History of Collaboration
For more than 25 years, advocates and allied professionals in the prevention and intervention fields in West Virginia have worked together to implement prevention programs, empower families and educate others to address sexual violence and the intersection of oppression.
Task forces, work groups and committees have formed and continue to evolve, recognizing that a collaborative effort among partners will reach more West Virginians and enhance efforts to reduce the occurrence of sexual violence. The It’s On Us WV initiative includes many state and local organizations.
Through this initiative, partnering agencies are increasingly mobilizing in a coordinated manner to educate and train communities around the state on sexual violence prevention. In particular, they are working together to:
- SCALE UP EFFORTS: Identify effective strategies for scaling up violence prevention in West Virginia
- IDENTIFY PRIORITIES: Build consensus around priorities for action and investment
- PLAN ACTIONS: Build consensus about how they collectively will progress towards these priorities, to meet the needs of West Virginia communities
- ENGAGE COMMUNIITES IN PREVENTION: Engaging with citizens, schools, organizations and groups to bring customized programming and resources to their communities
Learning about the problem of sexual violence is the first step in preventing it.
What is Sexual Violence?
Sexual violence is a sexual act committed against someone without that person’s freely given consent. It involves victims who do not consent or who are unable to consent to the sex acts.
Sexual violence impacts every community and affects people across the lifespan and from every background. Some populations have greater risk for it and are impacted more by it.
Those who commit sexual violence usually know their victims. They may be dating or intimate partners, family members, friends or acquaintances, such as someone they know through work, school, church or other activities.
Sexual violence can occur in many settings—in person, online or through technology, such as posting or sharing sexual pictures of someone without their consent, or non-consensual sexting. It includes not only rape and sexual assault, but activities such as sexual harassment, child sexual abuse and exploitation, sex trafficking, sexual violence within dating/domestic violence, incest, genital mutilation, and non-consensual disclosure of private intimate images.
How prevalent is sexual violence?
Tragically, sexual victimization is common. In the U.S., roughly 1/3 to 1/2 of women and 1/4 of men experience contact sexual violence during their lifetime. Lesbian and bisexual women are up to 3 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than heterosexual women; gay men are up to 15 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than heterosexual men. Nearly half of transgender individuals report experiencing sexual assault
Highlight: In West Virginia, about 1 in 3 women and nearly 1 in 6 men experienced contact sexual violence during their lifetime.
Rates of sexual violence are underestimated because occurrences often go undisclosed and unreported. Victims may be too traumatized by the experience, ashamed, embarrassed or afraid to tell others about the violence.
What is the impact of sexual violence?
Victimization can impact lifelong health, opportunity and well-being. [collapse 3 bullets]
- Physical: Victims of contact sexual violence may experience a physical injury from the violence. They may be at risk for getting a sexually transmitted disease (STD), including HIV, becoming pregnant if they have reproductive capacity, and having short- and long-term physical ailments associated with emotional trauma caused by sexual victimization.
- Psychological: Victims may face emotional and behavioral consequences from experiencing sexual violence and from a lack of support in the violence’s aftermath. Immediate consequences include but are not limited to: shock, denial, fear, confusion, anxiety, withdrawal, shame or guilt, nervousness, distrust of others, symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), emotional detachment, sleep disturbances, flashbacks and mental replay of assault. Chronic issues can include but are not limited to: Depression, generalized anxiety, attempted or completed suicide, PTSD, diminished interest/avoidance of sex, low self-esteem and self-blame. Over the days, weeks, months and years following sexual violence, victims’ traumatic reactions to it may morph into long-lasting problems (drug and alcohol abuse, self-harming behaviors, loss of work productivity, etc.).
- Social+: Experiencing sexual violence may lead to social consequences for victims, such as: strained relationships with family, friends, and intimate partners, less emotional support from friends and family, less frequent contact with friends and relatives, lower likelihood of marriage, and isolation or ostracism from family or community. The negative effects of sexual violence on victims may also be felt at school and work.
