Power-based interpersonal violence is an umbrella term we use to talk about sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and stalking.
In its simplest definition, sexual assault is unwanted sexual contact. Sexual assault includes the act of rape (oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse without consent) or forced penetration by a foreign object (including a finger). It also includes non-penetrating acts such as touching an unwilling person’s sexual parts (e.g. breast, buttocks, genitalia), naked or through clothing, or forcing an unwilling person to touch another’s sexual parts. Force includes the use of physical aggression, threats of physical aggression, or sexual contact with a person who is unable to consent (e.g. unconscious, too intoxicated to consent, asleep, etc.). Non-forceful coercion can also be used, for example, threatening to reveal secrets, to tell others that the victim and perpetrator had sexual intercourse, to fire an employee or fail a student (these cases also fit the definition of sexual harassment) or threatening the victims friends or family members are all forms of coercion. Sexual assaults are committed by both strangers AND people the victim knows. In fact, the vast majority of rapes and sexual assaults are committed by someone the victims knows, ranging from friends and acquaintances to dates, romantic partners, and spouses or domestic partners. Although people often think of rape as something that only happens to women, this is not the case. Both men and women are sexually assaulted, as are people of every ethnicity, age, culture, religion, economic background, or sexual orientation.
Although these definitions seem clear, people are often confused as to whether they have been sexually assaulted or not, or even if they have been raped or not. This is particularly true when the survivor knows their assailant, as they may often feel that they somehow led the person on, or that they are in some way responsible for the assault. In many cases, survivors may feel that because they were not seriously hurt physically, it wasn’t really rape. This is not true. ANY sexual contact forced upon you by someone against your will is illegal and against the GC Sexual Misconduct Policy. It is illegal and wrong, even if you have been sexual with that person in the past or are currently being sexual, but don’t wish to go past certain limits. Examples include:
- A stranger grabs your breast at a party or in a bar
- A date insists that you have sex even after you tell them you don’t want to
- Your romantic partner of 4 years forces you to have sex
- Someone gets you drunk or slips a rape drug into your drink in order to get you to have sex with them
Intimate Partner Violence
How do I know if I’m in a violent relationship?
It is important to remember that violence in relationships often starts out fairly mild and then escalates over time. People often think that an occasional slap or shove, or low levels of emotional abuse, are not important and won’t get worse, or will just go away. Although this does sometimes happen, in many cases the violence will only continue to get worse. However, even if the violence does not escalate, it is important to remember that no one has the right to hit you or abuse you in any way. If you find yourself in a relationship where such behaviors are occurring, this may be a warning signal to you that your partner is, or may become, dangerous to you. Examples of abusive behaviors include:
- Trying to control where you go, who you spend time with, and what you do
- Extreme anger or jealousy over mild events
- Hitting, threatening to hit, or hitting objects or walls near you
- Behaving in a frightening manner, even if no explicit threats are made
- Forcing or coercing you to participate in sexual behavior you don’t want
- Extreme commitment to traditional gender roles, especially as they pertain to controlling or restricting women’s behavior
- Attempting to isolate you from friends or family
- Denying that the abuse has occurred or claiming to be the partner who is being abused
- Blaming you for the abuse or telling you that you deserve it
- Threatening to, or actually harming or destroying your possessions
- Threatening to, or actually hurting your pets, family members, friends, or other loved ones
- Threatening to hurt or kill themselves
If you are, or think you may be, in a violent relationship, it is important to talk to someone. The GC Women’s Center is available to help provide you with support and resources to assist you in deciding what course of action you should take. The Crisis Line and Safe House of Central Georgia provides a 24 hour/ 7 days a week referral line ().
Why do people stay in violent relationships?
Although there is a myth that people, especially women, stay indefinitely in abusive relationships, the truth is that most people do eventually leave. Leaving is a process, though, and for some people it involves going back to the abusive partner and then leaving again. There are many reasons why people stay in an abusive relationship for a while, including:
- They fear the abuser, who may have threatened to kill them, or someone they love if they leave.
- The abuser has succeeded in isolating them, personally and economically, to the point that they feel they have nowhere to go.
- Their partner has succeeded in systematically dismantling their self-esteem so that they feel they are at fault or deserve the abuse and do not have the right to leave.
- They may still love their partner and be convinced that he/she can change.
