As a trauma advocate, I’ve had the privilege of listening to survivors share the most personal details of their lives with me. Whether I’m speaking in front of college-aged students, working with the NYPD, or reading the news, I continue to observe how little the general public knows about sexual assault and its daily effects on women specifically. There are some basic things that everyone should know about sexual assault — you don’t have to be a woman, straight, white or on the frontline to make a difference.

There are core messages we must retain and spread throughout our own communities. Through education and outreach, we have the power to limit the amount of re-offenders of sexual assault and empower survivors in an effective way that makes them feel whole again.

Without getting caught up in the legal terminology, let’s take a step back and have a discussion as a community, as peers. When someone feels violated, we should all feel remorse. Every time. Regardless of technicalities, regardless of if the violation was intentional, and regardless of who or what they are  — this is the most fundamental concept that’s missing from the conversation. There are things we can do to control our own narratives, and limit the pain in our communities. Do your part.

1. Consent does not ruin romance.

Someone’s level of comfort and safety is not ruining anyone’s good time, in fact, asking for consent can be sexy AF.

There are a variety of words you can use to make sure there’s consent between two people. If “do you want to have sex?” sounds too formal, get creative and insert a little profanity in the mix. Trust me, it’s hot.

2. “Picking up on energy” is not a thing.

If you thought there was some silent language or unspoken energy that could be a form of consent, well, you’ve only got a 50/50 shot of being right — maybe less if you’re being intimate with someone for the first time.

Don’t try a “sneak attack” and hope your partner speaks up — it is never worth it. You don’t get bonus points for pulling out after someone says “no” and agreeing to take things slow. You already took it upon yourself to make that decision for both of you, and there’s no going back. Regardless of your intent, this can be incredibly traumatizing for the person on the receiving end. Use your words, not your dick, to get consent.

3. It’s never too late to say no.

Anyone can decide at any point that they do not want to have sex. Sex isn’t like flying — once you board, you can get off at any point before you reach your final destination.

Saying no and laying down boundaries takes practice — for everyone. Sex is about communication, and once you get that down, it opens the door for you to know more about your partner, and your own boundaries.

4. Sexual assault affects an entire community.

Where there’s violence, you can expect a ripple effect throughout an entire community. Sexual assault promotes fear, alters our interactions with each other, and causes safety concerns. When one member of a community experiences trauma, we all live in that trauma, albeit to a lesser degree.

While it should be up to community leaders, colleges, and universities to begin the healing process, that doesn’t always happen. On college campuses, many young women and men will see their attacker on a daily basis while facing bullying and harassment. It takes a village to heal an entire community.

5. Watch it or ditch it.

Whether you paid $2 for a beer or $14 for a cocktail, there’s nothing worth more than your safety. If you can’t watch your own drink, then you need to ditch it. If you think date rape drugs aren’t on your campus or in your community, consider that perpetrators can get creative with prescription drugs they slip their victims.

Because there’s “safety in numbers,” asking a friend to watch your drink while you make a beeline to the bathroom may seem like the responsible thing to do. But keep in mind that 45 percent of sexual assaults are committed by known acquaintances, and that even your most trusted friend can get sidetracked. Take your drink wherever you go. Besides, you know the bathroom line is going to be painfully long AF.

6. There’s no such thing as being overdramatic.

Your friends are not therapists, trauma advocates, cops, or lawyers, so you’re best off trusting your own instincts. We all have boundaries, and they may differ from those of even our closest friends. If you experienced something that felt violating, traumatizing, or crossed a line, your feelings are the only ones that matter.

Remember, we all have our own different thresholds, so do not tell someone (behind their back or to their face) that they are being overdramatic. Someone with different boundaries isn’t a threat to you, because this isn’t about you. If you have nothing to add, then shhhh.

7. Be trauma-informed.

Now that we’re openly discussing sexual assault in our classrooms and places of work, it’s absolutely essential to speak from a trauma-informed perspective to avoid retraumatization. Again, think about who is and isn’t in the room. Speak from a place of empathy, not judgement.  Only six out of every 1,000 perpetrators will end up in prison, so yes — when many women talk about sexual violence there is anger. There is fear. There is resentment.

Instead of playing devil’s advocate by creating highly specific scenarios to find a potential loophole, remember this: The statistic of falsely reported sexually based crimes in the past 20 years is low, between 2 percent and 10 percent, and that number is a poorly educated guess. As CNN points out, the research on those rates are frequently exaggerated because of inconsistencies in the definition of sexual assault.  

8. Sexual assault doesn’t discriminate.

You don’t have to be thin, rich, white, or a woman to be a victim of sexual assault. While the #Metoo movement has shined a long overdue spotlight on sexual trauma, there is a side conversation happening about the other faces. Safety concerns, feelings of shame and embarrassment, and simply not being reflected in the images that we see daily limit some survivors’ representation in the #Metoo movement — and their access to services.

Allow me to drop some statistics on you: Immigrant survivors are among the most vulnerable and least likely to report for fear of detainment and deportation. According to the CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey from 2010, 22 percent of black women have been raped at some point in their lifetime. Transgender women are three times more likely to report experiencing sexual violence, per a recent annual report by the National Coalition of Anti Violence Projects. Rape is not about attraction, it’s about power. If you’re wondering what a survivor looks like, look around you — we’re everywhere.

If you are experiencing or have experienced sexual violence and are in need of support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

For more information, view our safety tips