What Is Sexual Assault?

Much has been said of late about sexual assault so I decided to educate myself about how the law defines it in my state. My good friend Alice, a brilliant and respected attorney, sent me the NC Statutes regarding Rape and Sexual Assault. You can read them in their entirety here:  NC General Statutes – Chapter 14 Article 7B  For the purposes of this post, I am limiting my focus to Sexual Battery.

In understanding the Statute, certain Definitions are given and, once again I list here those most pertinent to this post and you can click the link above to see them in full.

  1. (5)  “Sexual contact” means (i) touching the sexual organ, anus, breast, groin, or buttocks of any person, (ii) a person touching another person with their own sexual organ, anus, breast, groin, or buttocks, or (iii) a person ejaculating, emitting, or placing semen, urine, or feces upon any part of another person.
  2. (6)  “Touching” as used in subdivision (5) of this section, means physical contact with another person, whether accomplished directly, through the clothing of the person committing the offense, or through the clothing of the victim. (1979, c. 682, s. 1; 2002-159, s. 2(a); 2003-252, s. 1; 2006-247, s. 12(a); 2015-181, s. 2.)

I now skip to:

§ 14-27.33. Sexual battery.

(a) A person is guilty of sexual battery if the person, for the purpose of sexual arousal, sexual gratification, or sexual abuse, engages in sexual contact with another person:

  1. (1)  By force and against the will of the other person; or
  2. (2)  Who is mentally disabled, mentally incapacitated, or physically helpless, and the person performing the act knows or should reasonably know that the other person is mentally disabled, mentally incapacitated, or physically helpless.

(b) Any person who commits the offense defined in this section is guilty of a Class A1 misdemeanor. (2003-252, s. 2; 2015-181, s. 15.)

I have been a victim of sexual assault at least three times in my life. I didn’t know it at the time it was happening because I was young, naive, uninformed, and completely unprepared to respond to such an assault. But I knew something was happening to me that I did not encourage or willingly participate in. Something that made me feel violated.

One day while going up the stairs in my high school, a male classmate reached up and grabbed my ass. Naturally I pulled away as he laughed, and I ran up the stairs thoroughly embarrassed.

Also while in high school at a friend’s house, her father cornered me and tried to kiss me when she left the room. Luckily I was able to pull away, and I made sure that I was never in the room alone with him again. It felt terrifying but how could I tell my friend that her father was assaulting me when I didn’t even know how to define it?

While in college, my boyfriend’s grandfather copped a feel of my breast after he “sweetly” pulled me down to sit on his lap. Of course I jumped up horrified but was too embarrassed to tell my boyfriend that his sweet little old grandfather had just assaulted me when his back was turned.

My point in all this? Groping, fondling, unwanted touching, whatever you want to call it, IS sexual assault. The victim and the assailant may be fully clothed. Not by my opinion, but by the law. Considering that I am just an ordinary person living an ordinary life, it got me wondering how many other women, just like me, have also been victims of this kind of sexual assault during their lifetimes? I think if all women were honest, the number would be staggering.

Why is this so? I believe it is because we live in a society that does not have a mindset of zero tolerance regarding all forms of sexual assault. Everyone seems to agree that rape is abhorrent and wrong but groping is viewed as innocent male “horseplay,” something that boys and men can laugh about in the “locker room.” It doesn’t really “hurt” anybody and it isn’t a “big deal” so women should just “get over it.” 

And many women do endure it and are silent on the matter. Especially since in most instances boys and men take advantage of young naive girls and women who are in some way in their control or under their power of influence. Males also use the element of surprise and assault women in public places catching them alone and off guard.

So what can be done? First of all, women can end their silence if they have been a victim of sexual assault because speaking out is an act of  empowerment. (This is happening now among online social groups like pantsuit Nation.) Secondly, men and women of integrity can work to raise our standards of decency and respect by demanding a zero tolerance of any form of sexual assault. Not only of ourselves, but of our school and business leaders and especially our elected officials. Religious leaders, here-to-for virtually silent on the matter, should be the most vocal and outspoken advocates of a zero tolerance society.

