What do you need to know about sexual violence?

Sexual violence is any act of fulfilling sexual needs with another person against their will. Sexual violence can be perpetrated by a complete stranger, but often the perpetrator is an intimate partner, a family member or another person known to the victim. The Criminal Code criminalizes rape, sexual assault and forcing a person to have sex, regardless of the interpersonal relationship between the victim and the abuser.

Was it sexual violence?

Professionals who help victims of sexual violence estimate that only one in four cases of sexual violence are reported to the police. This means that the other three people, for various reasons, do not dare to speak out. After experiencing sexual violence, it can be difficult to take stock of what has happened, to understand your emotions and to decide how to proceed. Often, the survivor of sexual violence tries to justify the abuser’s actions or ignore the harm suffered in order to make it easier to return to everyday life. This is a normal response to a traumatic experience. However, if left unaddressed, the problem leads the victim to an even more serious emotional state, leaving the abuser unpunished and free to continue committing crimes.

If you have any doubts that what you experienced was sexual violence, you should ask yourself some questions:

  • Are you too young to consent to sex? Under Lithuanian law, a person under the age of 16 cannot consent to sexual intercourse, and any sexual activity with him or her is criminal. It is punishable by imprisonment from two to fifteen years, depending on the age of the victim and the nature of the crime.
  • Were you able to consent to sexual intercourse? A person in a helpless state cannot give consent. The victim’s condition is considered to be helpless if he or she is a minor (under 14 years of age), is incapacitated, has a physical or mental impairment that makes him or her unaware of the acts being carried out on him or her, is unable to resist, and the perpetrator of the rape or sexual abuse is aware of this fact and takes advantage of the situation. Severe intoxication from alcohol, narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances or other psychoactive substances can also be considered as helplessness if the degree of intoxication renders the person unable to perceive the surroundings or resist. If one or more of these circumstances prevented you from acting on your own, you could not have consented to the sex.
  • Did you not freely consent to sexual intercourse? Consent alone is not enough – it has to be proactive. Consent can often be obtained through manipulation or threats of force (for example, an intimate partner trying to convince you that it is your duty to satisfy his/her passion), but sexual intercourse after such forced consent is sexual violence. If you have consented to sexual intercourse to avoid the consequences of refusal, your freedom and integrity of sexual decision-making have been violated.
  • Were your boundaries crossed? Only you can decide what you want to do, and agreeing to do one act does not mean agreeing to do everything. For example, agreeing to kiss does not mean that you have agreed to oral sex. The boundaries you set may change, so you have the right to refuse to continue at any time and your decision must be respected. If the intimate partner did not stop when you expressed your desire to stop, when you reported pain, etc., the act became coercive from the moment you refused.
  • Do you remember what happened? You may have been intoxicated or asleep, and sometimes memory loss is the body’s reaction to a traumatic event. If you suspect that you have been sexually assaulted but cannot remember all the details, do not ignore your anxiety and seek help as soon as possible – experts will investigate the incident, help you to identify the offence and provide you with the help you need.

What to do if you have experienced sexual violence?

If you have been sexually abused, it is important to understand that it was not your fault and you should not feel ashamed. Only the perpetrator is responsible for the crime, but your actions may determine whether he or she is punished.

Steps to follow in the event of sexual violence:

  • Take care of your safety. Ensuring your safety is a priority. If you are sexually assaulted, do not stay with the perpetrator and try to leave as soon as possible. This is best done when the abuser is out or asleep. Get help as soon as possible. If you are experiencing long-term violence and have decided to leave your home, try to do so when your abusive partner is not home, taking your children and essentials with you: money, keys, documents for you and your children (birth certificates, driving license, car insurance documents, bank cards, personal insurance documents, divorce papers if you are going through a divorce), a change of clothes, medicines. The most important thing is that the abuser cannot harm you until you call for help. Don’t be afraid to ask for support from your loved ones – you don’t have to go through the whole process alone.
  • Call the emergency number 112. It is always advisable to contact the police first. The person who committed the crime may continue to commit violence against you or other people, run away, hide and destroy important evidence. The nearest police crew will first ensure your safety by making sure the perpetrator cannot approach you or try to contact you. Police officers are trained in first aid and will be able to help you until medics arrive at the scene or you are taken to the right medical facility.
  • Save your evidence. In order to prove the perpetrator’s guilt later on, you should think about evidence as early as possible, while there are still signs of the incident on the body and clothing. A specialist’s report may be the only evidence without the victim’s testimony, so it’s best to contact the police within the first 24 hours without showering, brushing your teeth or having sex. If possible, put the clothes worn and other clues (e.g. a used condom, a used wipe, a garment or a cloth) in paper bags, as plastic bags can destroy clues. As unpleasant as it may be and as much as you would like to take a shower, remember that this can make the investigation very difficult.
  • Seek medical attention. If you experience severe pain, bleeding from the genitals or anus, you should first contact the emergency department of a medical facility. There, you will receive emergency medical care, take samples for testing and try to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Medics are obliged to report to the police people whose injuries may be related to a crime, so police officers would go directly to the treatment facility.
  • Seek psychiatric and psychological help. Most of the damage caused by sexual violence is psychological – anxiety disorders, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, and alcohol and drug addiction are common. The psychological problems caused by trauma can last a lifetime, which is why it is so important to start talking about them as early as possible. If you don’t feel comfortable with your psychologist and/or psychiatrist, don’t be afraid to change the specialist, because visits are there to help you, not to make you feel worse.