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The seriousness of sexual assult

A Victim may not realize that any form of sexual behavior that is not consented to and that causes discomfort, fear or intimidation is considered sexual assault in most jurisdictions.

That includes indecent exposure, unwanted physical contact (including kissing and fondling) and lascivious acts, as well as oral and anal sex and vaginal rape, whether with a body part or an instrument.

A minor —in general, 16 or 17, depending on the state —can legally consent to sexual activity. A person of any age who is forced or threatened, developmentally disabled, chronically mentally ill, incapacitated by drugs or alcohol, unconscious or preparing to undergo a medical procedure cannot legally consent to sexual activity.

Among young children, girls and boys are equally at risk of being sexually abused. But as they age, girls increasingly become targets; among adults, women represent about 90 percent of cases.

Experts have long debated whether rape should be seen as an act of aggression and control or the product of an irresistible sexual urge. To the victim, the distinction is moot.

The consequences can include pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease; feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and low self-esteem; self-blame and depression; substance abuse and eating disorders; fears of intimacy; numbness; post-traumatic stress disorder (nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety attacks, difficulty functioning); borderline personality disorder; unexplained physical problems; and even suicide.

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