Sexual violence is common. According to the Center for Disease Control, 1 in 6 men, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 2 gender nonconforming individuals will experience sexual violence in their lifetime. Sexual violence is committed where consent or permission is not freely given. It is most often committed by an acquaintance or someone the victim trusts. Sexual violence occurs at all ages, backgrounds and genders.
Sexual violence includes a range of nonconsensual sexual behaviors that manipulate, intimidate and exert power on a person. This can include sexual assault, sexual abuse, stalking, harassment, trafficking, domestic violence, cyber abuse, revenge porn, and rape.
Know Your Rights
It is never the fault of a victim who is sexually abused.
All children are vulnerable. All teens and adults alike are at risk of being sexually victimized. Regardless of the choices people make or who they are – No one ever deserves to be sexually abused.
After your assault, you may decide to report to authorities or seek protection through the courts. You may also choose to speak out publicly, share your story with the media, or express your trauma through art. Speaking out publicly about your assault can be empowering and healing. But some abusers will try to silence you by filing a defamation lawsuit and claiming that you are making false statements that are damaging to their character and reputation. In many cases, you may be protected under the First Amendment. It is still important to be aware of the risks around defamation and know your options.
Under Title IX, schools are legally required to respond to and remedy the hostile educational environment. This specifically covers cases of sexual harassment and sexual violence. Title IX dictates that your school needs to have an established procedure to handle claims of sexual discrimination, harassment, and violence. Your school should also protect you from retaliation for reporting the sexual assault. You have a right to continue your education at the school of your choice and should not be encouraged to transfer unless it is something you are seeking.
If you need to take time off from your job due to the sexual assault, domestic violence or stalking that you or a family member has experienced, you may take reasonable leave from work for certain activities. Leave is not limited by an employee’s available paid time off. The leave you take can be with or without pay. You may choose to use sick leave and other paid time off, compensatory time, or unpaid leave time.
You must give your employer advance notice of your planned leave, following your employer’s policy for requesting leave. If you cannot give advance notice due to emergency or unforeseen circumstances, you must give notice no later than the end of the first day that you took leave.
Your employer may require verification that you are a victim of sexual assault and that the leave was taken for one of the allowable activities. The verification must be provided to your employer before taking leave, or within a reasonable time during or after the leave. You do not have to discuss any information about the sexual assault with your employer. You only have to provide verification.
You have several rights related to your rental housing if you are the victim of sexual assault, domestic violence or stalking, such as:
- Right to move before the end of your rental agreement if certain conditions are met.
- Right to equal treatment and protection from discrimination due to experiencing a sexual assault.
- Right to security in your home, such as your landlord changing your locks.
If you have been raped or sexually assaulted you may choose to go to the hospital for medical care where you have the right to a support person, to a free medical exam which includes the rape kit exam, and emergency contraception. However you do not necessarily have the right to free ongoing medical treatment of injuries you received during the assault. This depends on your income and will be determined between you and the hospital.
Privacy is a crucial component of your safety and stability. Several federal laws include privacy and confidentiality provisions and most states prohibit the disclosure of victim information. In Washington, this includes protecting your:
- Medical records
- Counseling records
- Therapy records
- Rape crisis records
- Education records
- Immigration status
Both respondents and media may feel entitled to access private information about you. Depending on what kind of information is being requested, there are different options in responding.
Washington law is designed to make the process of obtaining a protection order as easy as possible if you have good reason for needing protection. You do not need an attorney, and many people in protection order hearings do not have attorneys. There is no filing fee to get a sexual assault or domestic violence protection order, and you will be given free certified copies of your order.
If your case has been criminally charged, the judge can issue a criminal no-contact order. A no-contact order generally tells the perpetrator of domestic violence to stay away from you when they are released from custody before arraignment or trial on bail or personal recognizance. A no-contact order may be put into place at any time during the court proceedings. No-contact orders end when the criminal case ends (e.g. when charges are dropped, after a “not guilty verdict,” or when probation ends).
In the State of Washington a victim of rape or sexual assault has the right to a support person. The support person is someone you choose to be your personal representative. It can be a family member, friend or sexual assault advocate. You do not have to have a support person – but you do have a right to one. You have several other rights, including:
- Right to be informed about the criminal case
- Right to be heard and address the court where defendant is being considered for release
- Right to submit a victim impact statement
- Right to attend all court proceedings
- Right to receive protection as a victim
- Right to have property returned
- Right to restitution
As a crime victim, you are eligible for assistance through Crime Victim Compensation and the Address Confidentiality Program
Rights as Minors
There is no universal age of consent for all legal issues related to your sexual assault. The age varies depending on the issue.
- The right to consent to sexual intercourse is 16 years
- The right to consent to medical examination or treatment without parental notification is 13 years
- The right to file for a protection order on your own is 15 years
For Title IX cases involving your school, if you are under 18 years old, any teacher or school staff you report a sexual assault to is a mandatory reporter and the school is obligated to follow through with an investigation.
The Sexual Violence Law Center (SVLC) attorneys provide holistic, trauma-informed legal assistance to victims of sexual violence in a wide variety of legal matters, including protection orders, immigration, employment, public benefits, Title IX, housing, crime victim rights and more. We also provide technical assistance and trainings to advocates, attorneys, and judges working with victims of sexual violence.