Ask Ava

Ask Ava, Episode 180: "Is it sexual assault to pressure someone into sexual activity?"

September 21, 2023 Safe+Sound Somerset Season 1 Episode 180
Ask Ava
Ask Ava, Episode 180: "Is it sexual assault to pressure someone into sexual activity?"
Show Notes Transcript

Episode 180: "Is it sexual assault to pressure someone into sexual activity?"

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You’re listening to the Ask Ava Podcast, where we give real answers to real questions from teens and young adults about relationships, consent, dating violence, and more.

My name is Jessica Skultety. I’m an Outreach and Prevention Manager at Safe+Sound Somerset. We are Somerset County, New Jersey’s lead organization for domestic and sexual violence services and prevention, and we have free services for children, teens, and adults who witness or experience violence.

So, today’s question is: Dear Ava, “Is it sexual assault to pressure someone into sexual activity?”

So the short answer is yes - if pressuring leads to sexual activity that one person did not fully or freely consent to, then that is sexual assault. Assault is an action that is sexual in nature, that is done without consent. And there are a lot of levels and layers to this, but that’s the basic answer.

If someone says yes because they’re scared, or they say yes to survive, that is not consent. That is sexual assault.

And consent is a big topic. Let’s take a look at this more in detail. This question is mostly about that consent has to be freely given. So, we use an acronym called FRIES to talk about consent. 

And “F” is for Freely Given. So again, if someone says yes because they’ve been pressured or forced or guilted, that’s not freely given. If someone says yes to survive, like I said before, that’s not freely given consent.

So also with the word FRIES we have “R” which is Reversible – which means that at any time, any partner can change their mind. And you always have the right to change your mind. During sexual activity to step back or say “no.”

There’s also “I” which is Informed – so that means there are no tricks, everyone knows what they are agreeing to. Everyone understands what’s going to happen – that’s part of being informed.

“E” is for everyone agrees – so that means that, it’s pretty obvious what that means, but  it’s also important that everyone is of age, no one is passed out, or intoxicated or incapacitated by drugs or alcohol, or that they’re being pressured, threatened, or forced.

And then “S” is for Specific – so that means that your consent is given for every action at the time it happens, not before. Somebody asked us once in a class, “What if we talked about having sex later? Doesn’t that count as consent?” It has to happen at the time it’s happening, and for every action.

So here’s another way to think about this. If someone isn’t sure or they say no, or they say maybe, or they’re quiet, that’s not consent. They may change their mind, but if someone pressures or forces them to do it, that’s still not consent. The state of New Jersey does specifically say that coercion (which is manipulation into unwanted sexual acts) does also fall under the definition of sexual assault. Some states won’t prosecute a case, if there’s not enough evidence to charge a harm doer. But that doesn't mean that it wasn't a sexual assault, or any less serious, or that it didn’t harm the other person.

If there’s any kind speech, body language or indication that someone is not interested in sexual activity, the other person should take a step back and wait. This also includes if someone is unsure. Pressure, guilt or forcing are never okay. 

If you or a friend experiences sexual assault, it’s not your fault. There are free services available. It’s more common than you think, unfortunately. But if you want someone to talk to, we have a 24/7 confidential helpline, which I’ll mention at the end, and you can call or text us for support. 

We also have a Sexual Assault Response Team. This is a service that’s available throughout New Jersey. Within 5 days after a sexual assault, if somebody is 13, they can contact the hospital or our helpline, and we will connect them. There are 3 possible people who can assist you in the 5 days after a sexual assault, but either way, those people are: a forensic nurse examiner, a police officer, and/or and advocate, like someone to support you. And you get to choose who you want involved in supporting you.

So either way, you can always call or text a helpline like ours, and we can support you even if it’s been years since this happened. Remember you’re not alone, and there are people out there to support you.

To speak with an expert about relationship or sexual violence, call or text the Safe+Sound Somerset 24/7 confidential helpline at 866-685-1122 for supportive listening, information, and safety planning. In the United States, you can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233, or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-4673.  

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