What is Sexual Violence?
Sexual violence is any type of unwanted sexual contact. This can include words and actions of a sexual nature against a person’s will. People may use force, threats, manipulation or coercion to commit sexual violence. Sexual violence can be committed without the knowledge or consent of the victim, or against a person who is unable to give consent.
Some forms of sexual violence may not be legally considered a crime, but this does not make the act(s) any less harmful.
There are many forms of sexual violence:
- Sexual Assault
- Child sexual assault
- Date and acquaintance rape
- Grabbing or groping
- Sexting without permission
- Ritual abuse
- Commercial sexual exploitation (Ex: Prostitution)
- Sexual Harassment
- Sexual or homophobic-based bullying
- Exposure and voyeurism
- Forced participation in the production or viewing of pornography
- Any other unwanted sexual act
In Maryland, the age of consent is 16 years old; thus, an individual is unable to give consent if they are less than 16 years of age. However, engaging in voluntary sexual intercourse or sexual acts with a victim who is less than 16 years of age is legal as long as the defendant is less than 4 years older than the victim.
Thus, it is legal for a 13-year-old to have voluntary sex or engage in voluntary sexual acts with a 16-year-old. It is illegal for a 15-year-old to have sex or engage in sexual acts with a 19-year-old.
Teens’ Experiences with Sexual Violence:
Sexual violence can happen at any age, but research has found that young adults may be at higher risk. A majority of women who had experienced rape reported the assault took place before they turned 25 and more than half said that it had taken place before they turned 18 (Black et al., 2011).
Sexual Violence and Dating:
During an online research study, 45 percent of girls said they know a friend or peer who has been pressured into having either vaginal or oral sex (Futures Without Violence, 2010).
Technology and Abuse:
Pressure from a dating partner or even friends can be reason to send sexy images or messages – 51 percent of young women who took a survey said they felt a lot of pressure from a guy they liked or were dating to send sexy pictures or texts (The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and CosmoGirl.com, 2008).
Sexual Harassment could include physical or unwanted touching, verbal harassment like unwelcome comments about your body and inappropriate jokes. Harassment can also be online or virtual through texts, social networking sites, or by other electronic sources. Almost half of students in a nationally representative survey said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment at school.
Asking for and Hearing a “Yes” Can Make All the Difference:
Society sends a lot of messages about sex and sexuality. Many of these messages are violent, manipulative, or harmful to both young women and young men. It is important to think carefully about these images and stories so that you can create healthy relationships and sexual experiences.
Sometimes alcohol is shown as a way to reduce anxiety around sex or help make sex happen. Using alcohol to make someone have sex with you is sexual assault. An estimated 90% of acquaintance rapes involve alcohol.
Consent means both people actively agree with what they are doing together. It is a mutual decision that both people make without any coercion or force. Consent is best recognized when it is verbal and when it shows a “yes” (or something like “sure!” or “please!”). After all, if you’re going to have sex, you should be able to talk about it!
Some ways you can practice consent:
- When you are with someone in a sexual way (even if it’s making out or kissing) be sure to ask them if they are feeling comfortable. This doesn’t have to be formal or stuffy, a simple “Are you OK with this?” works just fine.
- Waiting for a verbal “Yes” (or clear body language like nodding their head that tells you they feel good about the situation). Silence, a “No,” or physically resisting means things need to stop.
- When asked by someone you’re dating or hooking up with, be sure to answer honestly and verbally. They might not know about this kind of consent, so have a conversation ahead of time. Again, it doesn’t have to be a big deal, just a simple request between two people who respect and like each other.
Reactions and Feelings After an Assault:
If you have experienced the trauma of sexual violence, you could be going through a wide variety of emotions such as anger, sadness, or fear. It is normal to feel any number of things at any given time. It is very helpful for you to find someone you trust and who is knowledgeable in trauma to talk to. There is a rape crisis center in your community who has a counselor with the knowledge to help you.
What Can I Do to Prevent Sexual Violence?
Communication, even though it may be awkward or unwanted, is important. Having conversations about consent, healthy sexuality, and healthy relationships will give a teen some models to practice in their life. There are numerous online resources that can help adults have these conversations. You can also contact a local rape crisis center in your community for more information. Visit www.mcasa.org to learn more.
If a Teen Has Disclosed:
If you are not a parent or caregiver to the teen, be sure to communicate with the teen’s parent or caregiver in order to maintain trust and respect. Share resources, information, and remember to show support for the teen. Be honest to both the teen and the adults in that teen’s life about what can be kept private or confidential. Adults and communities have a responsibility to work together to create space where teens can be safe, respected, and successful.
Information from Sexual Violence: Teens & Their Communities by Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape
Black, M.C., Basile, K.C., Breiding, M.J., Smith, S.G., Wlaters, M.L., Merrick, M.T., Chen, J., & Stevens, M.R. (2011). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 summary report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Futures Without Violence (2010). Emerging issues facing tweens and teens. Retrieved from http://www.futureswithoutviolence.org/userfiles/file/Teens/Emerging_Issues_Facing_Teens_and_Tweens_FINAL.pdf
Hill, C., & Kearl, H. (2011). Crossing the line:SExual harassment at school. Washington, DC: American Association of University Women. Retrieved from http://www.aauw.org/learn/research/upload/CrossingTheLine.pdf
Howard, D.E. & Wang, M.Q. (2005). Psychosocial Correlates of U.S. Adolescents Who Report A History of Forced Sexual Intercourse. Journal of Adolescent Heath. 36, 372-379.
The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and CosmoGirl.com. (2008). Sex and tech: Results from a survey of teens and young adults. Retrieved from http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/sextech/PDF/SexTech_Summary.pdf.