Finally, we must teach young girls to know what sexual assault is and to know their rights should they be a victim.  We must give them tools to help them protect themselves, make them pro-active and prepared. We must embolden them to speak up and not be silent. We must all lead by example.

Dear Readers, have you been a victim of sexual assault? If so, without details would you share something of your experience? What are your thoughts and suggestions on how we can work together to end our society’s casual and cavalier tolerance of sexual battery?

Let’s keep this discussion going among our family, friends, co-workers, and elected officials. Please share this post via email or Facebook.


12 thoughts on “What Is Sexual Assault?

  1. My first job after college was with Motors Insurance Corporation, the insurance division of General Motors, in New Orleans, LA. It was in 1966. I was 20 years old and married to my first husband. My boss was a man named Mr. Monju. He called the women who worked in the office by their first names, but we all were expected to call the men in the office Mr. I never knew his first name. One day at quitting time, he and I were the last two people in the office. I went into the supply room to get some supplies for my desk before the next day’s shift. He followed me into the supply room and proceeded to grasp both of my breasts and massage them. He said something like “You like this, don’t you?” I was so horrified that I dropped my supplies, ran from the room, grabbed my purse, and left. I heard him chuckling as I left. When I arrived home I told my husband what had happened, and said I did not want to return to work the next day. The next day my husband called Monju’s boss (Mr. Mannix) and requested a meeting with him to discuss what had happened to me. Interestingly, my husband seemed less concerned with my feelings that he was with the affront to him. It was like I was damaged property to him. The day after that, my husband and I went to the meeting. The three men in the office (Mannix, Monju, and a younger man named Alex, who did not seem to know what was going on) had circled the wagons. Mannix was sitting at his big desk, with Monju on one side and Alex on the other. He informed us that Monju had denied everything, and that, because he had known Monju for several years, and had only known me for about 6 months, he had no option to but to believe Monju instead of me. He suggested that I might want to resign. As it happened, my husband had just accepted a position with IBM in New York, which was to begin in about 2 months, so we had planned to leave anyway. We walked out, and my husband and I never discussed it again. This is the first time I have mentioned it to anyone in 50 years.

    After moving to New York, I also went to work for IBM, beginning a career that was to last 32 years. Even back then, IBM had a zero tolerance policy regarding this sort of behavior (it was not called sexual harassment at the time). In my 32 years with IBM, the only inappropriate behavior I experienced first hand was from a manager of mine in Raleigh, NC, who insisted on showing me pictures of his girlfriend, partially clad and posing provocatively. Several of the other women in the department told me it was sort of an “initiation rite” that this guy pulled with all the women who worked for him, and that he was otherwise “harmless.” Fortunately, he moved to Dallas a few months later, and the rest of my IBM career was free of such incidents.

    After I had been married to my third husband for several years (probably around 1980), we were having a party. One of his good friends was drunk, and followed me upstairs when I went to use the bathroom. When I came out, this guy groped me. Neither of us knew that my husband was also upstairs, in another room. I let out a shriek when the guy groped me, at which point my husband appeared, knocked him down, then picked him up, dragged him downstairs, and threw him out the door. We never saw him again.

    I know you said you didn’t need details, but it really feels good to finally talk about these incidents after all these years. To this day, I don’t understand why these guys thought it was okay to treat me like that. I never encouraged any of them to behave this way, and I always treated them with respect. Linda D.

    On Tue, Nov 15, 2016 at 12:41 PM, The Bohemian Freethinker wrote:

    > thebohemianfreethinker posted: “Much has been said of late about sexual > assault so I decided to educate myself about how the law defines it in my > state. My good friend Alice, a brilliant and respected attorney, sent me > the NC Statutes regarding Rape and Sexual Assault. You can read them” >


    • Thanks Alice. I believe very strongly that for too long women have suffered in silence and that we should speak out and say these kinds of sexual assault are real, believable and wrong. I especially feel that we need to teach preparedness and response to young girls so that they feel empowered to react effectively if they are victimized.


