A Woman’s Guide to Being a Victim of Violence and Sexual Assault
In this guide:
- How does violence happen to women?
- How does sexual assault happen to women?
- How can a woman get to safety after a crime occurs?
- What can family and friends do to help a victim?
- Planning to safely leave
- Treating PTSD and Trauma
- Avoid Self-medication
- How can someone reduce their risk of being a victim?
Statistics and surveys compiled by the UN indicate that 35% of women worldwide have experienced physical and sexual intimate partner and non-intimate partner violence in their lives. In some national studies, that figure jumps to 70 percent.
Psychological abuse, while harder to pinpoint and report, is at 43% in the 28 European Union Member States. Nations with available data estimate that less than 40% of female victims of intimate partner violence report the crime or ask for help. Even more sobering, less than 10% of women seek help from the police in escaping violence.
The reasons for intimate partner violence are varied. Poverty, forced marriage and unwanted pregnancy, lack of available resources, opportunity and sex trafficking are all contributing factors.
Women and girls represent an estimated 71% of trafficked victims world-wide, and more than 750 million women and girls that are alive today have been forced into marriage before turning eighteen.
The most common perpetrators of sexual violence are current and past husbands or boyfriends, with one in ten women experiencing forced intercourse or sex acts from these intimate partners.
While most perpetrators of violence are known by the victim, women and girls are also subject to sexual harassment and unwanted advances from strangers. In Washington D.C., one in four women reported experiencing unwanted advances on public transportation based on a survey conducted as recently as 2015.
Certain factors may increase a woman’s risk of being a target. In a European Union study, 23% of women who identified as non-heterosexual experienced intimate partner violence from both male and female perpetrators.
In the United States, one in three women will be victims of intimate partner violence in their lifetimes. One in five American women will be raped.
The cost of intimate partner violence in the United States is more than 8.3 billion dollars per year. This accounts for lost productivity in the form of missed work days, criminal justice and court costs, mental, physical, and reproductive costs to the victims.
Fortunately, after grassroots efforts from healthcare officials, victims and their families, law enforcement and victim advocacy groups in the 1980s and 1990s, legislative aid in the form of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was passed in the United States house and senate in 1994. A year later, 1.6 billion dollars in funding was released to enact the law.
An independent analysis of VAWA six years after it was passed estimated that nearly 14.8 billion dollars was saved in averted social costs.
Since the passage of VAWA, organizations and contingency plans for escaping and prosecuting violence against women have been formulated. There are free resources available that help women (and male) victims escape domestic violence, abuse, and stalking. The bottom of this article will list these resources and hotlines.
While the statistics on a woman’s risk of experiencing intimate partner violence are grim, the remainder of this article will discuss the ways and means of avoiding such a fate, how to escape from violence, sexual abuse and rape, and who to turn to for help.
Because people lie.
When someone begins a relationship, both partners are on their best behavior. They want to impress their partner, and they want to be liked in return. Normal people do this because they crave intimacy, partnership, or even just the euphoria and thrill of love. They want people to like them because they want companionship. Abnormal people, those who abuse, have an entirely different agenda when seeking out a romantic partner.
People like to seduce their partners for the sole purpose of winning their trust in order to later manipulate them for nefarious and selfish ends. It could be to financially trap them, or to have someone as a captive audience for the abuser’s supposed greatness.
An abusive personality will break down the victim emotionally and psychologically long before they ever resort to physical violence or even rape. This is to beat down the victim’s resolve, to get them to question reality through gaslighting, and to keep them on edge and relying on the abuser for their grip on reality.
After this (rather predictable) cycle has commenced and the victim’s sense of reality and trust is thoroughly shattered, the physical abuse starts. Now the victim is terrified for their life and well-being, and on top of this, the abuser often engages in a very ramped-up effort of gaslighting to get the victim to believe that they are indeed the cause of the abuse and they deserve such treatment.
“If you’d just stop nagging, I wouldn’t hit you. Why do you always put me down?” is often how gaslighting works.
All the while this is happening, the abuser is triangulating the victim in an effort to keep them isolated, or to think no one can or will help them. Sometimes, the abuser will steal from the victim or force them to stop working (or get the victim pregnant so they cannot work). This only serves to worsen the victim’s feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
Not only that, but the abuser will even go so far as to threaten the victim if they ever leave. They may threaten to take the children away, kill the victim, or hurt one of their family members or loved ones.
This form of psychological warfare that the abuser perpetrates on the victim is often the reason why victims do not leave.
According to CDC statistics, over half of all victims were raped by an intimate partner. Over twelve percent of rapists were family members, forty percent were acquaintances, and only fourteen percent were strangers.
Women sexually assaulted by intimate partners also experience more violence perpetrated along with the assault compared to those assaulted by strangers.
Date rape is when a perpetrator knowingly drugs a victim against their will in order to sexually assault them. Date rape drugs are odorless, colorless, and fast acting. They are often put into a victim’s drink while they are unaware.