Sexual violence’ impact also reaches beyond survivors. It also can affect their family and friends, and the community and society at large, in costly and damaging ways.
What is Child Sexual Abuse?
Child sexual abuse is any sexual activity between an adult/adolescent and a child, no matter if deception is involved or if the child understands the sexual nature of the activity. Children cannot give consent. Sexual abuse does not have to involve penetration, force, or even touching. Examples include:
- Having sex with a child
- Performing oral sex on a child
- Making a child perform oral sex on someone
- Touching children’s private parts
- Making children touch the other person’s private parts
- Asking to see children’s private parts
- Making children look at the other person’s private parts
- Commercial sexual exploitation of children (such as using them as sex workers)
- Sexual activities that may be less obvious but are still abusive to children include: showing pornography to children, taking pornographic (naked) photos of children, and sexting (sending sexually explicit texts) with children
How big of a problem is child sexual abuse?
Child sexual abuse is a huge health problem. About 1 in 10 children in the U.S. (10%) will experience contact sexual abuse before their 18th birthday. About 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 13 boys (20% and 8%) experience sexual abuse. LGBTQ individuals and persons with disabilities report high rates of sexual abuse as children, compared to the general population.
Sexual abuse can occur anytime during childhood—children are most vulnerable between ages 7 and 13. For sexual victimization in general, teens age 14 to 17 experience the highest rates of all children; older teen girls are the most at risk.
Most children who are victims of sexual abuse know their abuser. Abusers may be family members, neighbors, family friends and other trusted individuals While in the majority of cases the abusers are adults, they can also be older or more powerful children.
Sexual abuse is hard for kids to talk about, for reasons such as trauma, fear shame, guilt, threats, lack of opportunity, lack of understanding about the sex act, and confused feelings about the abuser). The majority of sexually abused children either delay disclosing victimization or don’t disclose at all. Adults in communities need to find ways to prevent sexual abuse in the first place, but also better protect kids when it does occur.
What is the Impact?
The impact of child sexual abuse is devastating for survivors, but also affects those close to them and the surrounding community. It is the root cause of many social and health issues and touches all of us in one way or another.
Click here for Things You Need to Know About Child Sexual Abuse, Online Safety & Mandatory Reporting (PDF)
How prevalent is sexual violence against college students?
Sexual victimization of college students is a significant problem. Certain populations of students are more vulnerable to victimization. Sexual assault is experienced by 1 in 5 female college students in the U.S., 1 in 16 male students and nearly 1 in 4 students who identify as transgender or gender nonconforming. College students who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or questioning were significantly more likely to experience interpersonal violence than their heterosexual counterparts. College students who have a disability have elevated rates of sexual assault compared with students who reported having no disabilities.
Risk for victimization for college students intersects with other risk factors, painting a complex picture of who is victimized. For example: Among transgender students, black transgender people had higher odds of sexual assault than white transgender people. Compared with white women, black women had higher odds of sexual assault, while Latino and Asian women had lower odds.
How common is sexual violence against persons with disabilities?
Persons with disabilities face a significant risk of sexual victimization. And those with certain types of disabilities are even more at risk. Children with disabilities are 3 times more likely than children without disabilities to be sexually abused—those with intellectual or mental health disabilities are most at risk. Individuals 12 years and older with disabilities experience rape and sexual assault at rates more than 3 times higher than those without disabilities. College students who have a disability, particularly those with a chronic mental health condition, have elevated rates of sexual assault, compared with students who reported having no disabilities. People with multiple and more severe disabilities are at elevated risk for physical and sexual victimization, compared to individuals with single or less severe disabilities.
Risk for victimization faced by persons with disabilities intersects with other risk factors, painting a complex picture of who is victimized. For example: Among college students with disabilities, risk for sexual victimization is highest for females and transgender individuals with disabilities. Persons of two or more races had the highest rates of violent victimization among persons with disabilities.
