Sexual assaults are the most personal of all crimes. Sexual assaults are also believed to be a severely under-reported crime. Victims of sexual assaults often struggle with the decision to report their assault to law enforcement authorities.
There are many names used to describe these kinds of cases, but most refer to it as rape. At its most serious level, the State of North Dakota calls it gross sexual imposition. The general term, sexual assault, refers to a number of sexually related crimes, ranging in level from class A felonies to class B misdemeanors. A class A felony is punishable by up to 20 years in jail and/or a fine of $10,000. A class B misdemeanor is punishable by up to 30 days in jail and/or a fine of $1,000.
A sexual assault involves sexual activity or contact compelled by force or threats of harm, perpetrated by the administration of alcohol or drugs without the victim's knowledge, perpetrated on a victim who is unaware of the act, or perpetrated against a vulnerable or underage victim. (For specific and detailed wording of the laws refer to the North Dakota Century Code, chapter 12.1-20.)
The age of consent in the state of North Dakota is 18. This means any sexual activity or contact with a person under the age of 18 is a crime. This includes sexual activity or contact between two minors.
In this area, most victims of sexual assaults are able to identify their assailant or are able to provide enough information about the assailant for law enforcement to identify that person. Very few sexual assaults in this community are stranger attacks.
There are things you can do to reduce your chances of being a victim of sexual assault:
Avoid overconsumption of alcohol and/or drugs. Persons under the influence of alcohol or drugs may be viewed as easy targets. Also, chemical impairment may adversely affect your ability to resist an assailant. There are a number of studies related to the alcohol factor. Those studies indicate that as many as 50–70% of victims were under the influence at the time of the attack.
Be alert. Pay attention to what is going on around you. Is the person you are with trying to get you away from your friend or trying to get you to drink more? If you believe someone is following you, look right at him/her; this may deter an attack because the would-be assailant may be afraid you could identify him/her.
Stick together. Friends should look out for one another.
Deny privacy. Most sexual assaults take place out of view of others, most commonly in the home or vehicle of the victim or attacker. Be cautious about accepting rides from people or accepting invitations to someone's home. Stay where there are other people. If you attend a party and end up drinking too much or not feeling well, do not go into a back room to sleep it off. Have a friend take you home.
Clearly communicate your wishes about sexual contact. Say NO/STOP! Many sexual assault cases come down to a question of consent. Clearly stating your unwillingness to participate in sexual activities may prevent you from becoming a victim. Many suspects claim they believed the victim was willing because she did not use the word no.
Personal safety devices. Consider carrying a personal alarm that will draw attention to a problem or scare away an assailant. Other options include mace or pepper spray. Think about how you could use items you normally carry as a weapon to defend yourself if necessary. (i.e.: purse, keys, umbrella etc)
If you become the victim of a sexual assault:
- Please report the assault to law enforcement in the jurisdiction where the assault happened, as soon as possible. Prompt reporting allows for a timely investigation and can make difference in the success of the case. Not reporting impacts a victim's ability to get justice and that, in turn, can impact the healing process. In addition, assailants who are not held accountable for their actions can be a continued threat to public safety.
- Avoid cleaning yourself in any way that may result in loss of physical evidence. Physical evidence can be very important in a sexual assault case. Victims are encouraged to avoid eating, drinking, brushing their teeth, urinating, showering or bathing until a medical exam and evidence collection can be done, if the victim is willing to participate in that exam.
Participation in the medical-legal examination is strongly encouraged. This is a critical step in the collection of physical evidence in most assaults. What is included in the exam depends on the circumstances involved in the assault. This exam is done by trained medical staff and can be done at any local hospital emergency room.
- If you believe you were drugged, law enforcement will want to obtain a urine sample as soon as possible to prove the presence of drug and to identify what drug was used. Unfortunately, many date rape drugs metabolize quickly. This means that after several hours, it may not be detected in a sample. As a result, it is important to get that sample very soon after the assault. It is acceptable to go directly to a hospital, even before notifying law enforcement.
- Seek the support of friends, family and staff at the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center (RACC) if you've been the victim of an assault. You can reach the RACC at 293-7273, 800-344-7273 (toll-free) or http://www.raccfm.com/.