particular disadvantage because they are often easily manipulated or don’t know how to report what’s happening to them. Fortunately, education can go a long way toward helping children and adults to understand and avoid sexual assault in all its forms.