LIFE

Sexual Assault: Why We Need To Keep Talking About It

'Consent needs to be freely given and it can also be withdrawn.'

20/07/2016 3:54 PM AEST | Updated July 20, 2016 16:10
Associated Press
"False allegations of sexual assault are very rare but there is the general misconception that it is a common event."

It was only last month that the world learnt of a convicted rapist from Stanford University.

His name was Brock Turner.

People in the States were already familiar with the case which had sparked outrage after the defendant was sentenced to a mere six months' jail time, despite the fact 13 jurors unanimously found him guilty.

But it wasn't until Buzzfeed published the letter the victim had read to the judge and her convicted rapist after the light sentence was handed down, that the rest of the world would learn of this sexual assault narrative.

The letter echoed the voices of millions of other victims and created a space for an important conversation.

A conversation that addressed a scary and taboo subject. And one that we, the public, have become so skilled at ignoring.

Most significantly, the letter illustrated the total lack of recognition and empathy for the victim and the deep rooted problems that exist within the justice system in cases of rape and sexual assault.

Dr Marika Guggisberg from Curtin University's Department of Health Promotion and Sexology teaches a lot about victim blaming and consent and explains the role alcohol plays in reports of sexual assault.

If you are drunk, you cannot give consent

"When a toxicology report reveals there was alcohol involved, immediately there is this assumption she has just drank too much and the responsibility is placed squarely on the woman to protect herself from sexual violation," Guggisberg told The Huffington Post Australia.

"This perception is so ingrained in our society that even criminal justice officials seem to struggle at times not to engage in victim blaming," Guggisberg said.

Immediately there is this assumption she has just drank too much and the responsibility is placed squarely on the woman to protect herself from sexual violation.

She says the attitude that females who are intoxicated place themselves at risk of being taken advantage of sexually, and that it's their responsibility alone to keep safe, needs to change.

"Even if you engage in some form of sexual activity and then decide you don't want to go further you can withdraw your consent without any feelings of guilt -- that is your right."

Sexual assault prevention

Guggisberg spends a lot of time educating her students around three focal points that are paramount to rape prevention.

"The potential victim, but also the potential offender and the potential bystander -- all of us play an important role in preventing sexual assault," Guggisberg said.

In order for an assault to take place there are three things that need to happen.

"There needs to be a suitable target, there needs to be a willing offender and there needs to be the absence of a capable guardian," Guggisberg said.

Guggisberg explains the importance of making sure you are not isolated.

"If there is a suitable target and a willing offender but there is also a capable guardian, then there is not going to be a sexual assault."

False reporting

  • "False rape accusations have a globally low rate of less than 10 percent," Guggisberg said.
  • "The concept of 'false accusation' of sexual assault is generally defined as making a report of sexual assault victimisation when no sexual assault was committed, meaning, the alleged perpetrator is falsely accused."
  • In Australia, false accusations of sexual assault are extremely rare with an estimated prevalence rate of about 2 percent of sexual assault reports being classified as "false".
  • Guggisberg explains that given that prevalence data are estimates, they are by nature unreliable.
  • "It is important to note that myths of false reporting affect credibility of victimised individuals and the investigators' determination whether consent was given. This may contribute to an overestimation of false reporting," Guggisberg said.

False allegations are not a common event

Another area Guggisberg focuses on is the importance of being careful not to misinterpret acquittals.

"If a person is acquitted that does not necessarily mean he did not sexually assault the woman who claims to have been victimised. It often just means there is not enough evidence," Guggisberg said.

"False allegations of sexual assault are very rare but there is the general misconception that it is a common event."

"However, research consistently suggests that the absolute vast majority of individuals who make the claim of sexual victimisation have been sexually assaulted," Guggisberg said.

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