Sexual Harassment, Sexual Assault & Rape: What’s the difference?
The #Metoo movement has brought a great deal of attention to how women in the United States are treated. Victims around the country have had the courage to speak out against men and shared stories that fall along a spectrum ranging from distasteful to horrifying. I applaud every woman who has spoken out and shared her story and dream of a day when women everywhere can feel comfortable and safe around those with power.
Since I personally focus on trauma and anxiety and at least half of my caseload is between the ages of 15 and 30 years old, it’s not surprising that many of my clients come in having experienced sexual assault or rape. My clients feel traumatized and anxious in settings they used to be comfortable. It often feels like news stories leave these victims lumped in with people whose boss makes inappropriate and offensive remarks in the office. While neither a rape nor a sexualized comment is ok in the workplace, there is a difference in the severity and this has led me to research the differences along the spectrum of sexual offenses.
Defining Sexual Harassment, Assault & Rape
Every source I’ve found has described sexual harassment as being linked to a work or educational setting. Sexual harassment often takes the form of sexual advances, requests for sexual favors or repeatedly making comments of a sexual nature. These behaviors make it difficult for a person to function in the environment. On the other hand, RAIN (https://www.rainn.org/articles/sexual-assault) defines sexual assault as, “sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim,” and gives examples including attempted rape, unwanted sexual touching, forcing a victim to perform sexual acts (i.e. oral sex or penetrating the perpetrator’s body). In Missouri, sexual abuse refers to any sexual contact (including touching all “private” areas even if through clothes) when the person is incapacitated, can’t consent, by force or without that person’s consent therefore making sexual assault illegal.
In Missouri, rape is defined as sexual intercourse (penetration of a vagina by a penis, even if slight or without emission) with a person who’s incapacitated, incapable of consent, by force (includes date rape drugs) or with someone they know doesn’t consent.
Next week I’ll share some tips for how parents or other adults can help prepare young women for a world where these things occasionally take place by providing education, demonstrating respect and teaching that it is ok to ask for help among other things.
Counseling After Trauma
Sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape can all leave a person to feeling confused, alone and scared. Everyone reacts and recovers differently based on their previous experiences, frequency or severity, relationship with the perpetrator or personality. However, it’s not uncommon for a victim to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). If you or a loved one is having difficulty after moving forward after sexual violence, please reach out and ask for help. You don’t have to live with anxiety, depression, PTSD or nightmares. There are effective treatments and I would be happy to talk to you about how we can help you move forward. E-mail or call me today.
Other Resources you may find helpful:
About the Author
Jessica is a therapist in and the founder of Aspire Counseling in Columbia, MO. She specializes in helping teens, college students & adults who feel stuck in the past and held back by the negative experiences they’ve endured. I have several very skilled therapists that I work with who also believe in your power to find healing from their past and reclaim your life. If you would like to speak to us about how counseling might help you move beyond surviving and toward thriving, please contact Aspire Counseling by e-mail or by calling 573-328-2288. You don’t have to stay stuck. Healing starts here.