  2. Dear Penny,
    We share a friend, Alice! Who kindly let me know of your wonderful post, here. Thank you for this conversation. Yes, I have experience many types of sexual assault, as legally defined, from within my family and from outside my family. I have also experienced other boundary violations, such as leering, name-calling, aggressive notes, etc.

    What I am working on now, actively, is reframing all of this into a Boundary context. As in, good boundaries create a comfortable space where I get to be comfortable. And when anything, a comment, a look, a text, behavior, etc. creates an uncomfortable feeling within me, than that means a boundary of mine was crossed, and I am now in uncomfortable territory. When that happens I aim to name it and do what it takes to get myself back into comfort. (Thank you to Anya Manes for her clear discussion of this! See her work at http://talkingaboutsex.com).

    It is tricky when we live in a culture that trains girls/women to submit to and even engage in, all manner of uncomfortable/boundary crossing behavior and relationships (both personal and professional). And this training can create a shame response when we are treated poorly – instead of the person who Did it feeling appropriate Shame – which they should! What a great day it will be when each time someone interacts with someone in a way that doesn’t feel good, they Say it, and the other person responds with, “I’m sorry. Thank you for letting me know. I won’t do it again.” And then they Don’t do it again.

    I have a child, and am motivated in a whole new way as a Mama to clearly claim safety, to claim that it is a right we ALL have. We all deserve to be safe, comfortable, free from harm. To prize our bodies, to respect them, to enjoy them, and to expect nothing less than respect for ourselves and our bodies from others. AND to have the understanding, language and self-love to respond to behavior which does not respect us. And to speak up when we see someone else not being respected!

    There is so much to say about all of this. And it intersects with class/race/gender/etc….May everyone who reads your post take their own experiences seriously, and honor their right to safe space and to speaking up and working for it.


    • Hi Allegra. Thanks so much for adding your insights into this very important discussion. I feel that it is especially pertinent and necessary at a time like this in our country. I will check out Anya Manes as you suggest. So glad to hear that you are empowering your daughter to love and protect herself.


  3. Hi Penny,

    I’ve heard so much about you through Alice. Wonderful to meet you on the page of your blog. I have been assaulted and demeaned both in and outside of my family. I was either left with shame and never said anything, or met with silence and disregard when I asked for assistance. DT will not be the first rapist to live in the White House I’m certain, yet it hurts so deeply that enough men and women knew about it beforehand and turned their backs on his and all victims of assault anyway. We must continue even more now to be a part of the tide that continues to erode this callous disregard for women’s humanity. Thank you for writing and thinking and sharing.


    • Hi Deevy, nice to meet you here as well. It is so universal to feel shame and/or embarrassment when you are the victim of sexual assault. I’d love to imagine a world where the assailant felt such shame! yes, the need is greater than ever to speak out and protect ourselves in a society that trivializes any form of sexaual assault.


  4. I’ve been sexually assaulted a couple of times as well, but I never said anything about it until years later. The first time I was around 15 and I was having a sleepover at a friend’s house. We were laying on her bed looking at magazines and she put her hand up my shirt. I was in such a state of shock I didn’t even do anything about it. I laid on the floor that night wide awake and cried silently the whole time. I remember how dirty I felt. How disgusting. At the time, I honestly didn’t know how to handle it. Something similar happened to me when I was in college. I can only imagine how many women have actually been assaulted. The number has to be astronomical because most women I know have been a victim so unwanted groping, but I doubt they are speaking out about it as ‘sexual assault.’ I’m almost afraid to know the true numbers even though I think it’s necessary. It’s terrible all around.


    • Thanks for sharing Blair. I know its not easy to talk about, and I agree that if every woman who has been assaulted were to make it known, it would be mind boggling. It is just that common, and as girls we were never taught how to deal with an assault like this and so we feel embarrassed and ashamed. I just think that in light of current events and the dismissal of those women who came forward to accuse trump of groping- we need to get vocal about how real this is. That it is a reality for most women on this planet. I guess that is why I wanted to start this conversation thread. Thanks again for having the courage to speak out.

      Liked by 1 person

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