Sexual assault is any type of forced sexual contact or behavior that happens without consent. It doesn't always take physical force to sexually assault a victim, because attackers can use threats or intimidation to make a victim feel afraid and intimidated.
We know that within the past year, sexual assault awareness has become a highlighted problem in many college campuses, so we spoke to Sexual Assault Attorney, Jessica Pride, and asked her some questions about sexual assault.
Consent is a hot topic this year, and people want to know how consent applies to physical relationships.
What does consent mean?
Consent is when both parties agree on some part of a sexual encounter, sexual intercourse, or making out. Each act within the sexual encounter also needs to be consented to. Consenting to oral sex doesn't mean you consent to sexual intercourse. The agreement to participate in sexual activity has to be clear and consent has to be done when the person is of sound mind. As a rule of thumb - if you are too drunk to drive, you are too drunk to give consent. If the person is acting afraid or just lying there, then that is not consent!
The news has exposed assault and rape cases that appear to be minimized on some university campuses. Why do you think some universities don't "acknowledge" rape cases? And what can we do to make them accountable?
Universities are getting better with the passage of new legislation like "Yes Means Yes" and the "It's On Us" campaign. Title IX coordinators and first responders are becoming better educated and the student body is receiving education about sexual assault and the resources available to victims. Education is the key, and what better place for that to take place than on a college campus.
The past and current rape culture are partly to blame for the way rape cases are handled. We've grown up in an environment where we're so focused on the victim – what did Michelle do wrong? What was she wearing? Why was she there? – instead of focusing on the person who raped Michelle. Sleeping around is a part of our cultural conversation, and now we're adding to it by stating that being drunk is not consent.
We have to change the cultural views of rape. There has to be a shift from being bystanders that sit around and watch sexual assaults occur around us to being upstanders who intervene to stand up against rape. A change in culture will force institutions like universities to address all sexual assault and rape cases with the appropriate level of seriousness.
How can we start changing the cultural conversation about consent? And what can students do to feel safe on campus?
Educate yourself and share what you learned with your friends. Practice the buddy system. Don't be a bystander, be an "upstander." Walk together and don't leave your friend behind. If you see something happening, just step in and say "that's not cool" and do something about it. If you don't know the person, ask the person, "Where are your friends – can I help you connect with them?" Take an active role.
Don't leave your drink unattended. Don't let strangers make you a drink at a party. If someone offers to buy you a drink at a bar, take the drink directly from the bartender. Take part in social media campaigns such as "It's On Us" or "WheelsForHer" to speak out about rape and the importance of consent. It's a great way to show your support. One in four college girls will be the victim or attempted victim of sexual assault by the time they finish college.
That means it's one of your friends, it's your roommate, it's your sister, it's your girlfriends who are the victims. Support them and help protect them by bringing awareness to this horrible epidemic. I encourage young people to take part in this important movement.
Should a student go to a university first or the police?
This is a very good question. It depends on the student because if they call the police, then the student's report will be public record, and the police will have to do an investigation. Please note that a victim's identity is protected. If the student calls the campus police, they have the option to take a confidential exam. Be aware that if the student chooses to call the campus police, the campus police will then ask the victim if they want to call law enforcement. It's the victim's decision to determine what type of justice they seek.
In some cases, if the victim has a class with the person who hurt them, I would recommend that the student go to the campus police so accommodations can be made to prevent future contact.
A lot of people say that race/privilege had something to do with Turner's conviction, do you agree?
The judge said that he didn't want to ruin Brock Turner's life. What about her life? Her life was damaged. (The outcome outrages me still.) While people may try to use race/privilege as associated factors in this case, the sad simple truth is that our society is still coming to terms with sexual assault and violence against women. We're progressing, but we still have a long way to go.
How can I help a rape victim that is blaming herself?
Educate yourself and talk to someone who is in the industry (a counselor, victim advocate, rape crisis center employee, Title IX coordinator, etc.). 80% of sexual assault cases involve the use of alcohol. Just because you consented to drink doesn't mean you consented to have sex. A victim is never responsible for unwanted sexual intercourse.
What can victims do to get justice? What advice do you have for victims on how to empower themselves?
Although it may be daunting and challenging, with the right support, I believe victims can empower themselves by speaking out and having a voice through the court system. From a legal standpoint, there are several ways to get justice after a horrible event. Most people think that they can only get justice from criminal court. You can, however, also recover for your pain and suffering in civil court.
Regardless of whether a victim obtains justice in criminal court, a victim can still seek justice in civil court. One of the advantages of pursuing justice in civil court is that only 51% of the jury has to believe the victim. In criminal court, the jury must be unanimous. Therefore, it's much easier to gain validation and receive financial compensation in civil court.
Often, the financial compensation victims receive from civil suits may be used to get therapy and medical treatment for long-lasting injuries and, with time, be used to move forward with their lives. Overall, civil suits can help victims recover from past trauma, gain empowerment by making their voices heard, and obtain justice.
In your opinion, is society making any progress on the issue of sexual assault? Is society changing the way people treat victims, the number of rapes on college campuses, etc.?
I think it's wonderful that outlets like social media help foster a constructive dialogue and bring awareness about the widespread problem of sexual assault – particularly on college campuses. Mainstream news outlets also regularly cover the topic of sexual assault and widely denounce sexual predators, which I believe indicates cultural progress on the topic of sexual assault.
It appears that, for the most part, our society has finally started to recognize that there is a problem with the high rate of sexual assault on college campuses and in our communities. I work hard to get justice for my clients, and I am proud that victims' rights are getting the recognition that they should. This is my passion and what my firm represents.
If you have been a victim of sexual assault, child sexual abuse, or workplace sexual harassment we are here to answer your questions, provide a free and confidential case evaluation, and connect you to resources. By contacting us, you consent to receive marketing communications and other advertisements from The Pride Law Firm.
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