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SEXUAL ASSAULT

Sexual violence is any unwanted sexual contact forced upon an individual. This can include actions such as unwanted touching of genitals, groin, anus, breasts, voyeuristic behavior, exhibitionism, attempted rape, and rape. It may involve actual or threatened force, coercion, and/or intimidation. Sexual violence is never wanted and never includes consent.

Consent happens when all parties willingly and enthusiastically agree to any sexual act. The process is clear, direct, and ongoing throughout the entire experience. Consent may be withdrawn by any party at any time and that person does not need to have a reason. Coercive consent is not consent. Badgering is not consent. Force or threat of force is not consent. Fear of violence is not consent.

Responses to sexual assault can vary widely. Some individuals are very emotional and upset by the experience while others feel very numb and removed. Some individuals struggle with intimacy and contact while other seek out intimacy and contact. There is no “right” or “wrong” way for a victim to react.

Similar to domestic violence, sexual violence affects individuals regardless of age, education level, sexual preference, sexual identity, class, ethnicity, race, religion, marital status, etc.

 

Most perpetrators of rape are someone known to the victim, such as acquaintance, co-worker, friend, family member, or partner.

Rape and sexual assault are not about sex; they are about having dominance and control over the other person. In fact, most rapes are planned.

Sexual assault and rape have the same false reporting statistics as all other crimes and are some of the most underreported interpersonal crimes. If someone discloses to you that they have experienced sexual violence, believe them. Provide support, not advice. Refrain from asking a lot questions about what happened; many questions, though well-intentioned, imply the victim was somehow at fault for their assault. Instead, let them know you care about them and are there for them.

The Friendship Center can help victims who have experienced sexual violence as well as friends and family who are struggling with what happened to their loved one. Please reach out to our office or call our crisis line if you want to request services or simply talk about the situation.