- They are taking time to get money and resources together so that they can leave successfully.
- They may feel that they are at fault and responsible for the abuse.
- They may not know that resources are available to help them leave.
- They may fear stigma and feel ashamed to have people know they have been abused.
- They may fear being deported if their residence status in the U.S. is dependent upon their partner.
- Their religion, ethnic or cultural beliefs may prohibit or discourage divorce.
As with sexual assault, people sometimes are not sure if what their partner is doing constitutes abuse. Or the abuse may have escalated so slowly that they don’t know how they ended up with someone who hurts them. Regardless of how the abuse came about, remember that it is not your fault and no one has the right to hurt you.
Furthermore, rather than asking why someone stays, we feel it is important to shift the conversation to why does the abuser abuse? By focusing on the behavior of the abuser and not the abused we shift the focus back to the cause of the abuse.
Stalking is defined as the willful and repeated following, watching, and/or harassing of another person. This may include either physical stalking or cyberstalking. Physical stalking may consist of following someone, appearing at a person's home or work, making harassing phone calls, leaving written messages, or vandalizing one's property. Cyberstalking involves using the Internet or other electronic means as a way to harass someone.
Stalking behaviors include:
- Constantly following or watching you either in person or via surveillance or other types of observation
- Non-consensual communication, including face-to-face, telephone calls, voice messages, electronic mail, written letters, unwanted gifts, etc.
- Damaging your property
- Repeatedly appearing at places where you are for no justifiable reason
- Threatening or obscene gestures
- Non-consensual touching
Most important of all stalking is illegal. If someone is stalking you, you have the right to seek help from the police, the legal system and the university.
Who are Stalkers?
Just as with sexual assault or intimate partner violence, there are no characteristics of class, race, age, or appearance that identify a stalker, though stalkers are more likely to be male than female. What does identify a stalker is their criminal behavior.
Generally speaking, there are three different types of stalkers, though there is considerable overlap between the groups. The first, the intimate-partner stalker, stalks a former partner who has rejected them. This type of stalking is common among formerly abusive partners, though it is certainly not exclusive to battering relationships. This type of stalker feels rejected and pursues their former partner in an effort to resume the relationship. They are often viewed as someone who just “can’t let go,” and are more likely to be perceived with sympathy by others. They are just as dangerous as other types of stalkers, however, and often have a history of controlling or abusive behaviors and of other criminal acts. More than half of all stalkers fall into this category.
The second type is the delusional stalker. This person typically develops romantic fantasies about someone who is only slightly, or not at all, known to them. They are convinced that they love this person and that they truly have a meaningful relationship. Victims of delusional stalkers are often extremely confused by their behavior, as they have never had a relationship with this person. This can lead them to dismiss the behavior, but it is important to take any stalking behavior seriously and protect your safety.
Finally, the third type is the vengeful stalker, who is angry at the victim about some real or imagined slight. This person stalks for revenge. Sometimes, they are former intimate partner or delusional stalkers who become angry when their victim develops a relationship with someone else, obtains a restraining order, or takes other steps to avoid the stalking and the “relationship.” This does not mean that victims of stalking should not take precautions to protect themselves, but simply that they need to be aware of the potential danger.
Regardless of what the stalker’s motivation is, their behaviors can become dangerous and it is crucial that you take steps to protect yourself. Be wary of beliefs that the stalker is really harmless, or just sad, although some stalkers do not become violent, many do.
What are the Effects of Stalking?
Stalking can be both frightening and dangerous. Victims of stalking may feel alone, isolated, or ashamed. If the stalking behaviors are not violent or threatening, they may feel that they are overreacting, or may feel guilty that a former partner is so distressed. If the behaviors are violent or threatening, they are likely to feel frightened and have difficulty going about their daily activities. Like sexual assault and intimate partner violence, stalking takes away a person’s control of their life and their activities. It is not uncommon for the victim of stalking to feel depressed and anxious, even after the stalking has ended.
What is Cyberstalking?
Although online harassment and threats can take many forms, cyberstalking shares important characteristics with offline stalking. Many stalkers - online or off - are motivated by a desire to exert control over their victims and engage in similar types of behavior to accomplish this end. Given the enormous amount of personal information available through the Internet, a cyberstalker can easily locate private information about a potential victim with a few mouse clicks or key strokes.
