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These precautions are meant to be suggestions and guidelines. The prevention material presented here can reduce your chances of being sexually assaulted or increase your chances of surviving a sexual assault.

There is no universal prescription for avoiding a sexual assault. You can make yourself safer from attack by following crime prevention measures, but if you are attacked, you will have to decide which tactic will be most likely to be effective depending on the situation, what type of person you are and who you perceive your assailant to be.

In this chapter, victims are referred to as female and suspects as male. These types of attacks make up the majority of the sexual assaults reported to law enforcement. Remember, however, sexual crimes can take many different forms, including a man attacking another man, or a man or woman attacking a child.

General Precautions

The rapist is looking for a person who appears vulnerable...one who is apparently inattentive to her surroundings, is daydreaming or looks frightened and unsure of herself. So, keep alert and walk with a purpose. Do not appear to be a vulnerable target.

Here are some other tips:

What is Sexual Assault?

The Myths of Sexual Assault

Among the myths about sexual assault, several continue to prevail without basis in fact. Two concern the victim, one the rapist.

According to one myth, the victim is always young and attractive. Unfortunately, movie and television dramatizations have reflected this fallacy. The truth is there is no stereotypic victim.

Another myth asserts the woman provokes the attack. The truth is the rapist selects his victim on the basis of opportunity and initiates the attack usually selecting as his victim a female who appears vulnerable and appears to be alone.

The belief that rape is an act perpetrated for sexual gratification is also a myth. Rapists often have consenting sexual relationships but choose to rape both because they enjoy overpowering and degrading their victims and as a vent to their feelings of hostility, aggression and inferiority.

Sex is not the motivating factor, only the chosen mode of expression.

The Reality of Sexual Assault

In reality, the crime of rape bears a closer resemblance to violent crimes such as robbery and aggravated assault than it does to sexual intercourse of any kind. Every person is a potential victim of sexual assault. Victims range in age from small children to elderly persons.

The most vulnerable target is the woman alone, at any time of the day or night. Often the assailant is someone you know either closely or by sight alone.

Usually the rapist is a man who is emotionally unstable yet deals with life on a day-to-day basis in a reasonably normal and competent manner. According to the reported cases of sexual assault, the assailant is often a friend, date, relative, co-worker or casual acquaintance.

Exhibitionists and peeping toms should be considered as potentially dangerous since these acts may be a part of a fantasy which includes rape.

It cannot be emphasized too strongly that sexual assault is a crime of violence; rapists are emotionally unstable persons who view their victims as objects to vent their hostility, aggression, frustration or insecurity on. Sexual gratification is not a motive for their crime.

They wish to humiliate and degrade their victims, to make them lesser beings, and the fantasy which they are acting out carries with it the danger of physical harm in addition to the act of rape itself.

Where does this Crime Occur?

It can and does occur virtually anywhere. The largest grouping of reported incidents occur either in the home of the victim or the assailant.

However, it is important to be aware of all potentially hazardous areas: remote areas, vacant lots, parking lots, garages, public parks, school campuses, on the street, beaches at night, alleys, school playgrounds, deserted buildings, shopping centers, stairwells, and Laundromats.

What to do if you are Assaulted

Your immediate concern will be obtaining proper medical and psychological help. This help is available. To get help, immediately call the Sheriff's Office whether or not you decide to later prosecute. As soon as possible you will be taken to a local hospital.

Even though it may be your initial impulse, DON'T douche, shower, change your clothes or disturb the crime scene. Be sure you don't destroy any valuable physical evidence. Most victims feel strongly about wanting the offender caught so he will not be able to harm another person. Rapists are repeaters, but they also rarely retaliate against their victims.

Medical Treatment

Procedures differ among hospitals. Generally, you will be asked your name, date of birth, brief medical history and perhaps some other general questions. You will first be checked and treated for any visible physical injuries. If necessary, a complete internal examination will also be performed by a qualified physician. This is to establish the extent of any injuries as well as collect any specimen should you decide to prosecute. When appropriate, you will be offered medication to prevent venereal disease or pregnancy.

Questioning

Usually, if your physical and mental condition permits, you will be asked to give a formal statement as soon as possible after the medical examination.

