April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

  • Published
  • By Capt. Katherine Connors
April is Sexual Assault Awareness month and I'd like to highlight a form of sexual assault that is a critical issue still affecting women and girls--acquaintance rape and its lack of prosecution.

While many of us tend to think of "stranger danger" and dark alleys when we think of rape, the reality is that acquaintance rapes account for more than 80 percent of all sexual assaults. The nature of acquaintance rape and society's reaction to it often present further problems for victims beyond coping with what happened to them.

Acquaintance rapes are the least frequently reported type of sexual assault and the hardest to prosecute. Often, the perpetrator of the assault claims the sexual contact was consensual, and there are usually no witnesses. The lack of "hard" evidence in acquaintance rape allegations results in many cases being thrown out by law enforcement agencies or prosecutors.

In addition to the issues with law enforcement, survivors of acquaintance rape suffer the same depression, grief and trauma as those who did not know their attackers. In spite of many public awareness campaigns over the last 20 years, acquaintance rape remains an issue across the country. In a survey of more than 6,000 students at 32 colleges and universities in the U.S., data showed that one in four women had been victims of rape or attempted rape and 84 percent of victims knew their attacker. Yet only five percent had reported it to the police. Women and girls will continue to be reluctant to come forward if these cases are not treated as a priority by law enforcement.

These examples and statistics underscore the critical importance of believing victims of acquaintance rape. Most victims of sexual assault are asked to recount the details of their assault several times--to medical staff, law enforcement officials, state's attorneys, and others--and each time can feel like reliving the assault all over again. The only way we can truly support victims of acquaintance rape is if we advocate for law enforcement officials to believe them. Otherwise, perpetrators of this type of sexual assault will never have to face consequences for their actions, and they will be more likely to assault in the same way again.

So, this Sexual Assault Awareness Month, let's all commit to being advocates for victims of sexual assault in any form. At the Connecticut National Guard, let's all rally around this important message, "I believe you."

Some perpetrators use force to commit a sexual assault, others rely on drugs and/or alcohol to debilitate the people they assault. The most common and prevalent date rape drug is alcohol. Among 18-24 yr-olds, it is estimated that almost half of all sexual assaults experienced take place under the influence of alcohol.

The use of drugs and/or alcohol in sexual assaults clearly shows how sexual assaults are often planned and premeditated events. Perpetrators use drugs and/or alcohol to incapacitate their victims, ensuring that they will not be able to resist the assault. In addition, assailants know that victims, who have used drugs and/or alcohol, may have difficulty recalling events in sufficient detail to assist in the investigation and prosecution of these cases. Perpetrators also know that victims who have engaged in the use of drugs and/or alcohol may have their credibility questioned should their case go to trial. Or, the victim may not be willing to report for fear punishment for collateral misconduct.

We may not be able to stop sexual assault, but we can and will support the victim. Connecticut has taken a lead in providing victim services. The Connecticut National Guard has eight Air Victim Advocates, and 42 Army Victim Advocates and our Sexual Assault Response Coordinators (SARCs) have helped train VAs from many other states. 

Additionally, The Department of Defense has joined forces with the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) to create a full-time, professionally manned, 24/7 helpline and website: 877-995-5247, https://safehelpline.org/. Both are secure and completely confidential.