The fact that cyberstalking does not involve physical contact may create the misperception that it is more benign than physical stalking. This is not necessarily true. As the Internet becomes an ever more integral part of our personal and professional lives, stalkers can take advantage of the ease of communications as well as increased access to personal information. In addition, the ease of use and non-confrontational, impersonal, and sometimes anonymous nature of Internet communications may remove disincentives to cyberstalking. Put another way, whereas a potential stalker may be unwilling or unable to confront a victim in person or on the telephone, they may have little hesitation sending harassing or threatening electronic communications to a victim. Finally, as with physical stalking, online harassment and threats may be a prelude to more serious behavior, including physical violence.
While there are many similarities between offline and online stalking, the Internet and other communications technologies provide new avenues for stalkers to pursue their victims.
The anonymity of the Internet also provides new opportunities for would-be cyberstalkers. A cyberstalker's true identity can be concealed by using different ISPs and/or by adopting different screen names. More experienced stalkers can use anonymous remailers that make it all-but-impossible to determine the true identity of the source of an e-mail or other electronic communication.
Anonymity leaves the cyberstalker in an advantageous position. Unbeknownst to the target, the perpetrator could be in another state, around the corner, or in the next cubicle at work. The perpetrator could be a former friend or lover, a total stranger met in a chat room, or simply a teenager playing a practical joke. The inability to identify the source of the harassment or threats could be particularly ominous to a cyberstalking victim, and the veil of anonymity might encourage the perpetrator to continue these acts. In addition, some perpetrators, armed with the knowledge that their identity is unknown, might be more willing to pursue the victim at work or home, and the Internet can provide substantial information to this end. Numerous websites will provide personal information, including unlisted telephone numbers and detailed directions to a home or office. For a fee, other websites promise to provide social security numbers, financial data, and other personal information.
What to Do if You Experience Stalking/Cyberstalking
You must clearly tell the stalker to stop
Generally speaking, it is unwise to communicate with a stalker. However, as soon as you determine that you are truly being stalked by someone, you must very clearly tell that person to stop. Simply say something like "Do not contact me in any way in the future" and leave it there. You do not need to explain why, just state that you do not want the person to contact you. Sometimes it is helpful to copy this message to the abuse department of the stalker's ISP. Keep a record of this message for your records. Do not respond to any further messages of any sort from the stalker. Don't have anyone else contact the stalker on your behalf. It is common for the stalker to claim that you are harassing them, but if you aren't contacting the person, it is clear that you aren't the harasser.
One of the first impulses many stalking victims have is to just delete any communications they've received, and that's a bad idea. It's important to save absolutely every communication you have with the stalker - email, chat logs, ICQ histories, anything. If the stalker has created a web site about you, save copies of it to your local system and have someone you trust who would testify in court for you if necessary to do the same. If you receive any phone calls from the stalker, have them traced immediately (your local phone company can tell you how to do that). If you receive any kind of postal mail or other offline communications, save them (with envelopes, boxes, etc.). Do not destroy any evidence - and do not handle it more than absolutely necessary or permit anyone else to do so. Immediately turn the evidence over to the police. Place envelopes, letters, etc. in plastic bags to protect any possible fingerprints.
Complain to the appropriate parties
It can at times be a little difficult for people to determine who the appropriate party is. If you're harassed in a chat room, contact whoever runs the server you were using. If you're harassed on any kind of instant messaging service, read the terms of service and harassment policies they've provided and use any contact address given there. If someone has created a web site to harass you, complain to the server where the site is hosted. If you're being harassed via email, complain to the sender's ISP and any email service (like Hotmail) used to send the messages. Please contact the GC Women’s Center if you need any assistance.
Determine your desired result
What do you want to have happen? You need to think about that. Be realistic. It's reasonable to expect that you can get the harasser to stop contacting you. It is reasonable to expect that you can increase your safety online and offline. It is not realistic to expect an apology from the harasser.
Technology Safety Planning: How to Help a Friend
Tips to discuss if someone you know is in danger. Technology can be very helpful to victims of domestic violence, sexual violence, and stalking, however it is important to also consider how technology might be misused.
- Trust your instincts. If you suspect the abusive person knows too much, it is possible that your phone, computer, email, or other activities are being monitored. Abusers and stalkers can act in incredibly persistent and creative ways to maintain power and control.
