April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but we shouldn’t limit our conversation around sexual violence to one month in the year. 1 in 5 women will experience sexual assault in their lifetime. Intimate partner violence is the most common form of sexual, emotional and physical abuse and more than 10 million cases per year are reported in the U.S. from both women and men.
Intimate partner sexual violence often goes undetected because as a society we assume that all sexual engagement in a partnership is consensual. This form of sexual assault is preventable and it starts with education around the act.
No means no in relationships
It’s easy to think that being in a romantic relationship creates automatic consent. That’s why when we hear about sexual abuse between partners, we often don’t believe it. But you are always in change of what happens to your body and have the right to say no at any time.
Women who experience sexual abuse from a partner are often good at hiding signs. The abuser may resort to reproductive and sexual coercion to maintain control over their partner. This can interfere with the intimate health of the person being abused, including unwanted pregnancies, transmission of sexual infections, and injury sustained to the body.
How do you know if you’re being sexually abused by your partner?
Sexual violence is most often perpetrated by someone a survivor knows, including partner relationships. Intimate partner sexual violence can occur in all types of intimate relationships regardless of gender identities or sexual orientation. Sexual assault is not defined by abusive behavior, regardless of the relationship or gender identity.
Sexual violence is rarely an isolated incident as it often occurs alongside other forms of abusive behavior. These include physical, financial and emotional abuse. For instance, most women who are physically assaulted by an intimate partner have been sexually assaulted by the same person.
Sexual violence in the home often starts with controlling behavior such as monitoring your spending, keeping track of your whereabouts, or isolating you from friends.
This behavior can escalate to further emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. If your partner also does the following, these are warning signs of abuse:
- Attempts to cut you off from friends and family
- Is highly jealous or upset if you spend time away from them
- Insults you, puts you down, says that you can never do anything right
- Tries to prevent you from attending work or school
- Tries to prevent you from making decisions for yourself
- Destroys your property, attempts to harm your pets
- Threatens to harm your children or take them away from you
- Tells you that you are worthless and that no one else could ever love you
- Controls your finances
- Forces you into sexual acts without consent
- Physically harms you
What can I do if I’m being harmed by my partner?
The first thing to understand is that violence against you is not your fault. You can access several different nonprofits that provide resources and support for domestic violence survivors.
National Sexual Assault Hotline: National hotline, operated by RAINN, that serves people affected by sexual violence. It automatically routes the caller to their nearest sexual assault service provider. You can also search your local center here. Hotline: 800.656.HOPE
National Domestic Violence Hotline: Through this hotline an advocate can provide local direct service resources (safehouse shelters, transportation, casework assistance) and crisis intervention. Hotline: 800.799.SAFE
National Organization for Victim Assistance: NOVA is the oldest national victim assistance organization of its type in the United States as the recognized leader in this noble cause.
National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women: This is a resource library home of thousands of materials on violence against women and related issues, with particular attention to its intersections with various forms of oppression.