These drugs will cause the victim to become weak, confused, or even cause them to pass out, effectively nullifying the victim’s right to consent. Common date rape drugs include GHB, ketamine, and rohypnol. Ketamine and GHB are both legal in the United States.
Do not accept open containers from anyone in a dating, bar, or club scene. Do not leave a drink unattended.
How can a woman get to safety after a crime occurs?
In issues of domestic violence and abuse, call the police or the domestic violence hotline, open 24/7. Trained professionals can guide victims to shelters and resources when escaping domestic abuse.
If a victim has been injured, seek medical attention. Document everything, take photographs, and gather evidence. Abusers will otherwise deny and gaslight and even convince authorities that the abuse never occurred if documentation and evidence cannot be produced.
In cases of date rape, if a victim suspects they’ve ingested a date rape drug, call the police, and seek medical attention immediately.
Since the passage of VAWA, every county in the United States has an office dedicated to issues regarding domestic violence and abuse. A victim can seek an order of protection from abuse to be put in place against the perpetrator.
An order of protection from abuse is free to obtain and is effective immediately. This order prevents the perpetrator from getting within a certain number of feet of the victim and prohibits them from communicating in any way with the victim. If the perpetrator violates the order, they are subject to criminal charges and jail time.
Anyone can be put under a protection from abuse order. If a victim has children or family members who also fear for their safety, they can be listed in the order, too.
After an order is issued, a hearing is scheduled ten days from issuance. At the hearing, both sides can present evidence and testimony for why or why not the order should be kept in place permanently or dismissed. This is one of the many reasons why it is so important for the victim to document evidence.
What can family and friends do to help a victim?
Victims are often confused, scared, and under the mistaken impression (thanks to the abuser) that no one will help them. Watching a loved one undergo the trauma and anguish of violence and abuse is difficult and painful. Friends and family may be afraid of angering the abuser and making things worse for the victim. Abusers thrive in an environment of fear and ignorance, but there are effective ways to help victims without causing additional damage.
Always offer support and understanding.
Do not blame the victim. The victim already feels guilty and is already afraid no one will support them.
Speak to them confidentially and do not confront the abuser directly.
Be careful to approach the victim when the abuser is not present in any way. Support their choices, let them know they are not crazy, and offer them tangible resources to get away.
Offer the victim a tangible means of escape.
Abusers will often cut off a victim’s ability to communicate with anyone who can help and support them. Giving the victim a prepaid phone with abuse hotlines on speed dial is a way to empower them to seek safety without tipping-off the abuser.
Planning to safely leave
Reaching out to abuse hotlines or filing an order of protection can help the victim safely leave the abuser. Trained professionals and therapists are available through the hotlines to help victims formulate a plan to completely sever ties with the perpetrator. This may include consulting an attorney in cases where the perpetrator is a spouse or if children are involved. Victims will often need financial support from family and friends until they can get back on their feet.
Treating PTSD and Trauma
Victims of domestic violence, abuse, and rape are often left with long-lasting emotional wounds from the ordeal. PTSD and other trauma-related mental health issues are common in survivors. Domestic abuse hotlines and officials at women’s shelters can help guide victims toward receiving therapy and medical attention for any lingering emotional and mental health issues from the abuse. Life-long recovery is indeed possible.
Sufferers of trauma-related mental health conditions will sometimes use drugs and alcohol to ease their symptoms. This is called self-medication. Victims need to be in a supportive, safe environment to be monitored for these conditions. Therapy and support from friends and loved ones can help victims avoid self-medicating and make their problems worse.
It is never the victim’s fault, but there are ways to reduce the risk of becoming one. In cases of date rape and sexual assault, never travel alone. Do not leave a drink unattended. Be assertive and state boundaries. Never be afraid of appearing ‘rude’ or ‘stuck-up’ if the situation is uncomfortable or seems ‘off.’ Leave, and leave quickly if this is the case.
It is important for people to trust their gut instincts. With abusive personalities, the red flags are always there from the very beginning. Being educated about these things and listening to any alarm bells that may go off in a dating relationship is key to avoiding these dangerous situations.
If you or a loved one are experiencing domestic abuse, please reach out to any of the following resources:
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE)
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673 (HOPE)
National Human Trafficking Resource Center: 1-888-373-7888 | Text: HELP to BeFree (233733)
National Resource Center on Domestic Violence: 1-800-537-2238
National Center on Domestic Violence, Abuse, and Mental Health: 1-312-726-7020 ext. 2011
Futures without Violence: 1-888-792-2873
Don’t hesitate to call the police if a crime has been committed, or to seek medical attention. Remember, anyone can receive a protection from abuse order from the Court of Common Pleas in the county in which they reside.
This guide is intended to be informational. If you are considering help for you or your loved one and would like more information, please consult a medical professional or licensed treatment facility