- Plan for safety. Navigating violence, abuse, and stalking is very difficult and dangerous. If you or someone you know needs assistance, please contact the GC Women’s Center. Advocates are available at the National Domestic Violence Hotline and have been trained on technology issues, and can discuss options and help you in your safety planning. (National DV Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 800-787-3224)
- Take precautions if you have a "techy" abuser. If computers and technology are a profession or a hobby for the abuser/stalker, trust your instincts. If you think they may be monitoring or tracking you, talk to the Women’s Center, a hotline advocate, or the police.
- Use a safer computer. If anyone abusive has access to your computer, they might be monitoring your computer activities. Try to use a safer computer when you look for help, a new place to live, etc. It may be safest to use a computer at a public library, community center, or Internet cafe.
- Create a new email account. If you suspect that anyone abusive can access your email, consider creating an additional email account on a safer computer. Do not create or check this new email from a computer your abuser could access, in case it is monitored. Use an anonymous name, and account: (example: firstname.lastname@example.org, not YourRealName@email.com). Look for free web-based email accounts, and do not provide detailed information about yourself.
- Check your cell phone settings. If you are using a cell phone provided by the abusive person, consider turning it off when not in use. Also many phones allow you to "lock" the keys so a phone won't automatically answer or call if it is bumped. When on, check the phone settings; if your phone has an optional location service, you may want to switch the location feature off/on via phone settings or by turning your phone on and off.
- Change passwords & pin numbers. Some abusers use victim's email and other accounts to impersonate and cause harm. If anyone abusive knows or could guess your passwords, change them quickly and frequently. Think about any password protected accounts - online banking, voicemail, etc.
- Minimize use of cordless phones or baby monitors. If you don't want others to overhear your conversations, turn baby monitors off when not in use and use a traditional corded phone for sensitive conversations.
- Use a donated or new cell phone. When making or receiving private calls or arranging escape plans, try not to use a shared or family cell phone because cell phone billing records and phone logs might reveal your plans to an abuser. Contact your local hotline program to learn about donation programs that provide new cell phones and/or prepaid phone cards to victims of abuse and stalking.
- Ask about your records and data. Many court systems and government agencies are publishing records to the Internet. Ask agencies how they protect or publish your records and request that court, government, post office and others seal or restrict access to your files to protect your safety.
- Get a private mailbox and don't give out your real address. When asked by businesses, doctors, and others for your address, have a private mailbox address or a safer address to give them. Try to keep your true residential address out of national databases.
- Search for your name on the Internet. Major search engines such as "Google" or "Yahoo" may have links to your contact information. Search for your name in quotation marks: "Full Name". Check phone directory pages because unlisted numbers might be listed if you have given the number to anyone.
What is Consent?
Any sexual act that is initiated upon a person without their consent is against the law and is a violation of GC Code of Conduct and GC Policy. Consent can be a difficult concept to understand, but the basic principle is that every person has a right to personal sovereignty… in other words every person has the right not to be acted upon by someone else in a sexual way unless they give clear permission to do so.
Consent means that you can’t make assumptions about what your partner does or does not want. Absence of clear communication means that there is no permission to touch someone else not that there is. No means no, but silence also means no. Silence and passivity do not equal consent. Consent to one form of sexual activity does not automatically imply consent to other forms of sexual activity.
While engaging in sexual activity, one person can change their mind and withdraw consent at any time, as long as that withdrawal is clearly communicated by the person withdrawing it.
There are circumstances in which even when consent is given, it is not valid. Consent would be invalid when coerced, intimidated, threatened, forced, when given by a mentally or physically incapacitated person (including an intoxicated person), or when given by a minor. In a sexual encounter when one person withdraws (stops engaging or touching back), this may mean that they are uncomfortable with the sexual activity… it is time to stop completely and talk about each other’s desires and limits.
Continued requests or verbal pressure for sexual activity can be coercive and/or intimidating and may invalidate consent.
There is no duty for an alleged victim to fight off or act in any way to stop a sexual aggressor.
Consent means two people (or more) deciding together to do the same thing, at the same time, in the same way, with each other.
C Comprehension that the act is taking place
O Optional for all parties
N Negotiation with partner
S Sobriety – must have knowledge of the nature of the act
E Engagement in the act
T Talking about it/ communication –
Silence does not equal consent