It is estimated that one out of five women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. For men, the estimate is one in six.

If this has happened to you, please know that you are not alone.

Consent is what makes sex enjoyable. Consent is important. It’s the most necessary part of sex. Without consent, it isn't sex - it's sexual assault.

According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), “[t]he laws about consent vary by state and situation”. Regardless of what state you live in and what their laws say, it is important that you understand that consent is necessary on a very basic, human level. When you feel that you have been violated, it really doesn’t matter what the law has to say about it. What is important is that you know your feelings about what happened to you are valid.

Consent is about communication. It should happen every time you engage in a sexual activity. Giving consent for one sexual activity does not mean that you give consent for another. You are allowed to change your mind at any time. Saying “yes” to something in the past does not mean that you can’t say “no” to that same thing in the future. You have the right to turn down sexual activity at any time, even if it is with someone you have had sex with before. This includes anyone that you are dating or married to. No one has the right to have sex with you without your consent, no matter the circumstance.

If you tell someone “no” and they continue to pressure you into engaging in a sexual activity, that is not consent. If you are incapacitated by alcohol, you cannot give consent. If you are under the legal age of consent according to your state laws, you are not able to give consent.

Regardless of your state laws, the basics of consent remain the same. It is a matter of human decency and respect.

Unfortunately, “rape” is legally defined in different ways according to each state. If you think that you may have been assaulted, you can visit https://www.rainn.org/articles/legal-role-consent. This link outlines how each individual state defines the crimes of rape, sexual assault, and abuse. But please remember that this link simply details how each state legally views these crimes. No matter how your state defines what happened to you, it is important to know that you must give consent for sex. If you did not give consent, then it should not have happened.

This is the tough part. It’s hard to swallow. Depending on what state you live in, what happened to you may not be legally viewed as sexual assault or rape. But that does not negate what happened to you. It does not make your experience any less valid. The important thing for you to know is that you are not alone. There are so many people and resources out there to help you.

The National Sexual Assault Hotline was launched by RAINN in 1994. It is a 24-hour, free, anonymous service available to anyone who has been affected by sexual assault, abuse, or rape. Visitors have the option to call a toll-free number (800.656.HOPE) or to chat with a crisis intervention volunteer online. The hotline offers services such as confidential support from a trained volunteer, someone to talk you through what happened, and referrals for long-term support.

It is unfortunate that the majority of victims of sexual assault or rape do not report what happened to them. People often ask where the statistics come from, as if numbers have anything to do with the fact that people are sexually violated. Having a solid number or percentage to offer up to the masses who insist that “Social Justice Warriors” have an “agenda” to “inflate statistics of rape” is not helpful and not necessary. It’s simply a diversion tactic. The fact of the matter is that the statistics are there. You just have to know where to look for them, and therein lies the problem.

“The National Sexual Assault Hotline (NSAH) receives thousands of calls per month. Out of all those calls, volunteers very rarely encounter visitors who have reported their assaults,” says a RAINN hotline volunteer. “We speak with perhaps two or three visitors per shift,” the volunteer explains, going on to say, “And we only compile data for one chat per shift.” The volunteer explains that a chat survey can take up to 10 minutes and that taking time to fill out a survey takes time away from other visitors who need to talk to that volunteer.

The volunteer goes on to explain further, “Out of the hundreds of hours that I have spent on the hotline, I think I may have encountered 20 people who stated that they had reported their assaults.” They continue, “If I only do one survey per shift and I have talked to all of those people, imagine the statistics that haven’t been compiled because I was using my time to talk to people who needed help.”

If you take that information from the RAINN volunteer and consider all the other crisis intervention centers and organizations in the world, it’s not difficult to understand that the percentage of unreported assaults is higher than people believe.

And again, therein lies the problem. Statistics are distracting. This is not a numbers game.

So, what can you do? Who can you talk to? So many times, victims are told to call the police. As the wife of a police officer, I want to tell you that they will help you. But the police really are not always the best option for assistance. There are so many horror stories from victims who have turned to the police for help and been left feeling dismissed and helpless. I don’t have an answer for why this happens. I know that my husband would try his best to help anyone who came to him, but I also know that there is a much better option with people who are trained specifically to help sexual assault victims.

If you have been assaulted or have questions about a possible assault, you can contact a local Sexual Assault Service Provider (SASP). These providers, according to RAINN, “offer support to those affected by current, recent, or past sexual assault through a variety of services. For example, victim advocacy, counseling, hospital accompaniment and more at a low to no cost.”

Local Sexual Assault Service Providers exist in most communities, yet the general public does not seem to know about them. Even if your community does not have a SASP located directly in it, you can most likely find one near to you. To find your local SASP providers, all you have to do is go to www.centers.rainn.org and type in your zip code. If you are not located in the United States, you can go to www.hotpeachpages.com for an international directory of domestic violence agencies.

Many people see these options and think that, since they live in rural or small communities, they have no access to assistance. Please know that is not true. By contacting the resources just mentioned, you open the door to so many other avenues of help. If you contact a SASP and tell them that you feel secluded because of your location, they will help you brainstorm ways to get help. That is what they are there for.

You deserve help. Just by reading this and taking it all in, you are making a big step. It’s very hard to talk about, so take your time. You don’t have to share anything with anyone if you don’t want to. But you are important and you are worthy of support. The people and resources are out here for you.

We believe you and you are not alone.

If you need to talk to someone about sexual assault or rape, call RAINN at 800.656.HOPE or go to https://www.rainn.org/get-help for 24/7 confidential support.

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