Sexual victimization of persons with disabilities is a particular concern in West Virginia. Our state has the highest rate in the nation of residents with a disability, at almost 20% of the population. Residents who have a disability face higher rates of sexual victimization than for those without a disability.
Prevention Efforts Inclusive of Persons with Disabilities
Sexual violence prevention efforts historically have not worked to counter the norms, attitudes and practices steeped in ableism that shape the lives of children and adults with disabilities. Unfortunately, societal tolerance for ableism heightens their risk of sexual victimization. It’s On Us WV is striving to implement prevention strategies that take into account and address local conditions—like tolerance for ableism, among other factors—that impact risk of sexual violence for particular populations.
Our Approach to Prevention
As illustrated by the River Story on our homepage, comprehensive prevention involved working both “upstream” and “downstream” to prevent sexual violence. There are 3 levels:
- PRIMARY PREVENTION: Stopping violence before it starts. These strategies create healthy relationships and environments to reduce risks and increase buffers.
- SECONDARY PREVENTION: Immediate responses to violence. These strategies like emergency and medical care address short-term consequences.
- TERTIARY PREVENTION: Long-term responses to violence. These strategies address trauma or disability from experiences of violence and help victims recover.
All 3 levels of prevention are critical in communities to work against sexual violence.
It’s On Us WV’s Statewide, Coordinated Approach To Child Sexual Abuse Prevention
Primary Prevention: Preventing child sexual abuse by taking action before it has a chance to occur.
It involves components such as:
- Educating school staff and students and the surrounding community, organizations and social structure to protect children, so victimization does not occur.
- Promoting organizational policies and procedures that require back-ground screening on all adults who care for children in youth-serving settings.
- Teaching people what to do if they suspect that someone is at risk of abusing or being abused.
- Working to change social structures or norms that support the occurrence of child sexual abuse (identifying and mitigating risks factors, and working to increase protective factors).
- Addressing how we promote community change and individual behavior change.
- Reducing the risk of someone becoming a victim and/or becoming a perpetrator.
Secondary Prevention: Immediate response after child sexual abuse has occurred to reduce the short-term consequences of abuse and prevent additional harm.
It involves components such as:
- Ensuring that survivors have access to services such as advocacy, health care and/or legal support.
- Strengthening the response by the community, organizations and social structures to reduce the harm caused by victimization requires adults to take responsibility for protecting children.
- Teaching adults in youth-supporting roles (e.g., doctors, advocates, parents, teachers) how to screen for child sexual abuse and what to do if they suspect that abuse has happened or if a child discloses.
- Increasing awareness about the availability of social services for survivors of abuse.
- Reducing the stigma associated with talking about child sexual abuse.
Tertiary Prevention: Long-term responses after child sexual abuse has occurred to address and prevent long-term harm to a child.
It involves components such as:
- Working with survivors to prevent long term harm, re-victimization and the cycle of abuse.
- Working with individuals who have problematic sexual behaviors.
- Working with non-offending caregivers and other allies to increase their capacity to support a child’s recovery.
- Making resources accessible to prevent long-term harm caused by victimization.
- Educating the community, organizations, families and individuals on trauma-informed approaches and practices.
What Factors Affect Risk of Violence?
Violence prevention depends on understanding the factors that influence the problem. The social-ecological model shows the interplay of factors between four level of society—individual, relationships, community and societal. These factors can put people at risk or protect them from experiencing or perpetrating violence. We must act across all layers to prevent violence.
How is Sexual Violence Connected to Oppression?
In order to prevent sexual violence, primary programming efforts must address the root causes and social norms that allow violence to exist in the first place in a community. To do so, the connection needs to be made between oppression of all types and how it creates a culture in which inequality thrives and violence—including sexual violence—is seen as normal.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers guidance on effective practices in sexual violence and child abuse prevention, geared that address the social-ecological factors that put people at risk for them. It’s On Us WV partner agencies broadly use CDC recommendations to guide our collective prevention efforts.