The Sheriff's Deputy will ask only questions which are relevant to the investigation. You will be asked the details of the assault which will more than likely elicit very painful emotions. These are necessary to establish all the facts of the case and will only be asked when you feel you are ready to handle them.

What Happens Next?

Should you decide to pursue the prosecution process, the State Attorney's Office will handle the case. They will prosecute if they feel they have enough evidence for a case. Prosecution is usually a long and complicated process. Remember you are not on trial, the defendant is. But under the criminal justice system he is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The state's attorney will inform you of what to expect in the trial and may go over certain questions again. The probability of conviction may vary depending on such things as quality of evidence and your testimony. Most sex offenders are repeaters. Your decision to prosecute may save others.

Help is available for victims with questions or doubts about prosecution from: State Attorney's Office, the Sheriff's Office, and the Rape Victim Advocate's Office.

Above all, remember there is no reason for you to feel guilt, shame or embarrassment. You were the innocent victim and there are a great many people who are sensitive to your needs and are anxious and able to help you.

Possible Tactics to use if Attacked

No one can tell you what specific tactic to use, for what may have worked for one person, may not work for you. You as an individual, must deal with the rapist as an individual. Moreover, you must take into consideration the time and place, for these will also have bearing on your reaction.

A Diverting Noise

This is probably a tactic to use when you have advance warning of a situation. It is only useful if there is someone nearby to hear the noise.

Sometimes screaming "Fire" or "Call the Police" (not "Rape" or "Help") or blowing a whistle may frighten away your assailant or call attention to your problem. But it may antagonize him. Screaming could make him more angry and he may beat you or strangle you to keep you quiet. You must weigh the odds, depending on the situation, of this tactic being successful.

Running

The risk is whether he can and will run faster than you and overpower you. Unless you are reasonably certain you can get a good lead and reach safety before he overtakes you, this may be a risky tactic.

Make sure you have a place to run where someone will help you. Keep in mind running from him may be part of the rapist's fantasy and it may make him more angry should he overtake you.

Gaining a Psychological Advantage

This tactic can take many forms: going limp, sinking to the ground and eating grass, hiding your face in order to stick your finger down your throat and cause yourself to vomit, making yourself belch or even urinating on your attacker. Your own ingenuity is your best guide. Crying might be effective in some instances.

Doing something he doesn't expect may stop or delay him because the rapist wants to be in control and finds it difficult to cope with something he hadn't anticipated. Remember the rapist is a con artist so you have to be extremely believable.

Talking

The key to this tactic, which can be successful in aborting an attack, is to speak calmly and sincerely as one human being trying to reach out to another. Don't beg, plead, cower or make small talk. Many times this is what your assailant expects to hear and it may antagonize him further.

Talk about something in which you are interested, something about which you can talk comfortably. It could be your pet, a movie you've seen, a book you are reading, or a recent death in the family. Hopefully, this will make him see you as a individual offering concern and not as his enemy. Make him see you are not an object to vent his anger on.

Try to reduce his rage by enhancing his ego. Don't give a sermon. He may be trying to rape you because it would give him great satisfaction to knock a moralizing female down. It is important to reach him in a way which will break his fantasy and allow him to see you as an individual (not an object) with honest feelings and concerns.

If something you are saying is antagonizing him further, switch to another topic, as quickly and smoothly as you can.

Fighting

When considering this tactic you should keep in mind all rapists have the potential for inflicting serious harm. This is probably the last tactic to try if all others have failed. If you begin by fighting you will have little or no opportunity to try another way. You have already committed to your behavior.

You must be willing and able to inflict serious injury on your assailant. Surprise and speed of reaction should be used to your benefit. If you use a fighting tactic which will not completely incapacitate, you are probably going to be in worse shape. If you try to fight him and he has a weapon, always assume he won't hesitate to use it.

Even victims with extensive training in martial arts are not always successful with quick chops or kicks to vital spots on the body. The struggle itself could arouse or further enrage your assailant.

Remember, if you are going to fight your attacker use surprise and speed to your advantage. The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office teaches a course in defensive tactics for women which specifically teaches how to incapacitate an attacker. For more information, call the Sheriff’s Office Community Relations Division at 292-7116.