Adults don’t agree on what amounts to sexual assault, study suggests

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A student’s phone alarm went off every 30 seconds in Jeannie Robinson’s class to show how often sexual assault happens in the world.

Robinson, a school of humanities adjunct who teaches a human sexuality class on Dixie State University’s campus, used statictics from the book “Human Sexuality: Self, Society, and Culture” by Gilbert Herdt and Nicole Polen-Petit to teach her students how two people are sexually assaulted every minute.

With websites like RAINN, which stands for Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, people can become aware of how often sexual assault happens. According to research conducted by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, U.S. adults don’t agree on what exactly constitutes sexual assault. 

According to a press release on NSVRC’s research, 84 percent of adults viewed sexual intercourse without a partner’s consent as sexual assault; 83 percent viewed unwanted touching, groping or fondling as sexual assault; 77 percent viewed sex trafficking as sexual assault; 77 percent viewed child pornography as sexual assault; and 78 percent viewed incest as sexual assault. The data also concludes that adults are less likely to see voyeurism and verbal harassment as assault.

Elizabeth Bluhm, victim advocate coordinator at the DOVE Center, said socialization can be to blame for why adults don’t agree on what constitutes sexual assault.

“I think in our society, we tend to encourage certain traits; one of them is persistence,” Bluhm said. “In personal relationships, persistence can be a dangerous thing. A person needs to respect a person’s right to have personal boundaries. If someone doesn’t understand no means no, that’s a problem.” 

Popular movies, TV shows and books glamorize aggressive behavior and view persistence as a valuable trait, Bluhm said. 

“We’re brainwashed to think that that’s OK or that there’s some magical switch that takes [an act] from nonconsensual to consensual,” Bluhm said. 

She said it has never been OK for someone to force their attention onto someone else. 

Amber Murray, community outreach and prevention education coordinator at the DOVE Center, said rape is just one form of sexual assault. She said someone smacking another person’s butt or grabbing a female’s breasts can be argued as sexual assault.

According to Utah Code 76-9-702.1, a person is guilty of sexual battery, a class A misdemeanor, if he or she “intentionally touches, whether or not through clothing, the anus, buttocks, or any part of the genitals of another person, or the breast of a female person” and causes alarm to the person he or she touched. 

“Sexual assault is when people actually physically do something to you,” Murray said. “Rape is a form of sexual assault, but it’s not the only form of sexual assault.” 

There’s also a “blurry” line between sexual harassment and sexual assault, Murray said. 

“(With) sexual harassment, there’s somebody objectifying you — there’s somebody in a roundabout way exerting their power and control over you but in a sexual way (and) a demeaning way,” Murray said. 

Bluhm said sexual harassment tends to be subtle because it’s more verbal. She also said some sexual harassment behavior may not be illegal but can be extremely inappropriate.

Murray said sexual assault is an issue in St. George and said the DOVE Center is reporting to the hospital almost weekly for a sexual assault case.

Cindy Cole, associate general counsel and Title IX coordinator, said both sexual assault and sexual harassment are investigated by DSU’s Title IX office.

“Sexual assault is an issue of concern here at Dixie,” Cole said.