When many of us think about sexual assault or rape, we think of strangers grabbing women in the street or breaking into women’s homes at night. However, the truth is that most sexual assaults don’t occur between strangers. The even sadder truth is that a significant number of sexual assaults take place between spouses or partners.

Domestic violence does not just consist of physical abuse and verbal abuse – many victims of domestic violence also endure sexual abuse. This type of abuse can be extremely traumatic, physically painful, and psychologically damaging.

Signs of Possible Domestic Violence Sexual Abuse

•    Your partner forces sex or sexual acts.
•    Your partner forces you to dress in sexually suggestive ways.
•    Your partner engages in unwanted touching.
•    Your partner coerces you into sex after physical or verbal abuse.
•    Your partner ignores your feelings regarding sex.
•    Your partner shows no interest in your sexual needs.
•    Your partner does not listen to the words “no” or “stop” during sex.
•    Your partner harms you physically during sex.
•    Your partner makes unwanted sexual remarks or gestures.
•    Your partner criticizes you sexually.
•    Your partner accuses you of being promiscuous or cheating.
•    Your partner controls how you dress or isolates you from society.
•    Your partner sexually assaults or rapes you.

How Common is Domestic Violence in Washington State?

Sadly, it is difficult to know how common domestic violence is in Washington State and across the country because these crimes are often not reported to police. Because domestic abuse occurs among family members, loved ones, or spouses, victims of these crimes will often endure abuse out of fear, embarrassment, or shame. In some cases, domestic violence victims are also emotionally abused and will, in fact, protect their abuser from harm.

But here’s what we do know about domestic violence: it affects women, men, and children. It happens to people of all races, all cultures, all sexual orientations, and all classes. While we don’t know exact numbers, the government estimates that millions of men and women are harmed in domestic violence incidents every year in the United States. One in 12 women will experience domestic abuse during her lifetime, while one in 45 men will also be victims. Domestic violence costs our country an estimated $5.8 billion per year.

What can we do to make domestic violence less common in Washington and the Seattle area? Report all cases of abuse, educate those around you about domestic violence, and raise your children to understand the serious consequences of family abuse.

A Few Ideas to Stop Domestic Violence

Raise awareness in your children. Do both your sons and daughters know and understand what domestic violence is and why it is so damaging to society? When they are old enough, be sure that they are aware of red flags and of what to do if a friend or loved one is in an abusive relationship.

•    Help local shelters and programs. You don’t have to volunteer full-time or be rich in order to help our local Seattle programs that get abuse victims heal and get back on their feet. Call to offer your help, whether it is a few hours of volunteering, a donation of clothes or supplies, or monetary support. Everyone can give something. Pass along resources for domestic abuse victims. 

•    Report abuse. Domestic violence is a crime in Washington State. If you hear a domestic dispute, call the police and report it. You could save a life.

•    Know Washington State domestic violence laws. Do you know about the current laws involving domestic abuse – and do you know about pending bills? Do you know where local political candidates stand on the issue? Do your research and be an informed voter.

•    Treat those around you with respect and love. Domestic violence feeds on emotional abuse, feelings of unworthiness, and shame. By treating all men and women of all ages – whether strangers or loved ones – with humanity we are taking a step toward breaking the cycle of violence.

It is extremely important to understand that just because you have had consensual sex with someone in the past, or just because you are married to someone means that sex is always consensual – or that your partner has the right to sexually abuse you for any reason.

Just as with other forms of domestic abuse, sexual abuse is often used by the perpetrator to make his or her victim feel powerless, ashamed, and controlled.

If you believe that you are being sexually abused in your relationship, know that there is help for you and your family. Please take advantage of Washington State’s domestic abuse resources.

Molly B. Kenny
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Divorce and Child Custody Attorney Serving Bellevue and Seattle Washington