April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. At Blackburn Center, we raise awareness about sexual assault through our signature event, Walk A Mile in Her Shoes, as well as through the programs and services that we provide throughout the year. Because raising awareness about sexual assault often seems to be focused on the crime of rape, you may be wondering: what is the difference between sexual assault and rape? The answer depends on the context — and where you live.
Blackburn Center’s use of the term sexual assault can include any number of crimes — including rape. It’s the more inclusive phrase, encompassing a wide variety of behaviors from unwanted sexual touching to penetration. Rape has a specific definition, and usually includes penetration of some sort (whether it be genital, oral and anal). If the term sexual assault is used, it can mean rape — but it also may be when a perpetrator grabs a woman’s breast or butt in a crowd. We use the term sexual assault because we seek to end all forms of sexual violence, including rape. The critical element of sexual assault is that a person is touched in a sexual way without her or his consent. It can include rape, incest, child sexual assault, ritual abuse, date and acquaintance rape, statutory rape, marital or partner rape, sexual exploitation, sexual contact, sexual harassment, exposure, and voyeurism. The perpetrator can be a total stranger, an intimate partner, an acquaintance, or a family member.
Historically, the terms rape and sexual assault were used interchangeably — and only the forcible rape of a woman by someone other than her husband was a crime. A reform movement sought to broaden the use of these terms, so that women were protected from their husbands and men could be included as well. The reformers also wanted to switch from the term rape — which seemed like a crime of passion — to sexual assault, which seems more like what it is — an act of sexual violence.
Rape and sexual assault have specific legal definitions that vary by jurisdiction. In Pennsylvania, the law distinguishes between sexual assault and rape based on whether or not force or the threat of force was used in a penetrative act. If force is used, it’s rape; if the sexual intercourse is without the victim’s consent, it is sexual assault. If a person is sexually assaulted without any sort of penetration — if she or he is sexually touched against her or his will — that is considered indecent assault. In other states, rape or sexual assault might be called “criminal sexual conduct” or “sexual battery."
At Blackburn Center, our goal is to end sexual violence — period. We use the term sexual assault to include all possible types of sexual violence — because we want to end all of it, including rape. We invite you to join us in the fight against sexual violence, by learning more, volunteering, donating, and taking the pledge to end gender violence. We also extend a special invitation for everyone to join us on April 18 at St. Clair Park in Greensburg for our signature event, Walk A Mile in Her Shoes — register here! At the Walk, you’ll learn more about how gender violence of all types affects our society — and what you can do to help us end it. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to learn more about how YOU can take part in Sexual Assault Awareness Month — from teal ribbons to walks, there is so much you can do to raise awareness and join the fight!
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