Sexual assault: the silent crime

  • Published
  • By Cindi Drake
  • Sexual Assault Response Coordinator
Sexual assault is often described as the "silent crime." Although prevention education and training efforts have increased significantly across the nation, and particularly within the Air Force, there continues to be a steady increase of this crime.

Under the Congressional mandated Department of Defense program, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR), sexual assault is considered umbrella terminology making it a generic term, not the specific crime. The actual crimes under that umbrella are: rape, sodomy, indecent assault, fondling, and attempted rape.

Research over the past five years supports the following facts:

- 85 to 90 percent of sexual assaults are committed by spouses, boyfriends, domestic partners, ex-partners, co-workers and acquaintances. Dr. David Lisak, male sexual assault expert and contributor to the Air Force SAPR training, estimates that acquaintance perpetrators account for 95 percent of the offenders.

- One in three military females within their career and one in four college women are sexual assault victims

- An estimated 85 percent of the acquaintance sexual assaults involve alcohol; however, locally the number is approximately 90 percent

Research supports some basic characteristics and modus operandi (MO) regarding non-stranger perpetrators: they plan their attacks, whether it takes weeks to isolate the victim by grooming her or him or whether they are watching for a victim at a house party or local bar. Many perpetrators go the route of "grooming" a potential victim, which begins by watching for the "newby." The individual may appear shy and have a limited support network.

The "easy score" to a perpetrator is a person at a party or bar already drinking with little or no friends around or someone who appears to be lonely or uncomfortable. The goal is to put the potential victim at ease, be the "nice guy," and buy the "score" a drink ... or two or three. After all, nothing the perpetrator has done to this point would be considered illegal.

For military members, the unfortunate part for the victim is perpetrators are betting on the following: the loneliness of moving to a new base or deploying and the unfamiliar surroundings, innate need of humans to feel accepted and loved, and the need to assimilate or bond with their new squadron or flight members.

Power and control, these two words sum up what non-stranger or acquintance perpetrators are focusing on when making the decision to commit the crime of sexual assault. Research supports that there is rarely the "one time mistake" and it will never happen again perception as thought by many supporting these types of criminals. In fact, research indicates most non-stranger rapists commit at least four sexual assaults before being reported.

Whether it's a spouse, domestic partner, girlfriend, co-worker or someone at a party or bar, sexual assault can occur at any time and to anyone. I have been asked several times, "How can it be rape if he's my husband or if I consented before?" As the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator for Mountain Home AFB, I say, "At the point you said no I don't feel like it tonight, I have a headache or other terminology you use to refuse another person's advances, spouse or not, and they persist with the physical aggression and psychological intimidation, it's considered sexual assault."

From the law enforcement perspective, there are many challenges when obtaining sufficient evidence, and providing a thorough investigation proves difficult when the assault is not reported in a timely manner. In a sexual assault crime, the crime scene is the victim's body and potentially where the assault occurred. Preservation of any evidence for investigators, such as clothing, bedding, bodily fluids and so forth are very helpful to law enforcement officers. Don't take a shower, wash clothes, clean or throw away anything from the crime scene.

It's important to remember that unlike some of the television shows where the crime is solved in an hour, it may take real investigators several hours to collect evidence, with the help of medical personnel and several weeks or months to investigate the crime before sending their report to legal for a decision on whether or not to prosecute. Your local SARC and Victim Advocates can assist you by explaining the medical, law enforcement and legal processes to you.

If you are a victim of sexual assault, there are people and agencies ready and willing to support you emotionally and can provide referrals for medical care and counseling. Know that you are not alone. Please contact your local SARC, VA, medical or mental health professional. For online assistance RAINN, Military OneSource, IVAW and are helpful resources.