Assault can happen to anyone and be perpetrated by anyone, regardless of age, gender, or color. An attack may come from someone close to the victim. In 2015, female aggravated assault victims knew the perpetrator 66% of time time. Male victims only knew the perpetrator 53% of the time. Female victims of simple assault knew their attacker an even higher percentage of the time. Assault is an inherently traumatic experience, so it’s important to know how to react if you ever become a victim of such a crime.
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What is an assault?
An assault is any kind of physical attack or the threat of a physical attack directed at an individual. Assault may or may not involve the use of a weapon. Assault is an intentional act; accidental contact between a perpetrator and victim does not count. For example, in a car accident with injuries, the person driving the vehicle at fault did not commit assault unless he or she intended to injure the person in the other car. To qualify as assault, there must also be the real possibility of harm. An assailant who comes up behind an individual and says, “Give me your money or I will break your arm,” is committing assault because there is a real possibility that they would follow through on their threat. But, an individual who shouts, “I’m going to bite you,” from across a football field is not committing assault because it is physically impossible to bite someone from so far away.
Are there different types of assault?
Simply, yes. The legal definitions vary depending on your location, but for the purpose of this article, assault can be either aggravated or simple. Aggravated assault describes any attack or threat of attack where a weapon is involved or any attack in which the victim endures serious bodily harm. A simple assault is any attack or threat of attack where a weapon is not involved and that does not result in serious bodily harm. Assault typically goes hand-in-hand with battery, though again, the exact legal definitions vary across jurisdictions. Typically, battery occurs when the perpetrator makes physical contact with the victim. Someone who threatens, but does not actually touch or injure a victim, has only committed assault.
Assault and battery may have sexual components (e.g., rape), vehicular components (e.g., reckless driving), or verbal components (e.g., name calling) in addition to the physical component.
Who is at risk of being assaulted?
The unfortunate fact is this: Assault can happen to anyone. However, there are some risk factors that may make an individual more likely to become a victim of assault. As of 2011, data show that males are more likely to experience aggravated assault than females. Additionally, African Americans are more likely to experience aggravated assault than all other races; Hispanics and non-Hispanics are equally likely to experience aggravated assault.
There are differences in the perpetrators as well. Of male victims of aggravated assault, 53% of them knew their attacker, while 47% did not know their attacker. For female victims, the same is true, but to a greater extent: 66% of female victims of aggravated assault knew their attacker, while 34% did not. Females are over four times as likely to be assaulted by their intimate partner than males.
Simple assault statistics show the same trend for females: 69% were assaulted by someone they knew, while 31% were assaulted by a stranger. For males, though, the trend is different. An equal number of males were assaulted by someone they knew (50%) as by a stranger (50%). As seen with aggravated assault, females are much more likely to experience simple assault at the hand of an intimate partner than males.
The cautionary tale for females, then, is to beware of their intimate partners. However, assault cannot be simplified so far as to say that all partners are likely to commit assault. Assault is unpredictable until it happens; everyone should be alert.
What should I do after an assault?
After an assault you may feel confused, ashamed, helpless, angry, or terrified. These are all natural feelings, and with help and time, you will feel normal again. Remember that no matter the circumstances, an assault is not your fault. You weren’t asking for it. You didn’t do anything to deserve it. The only person at fault in an assault is the perpetrator.
This post on the Student Caffé blog talks about what to do if you are mugged, but many of the steps outlined in the text are similar for any type of assault. Regardless of the type of assault you have experienced, you should seek help from law enforcement, mental health professionals, friends, and family.
Immediately after an assault:
- Call 9-1-1, campus police, or both. You will be asked to describe what happened, if you know or could describe the perpetrator, and for any other relevant information. This will help the police track down your attacker. Be sure to take the reporting officers’ business cards in case you need to follow up with them later on. They, too, may follow up with you for any number of reasons: tracking down the perpetrator and needing an identification, asking follow up questions about the attack, etc.
- Call an ambulance if you have experienced a sexual assault or are severely injured. If you’ve been hurt, you need medical attention. Besides providing medical treatment, the hospital may also document your injuries in case you decide to press charges against your attacker.
- If you have been the victim of sexual assault, you may want to shower, clean up, or change clothes before going to the emergency room. It is of the utmost importance that you do not do this. While you can bring a change of clothes to the hospital with you, you shouldn’t clean or alter your body in any way until after you’ve been examined. If you want to press charges, ask for a rape kit, which will check your body for the DNA of the perpetrator and document your injuries. Having one on file will strengthen your case. Showering, changing clothes, or otherwise cleaning up before a rape kit is completed will wash away evidence.
- Call your parents, a trusted family member, or a close friend. Your family is going to want to be with you during this time, but if you can’t call family or don’t want to see them yet, call your best friend, whether it’s someone at home or on campus. You don’t have to go through anything alone and having a (virtual) hand to hold may be comforting.
After talking to law enforcement and receiving medical care:
- Consider pressing charges. If the police were able to identify and catch the perpetrator, it is well within your rights to press criminal charges against that person. Talk to the police or a lawyer about your options.
- Remove yourself from further situations. If you know the perpetrator, take care to avoid them. If you can help it, don’t be alone with them; avoid both verbal and physical contact and certainly don’t try to get revenge, no matter how angry and hurt you are. If you’re worried that he or she may attack you again, consider getting a restraining order. Furthermore, don’t talk to friends and family members of the perpetrator. If you are planning on going to court, there shouldn’t be any contact between you and parties sympathetic to the perpetrator, especially since these are the same people who might try to convince you to drop the charges.
- Consider calling a national hotline or talking to a therapist. Everybody deals with trauma in a different way. Some internalize and don’t want to talk about anything but suffer emotional consequences as a result. Some people seem to be okay and try to continue living their lives as before. Others may develop post-traumatic stress disorder, often referred to as PTSD. Talking to a professional who is removed from your situation may provide an outlet for your emotions and frustrations, and you may get advice on new ways to cope with the trauma. If you do not feel comfortable using the health center on campus or finding a therapist nearby, you can call one of the following toll-free numbers:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
- Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network: 1-800-656-4673
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
- The Samaritans: 212-673-3000
- Thursday’s Child: 1-800-872-5437
- Learn more about the resources available to support you here.
- Know that it will take time. Recovering from a traumatic event takes time, sometimes years, but you will be okay again. Nothing about the assault was your fault, and you should not take any of the blame for your situation. Someone else did that to you. You are strong, and you will recover.
Page last updated: 03/2019