Sexual Violence Doesn’t Always Look the Way You Think It Will

Sexual violence doesn’t always look the way you think it will. Sexual violence doesn’t always come at you screaming “look at me, look at me.” It can be subtle. It can show up in moments and situations you aren’t expecting.

Sexual Violence Doesn't Always Look the Way You Think It Will

Real Life Experience

As a SANE RN (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner), I learned that in a hurry. During SANE training, they teach a wide range of information, but what they can’t give you is real time situations. Don’t get me wrong, they provide many real-life examples; the training we receive uses only real-life cases. However, those examples don’t prepare you for the moment you sit down in the exam room and have a victim tell you that they were pulled out of the car window at a stop light and raped in the backseat. 

I wasn’t expecting to hear that as a new SANE RN. I wasn’t expecting it because the victim walked into the room quietly. The victim presented as calm and collected. There was no physical sign of a struggle. Her clothes had no tears. I couldn’t see any visible blood…yet.  This wasn’t what I expected. Why was she so calm?

The simple answer was shock. The victim was still in shock. Many individuals who experience sexual violence respond to the event with a quiet stillness, mostly due to still being in a state of shock.

Assumptions Made

It’s easy, even as a SANE RN, to make assumptions. It’s easy to think how the victim “should be” acting if that horrific event just happened to them. That’s the thing. Sexual violence has no black and white lines. There’s no rule book to follow. Every victim responds differently based on their life experiences and temperament, regardless of the gravity of the violence.

Some victims will come in screaming, sobbing and completely inconsolable. Others will present just like my patient did–somber. These responses never negate the validity of the event; it only differentiates the individuals. It’s very important that we understand this to ensure we have proper and positive support for the victims of sexual violence.


Our world has many misconceptions about sexual violence. Misconceptions about victim response, victims’ responsibility to have prevented the event, or even that the victim provoked the violence are all common myths. Understanding the root cause of why sexual violence occurs will debunk this myth.

Most often, sexual assault occurs as a form of oppression.  Oppression is the unjust or cruel exercise of power or authority.

Sexual violence is based on rage, or the need for control and power. Placing blame on victims for not being able to identify their “offender” is a cultural tendency that must change. How can you judge how someone’s experience will show up in their actions? Unfortunately, you can’t, because everyone is unique, even offenders. Offenders expressed their rage, control, and power through sexual assault, but it is often rooted in their own deeply held pain.

Understanding and Prevention 

Understanding these core truth changes the way we can approach prevention for sexual violence. Education on healthy sexuality is vital to help eradicate sexual violence. Bystander intervention is not only possible, but is a must. We also need to teach what consent looks and sounds like.

Statistics help us understand more about sexual violence.  It may be surprising to see how sexual violence impacts the Cedar Rapids community. However, it’s very important to be aware of how prevalent sexual violence is so that we can continue to educate and prevent further violence. 

Statistics for Cedar Rapids (2018) {Source: Linn County SART}
  • 801 sexual assault cases between Child Protection Center (CPC) and both local hospitals
  • 818 child cases seen by CPC
  • 53 cases in 2018 had charges filed
  • Linn County took 3 of the 53 cases to trial
    • The first case found guilty
    • The second case with a hung jury
    • The third case found guilty with potential overturn due to legalities
    • Other 50 cases were plead down to a simple assault versus being a sexual assault
      • The 50 offenders are not registered on the sex offender list
Sexual Assault in the United States
  • 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives (a)
  • 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men experience some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime (b)
  • In 8 out of 10 cases of rape, the victim knew the perpetrator (c)
  • 8% of rapes occur while the victim is at work (d)
Child Sexual Abuse
  • 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old(e)
  • 34% of people who sexually abuse a child are family members of the child(f)
  • Only 12% of child sexual abuse is ever reported to the authorities(g)


How we can help end sexual violence

We can’t stop at education; instead, we must ensure behaviors change. We each need to show mutual respect for those around us. Children should learn at a young age about consent, and about helping others in needs.  IEstablishing safe environments through equality will allow bystanders to feel confident to intervene.

Prevention truly starts with each one of us.

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