  • Does The Friendship Center have reporting obligations for child abuse?
    Medical providers, law enforcement, and advocates at The Friendship Center are all mandated reporters for suspected child abuse and neglect. Your safety matters to us, and we want you to be informed so you can make the best choice about what you share with providers, or with our own advocates if you’re a survivor seeking our services. Check out the resources below from Reproductive Health National Training Center that summarize mandatory child abuse reporting in Montana and other states. Mandatory child abuse reporting summary for Montana Child abuse reporting summary by state
  • What are some examples of sexual assault?
    Fondling or unwanted sexual touching Forcing anyone to perform sexual acts, such as oral sex or bodily penetration Penetrating anyone’s body (anally, vaginally, or orally) without consent (using objects, hands, or genitals), also known as rape Attempted rape Pestering anyone to say yes to sexual contact or making them feel like it’s not safe to say no
  • How do I access medical help after an assault?
    It’s up to you as a survivor to decide if you want medical attention or treatment following an assault. You may feel upset and be in a lot of pain even if you don’t have any physical signs of injury. Or, you may feel okay despite having visible signs of injury. Some common physical signs of sexual assault include inner thigh bruising, arm bruising if you were restrained by the offender, and trauma to the genital area. Some physical signs like bleeding are obvious and might require medical attention. Other physical indicators like pregnancy or a sexually transmitted infection may be detected days or even weeks after the assault. If you were strangled during an assault, you may experience some persistent complications that can be serious but hard to detect. Symptoms of injury following an assault may occur as long as five days or more after the incident. If you decide to seek medical attention, you can do so with your medical provider without getting a forensic exam or making a report to law enforcement. If you would like to get a forensic exam in our tri-county area (Lewis and Clark, Broadwater, and Jefferson counties), you can do so at no cost to you through the Emergency Department at St. Peter's Health in Helena. Forensic Examinations at St. Peter’s All forensic exams at St. Peter’s are conducted by a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) with special training in trauma-informed care and evidence collection. Exams can be performed up to 96 hours after the assault even if you’ve showered, washed your clothing, or combed your hair. These activities can potentially impact evidence but are not prohibitive if you cannot avoid them following an assault. You can have a forensic exam and receive medical treatment at St. Peter’s without reporting to law enforcement, and any evidence collected during a forensic exam can also be saved and stored if you decide to report at a later date (see reporting options section below for more information). To learn more about The Friendship Center's work with the Forensic Nurse Program at St. Peter's to support survivors through the SANE exam process, check out this partner spotlight or visit the webpage for the Forensic Nurse Program at St. Peter's.
  • What is the difference between rape and sexual assault?
    Montana differentiates between the crimes of sexual assault and rape. Rape is a specific kind of sexual assault defined as sexual intercourse without consent (SIWOC). Rape convictions generally carry more severe sentences in Montana. Helpful Links Montana definition of sexual assault (45-5-502 MCA) Montana definition of sexual intercourse without consent (45-5-503 MCA)
  • Do I have to pay for a forensic exam if I choose to have one after an assault?
    No. Montana Department of Justice has programs that will pay healthcare providers for forensic rape examinations. The program that will cover the cost will depend on whether you choose to report to law enforcement or not, but you will not have to pay for the examination either way. If you’re in Helena, check out our medical help section above to learn about getting an exam at St. Peter’s at no cost to you. Survivors NOT Making an Immediate Report to Law Enforcement Forensic Rape Examination Payment Program (FREPP) will pay healthcare providers for your hospital visit, treatment related to the assault (such as STI treatment and pregnancy prevention), and provider fees. Healthcare staff will take care of the billing process. If you receive any additional medical treatment during your visit, such as stitches or imaging for other injuries, you will be billed for that as you would at a regular doctor’s visit. Visit Montana DOJ's FAQs on FREPP to learn more. Survivors Making a Report to Law Enforcement Crime Victims Compensation (CVC) provides funding to compensate victims who report and cooperate with law enforcement and ongoing prosecution. If approved, CVC applicants can use this program’s benefits to cover lost wages, therapy, and medical bills not covered by FREPP (like broken bones, stitches, and imaging). Secondary victims are also eligible for some CVC benefits. As with FREPP, you will not have to pay for your forensic exam and healthcare staff will take care of the billing process. In addition to financial assistance for medical costs, CVC benefits can be applied to costs for mental health services like counseling. If you do not apply for CVC or are denied (which is possible but unlikely), you will be responsible for the cost of your hospital visit. The Friendship Center can help you apply for Crime Victims Compensation and navigate an appeal process if you are denied. Helpful Links Montana Crime Victims Compensation Act info and claim form FREPP info FREPP claim form Patient/victim service locations Montana Sexual Assault Kit Tracking System
  • What is sexual assault?
    Any kind of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent is sexual assault. Consent happens when all parties willingly agree, through words or overt actions, to engage in sexual activity. Consent is a clear, direct, ongoing, and mutual agreement between partners about what they both want to experience. A current or previous sexual relationship does not determine consent. Just because someone has given consent in the past does not mean it is implied in future interactions. Consent may be withdrawn by any party at any time and that person does not need to have a reason. A person cannot give consent when they are: Coerced in any way Badgered into saying yes Feeling like they can’t say no Afraid of violence or threats of violence Feeling frozen Unable to respond In a relationship with a power imbalance (i.e., someone has power over their money, housing, job, reputation, or academic performance) Other reasons a person may be unable to consent to sexual activity include age, illness, disability, physical helplessness, or the influence of alcohol or other drugs. Consent is never implied.
  • What are my reporting options after an assault?
    It’s up to you as a survivor to decide if you want to make a report to law enforcement or not. Not everyone chooses to report—there are valid reasons for that, and you may decide it’s not the best or safest option for you. Delayed reporting is also an option that gives you a chance to weigh the pros and cons of reporting based on your situation. If you’re not sure whether you want to make a report, you have time to make that decision, and The Friendship Center is here to help with free, confidential services for survivors that are available 24/7. Our advocates can help at any point to talk through options, offer support, and assist you in working with law enforcement if you choose to report an assault. Reporting an Assault You can report sexual assault to law enforcement by calling: 911 for emergencies Helena Police (non-emergency) 406.442.3233 Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office (outside of Helena city limits) 406.447.8293 East Helena Police Department 406.227.8686 Broadwater County Sheriff's Department 406.266.3441 Jefferson County Sheriff's Department 406.225.4075 Prosecution Reporting a sexual assault to the police does not mean you have to move forward with criminal prosecution. The case will only be criminally charged if there is probable cause to charge AND you wish to move forward with criminal prosecution. If making a delayed report feels like a good option for you and you were 18 or older at the time of an assault in Montana, there is a timeline of 10 years to proceed with criminal prosecution. There is no time limit to proceed with a criminal prosecution for victims who were under 18 years old at the time of the offense.
  • What are some possible responses to sexual assault?
    Survivor responses may vary broadly after experiencing a sexual assault. Common reactions include, but are not limited to: Shock or disbelief Shame and embarrassment A sense of responsibility for the assault Fear of being blamed or not believed by others Feeling overwhelmed Vulnerability Anger, irritability, anxiety Changes in sleeping and eating Nightmares and flashbacks Memory loss or disassociation Self-doubt
  • Who perpetrates sexual assault?
    Sexual assaults can be perpetrated by anyone and are most often committed by people a survivor knows—friends, acquaintances, family members, employers, and intimate partners. While less common, sexual assaults can also be committed by strangers.
  • Is sexual assault illegal?
    Yes. The exact definitions of sexual assault can vary based on the laws where you live, but sexual assault is a crime at the federal level and in every state in the U.S. Helpful links Sexual violence laws in Montana Sexual violence laws by state
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To learn more about some of the key issues intersecting with domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking, visit our Resources page.

Image by Gerhard Kupfer

We Are Here to Help

Regardless of how long ago a sexual assault occurred, having a safe place to talk may be important for a survivor's recovery process. If you or a loved one has experienced sexual assault, and you want to request services or simply talk about the situation, reach out to our office. All our services are free and confidential.

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