Sexual assault is more common than we might think. While 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men report having been sexually assaulted, the incidence of sexual assault may be even higher, as not everyone comes forward to report what has happened.
In the winter months, when Christmas nights out are almost every weekend, and darkness falls as early as 4 pm, it. With several high-profile cases, such as that of Sarah Everard, in the media, many people are wondering what additional safety measures can be taken to reduce risk and protect themselves.
People who are sexually assaulted are never at fault. No victim of sexual assault is to blame. There is nothing they should or shouldn’t have done to avoid being assaulted. However, there are some measures that can be taken to raise awareness about sexual assault, enhance personal safety, and boost confidence.
What Is Sexual Assault?
Sexual assault encompasses any non-consensual sexual activity, including touching the breasts or genitals (even through clothes), kissing, pressing up against someone for sexual pleasure or trying to remove someone’s clothing. It is also a crime to make someone engage in sexual activity without their consent; this includes masturbation or touching another person sexually.
What Is Rape?
Rape is defined in law as without consent. This includes, for example, ‘stealthing’ - where an individual agrees to protected sexual intercourse, and the condom is removed without consent. It also includes non-consensual penile penetration within relationships. Consent can be withdrawn at any time, so in situations where you initially agreed to sex but later withdraw your consent or ask the person to stop; if they do not stop, this is rape. Rape also includes penile sexual intercourse with a person who is unable to consent - for example, if they are incapacitated by alcohol or drugs.
Stay With Trusted Friends
It is perfectly okay to have a night out with your friends, drink alcohol, wear whatever you like, and have a fun time. It’s also okay to make new friends, dance with strangers and drink with new acquaintances. Drinking alcohol or being drunk does NOT mean rape or sexual assault is permissible. However, it’s important to either stay with friends, have a plan of how you will find your friends if you become separated, and be aware of where your trusted pals are throughout the night. Regular check-ins are useful to make sure none of your friends are being made to feel uncomfortable by others.
Communicate Your Limits
A smooch with a stranger under the mistletoe can be cute and spontaneous, but sometimes it can escalate quickly. Communicate your limits, for example, telling a hook-up that you’d love a dance and a kiss, but you won’t be accompanying them back to their home, and you don’t want to engage in sex with them. This avoids any confusion around consent and sets your boundaries early on, allowing you to relax and enjoy your evening. In addition, sexual predators are less likely to prey on someone who is assertive and sure of their intentions. If you feel at all pressured, uneasy or just have a weird feeling about someone, remove yourself from the situation and reunite yourself with people you trust.
Watch Your Drinks
Sexual offences are often reported to involve ‘drink spiking’ - this is where alcohol or drugs are added to a person’s drink without their knowledge. This is usually with the intention of reducing inhibitions, evoking amnesia or incapacitating the victim in some way to facilitate sexual activity. This is illegal and carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years. Never leave your drink unattended, and be wary of people offering to buy you a drink. If someone offers you a drink, it’s fine to accept, but accompany them to the bar and watch the bartender pour your drink. If you are worried something has been put into your drink, for example, the taste or appearance is different, or you see someone tampering with your drink - inform venue staff and do not drink it.
Drink In Moderation
Whilst it’s perfectly fine to enjoy a few drinks on a Christmas night out, being aware of your alcohol consumption and avoiding becoming intoxicated can increase personal safety. Sexual predators will often seek out someone who appears drunk. Remember, if you are incapacitated to such an extent you cannot consent, anyone who has sex with you has committed rape or sexual assault. Alternate alcohol with non-alcoholic drinks, make sure you’ve had something to eat, and if you feel like you’re losing control - stop drinking.
Have A Plan To Get Home
Having a plan to get home is important, particularly with the advent of rail strikes and adverse winter weather conditions. Booking a taxi for a specific time, or knowing exactly when your last bus home is, can help you feel safer, knowing you have a solid plan to get home. Make sure someone knows when you’re home safe and if you’ve not heard from a friend, check in on them to make sure they are home. Avoid walking home in the dark alone, especially if you have been drinking or are not familiar with your surroundings. Perpetrators may prey on those who look lost or unsure.
Keep Your Phone Charged
It’s important to have a way to communicate with friends or family if you do find yourself on your own, lost or in a situation you need to get away from. Moreover, phones can help you orient yourself if you find yourself lost, find your local transport, or even call emergency services. If you do find yourself in a potentially dangerous situation, make sure you have your emergency contacts easily accessible. Some phones have the ability to call emergency services if you press a button five times.
Know Where To Go
Know where to go if you have been sexually assaulted or raped. The police may be an obvious first step; however, there are specialist sexual assault referral centres (SARCs) across the UK that can help you if you do not feel you want to involve the police right away. They can facilitate a forensic medical examination, signpost you to emergency contraception and STI testing, and offer you valuable support. Rape Crisis has a 24-hour helpline available to anyone at any time. You are never alone.
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In summary, rape and sexual assault are never the victim's fault - the perpetrator is always to blame. But there are measures that can be taken to help us feel safer and possibly reduce the chances of non-consensual situations arising. So stay with your friends and keep these simple safety measures in mind when you’re out enjoying the festive season.