This page answers some of the questions we get asked about sexual abuse and rape.
If you have a question about sexual violence that you would like answered, please contact us with your question.
Question 1 – Why do people rape?
“Many people think that rape and sexual abuse is about the rapist trying to get sex. However, studies conducted with convicted rapists show that this isn’t the case. Research shows that men who sexually offend often do so to gain a sense of power and authority, while women sexually offend often to either maintain or establish an emotional relationship. Sexual activity is the means by which this is achieved, not the reason for the rape.”
Question 2 – Do people who have been offended against by a stranger experience different effects to those who have been sexually assaulted by someone close to them?
“Everybody reacts to rape or sexual abuse in their own way and in their own time. People who have been sexually assaulted by a stranger sometimes do have a different reaction to people who have been raped or sexually abused by somebody that they’ve already known. Feelings like lack of trust, feelings of betrayal, can be quite common if you’ve known the offender and you’ve had a relationship with them before. Regardless of whether you have been abused by a stranger or somebody that you know, your reactions are unique.”
Question 3 – What are the punishments for people who rape or sexually abuse?
“Punishments for sexual offenders can vary widely. Punishments include things like being sentenced to prison, being put on periodic detention, having to do community service or having to attend a treatment programme for sexual offenders. The punishment can depend on such things as the age of the offender and how many times they’ve offended. It’s very rare that convicted sexual offenders get a maximum sentence for their crime.”
Question 4 – How do I tell someone I’ve been raped or sexually abused?
Telling someone that you have been raped or sexually abused can be tremendously hard but it is really important that you tell someone so you can get some support. Pick someone that you trust and feel comfortable with, tell them in a place where you feel safe and in control. Only tell them as much as you want to and at your own pace. If the person you tell reacts badly, it’s not you fault. Don’t be discouraged, be proud that you’ve got the strength to tell someone and keep doing it.”
Question 5 – What happens if the person I tell doesn’t help to make it stop.
“If the abuse is still happening to you or you think that it might happen again, that is what we call a high-risk situation. If you’ve tried to tell someone and they haven’t listened, it is really important that you keep telling until somebody does. You have the absolute right to be safe, to be safe from abuse. If adults are not helping you to be safe, you might like to call the police, a sexual assult support agency like Rape Crisis, a teacher or a social worker and let them know what’s happened. Often people in these agencies can help you make abuse stop.”
Question 6 – I think my friend has been sexually assaulted – how can I tell?
“It is really great that you are concerned about your friend. There are lots of things that can happen to somebody that can make them act differently than they usually do, so don’t assume that it’s sexual assault. You can find out what’s going on for your friend by spending some time with them and catching up. You might like to let your friend know that you are there to listen and that you can support them unconditionally. If your friend does tell you that they have been sexually assaulted, there’s lots of things you can do. You might like to call your local sexual assault agency and have a chat with them about what your friend’s options are. You can usually do this anonymously.”
Question 7 – My friend has been sexually assaulted – how do I know if they need my help?
“It’s great that you want to support your friend. If they’ve told you about their abuse, chances are they have already identified you as their support person so ask them what you can do to help. If you’ve heard about the abuse from someone else, but you’d still like to support your friend, let them know. You can start of by telling them that you know what happened and ask them how they are doing at the moment. There are lots of things you can do to help so check out what they need.”
Question 8 – What happens if a female gets pregnant as a result of being raped?
“If a woman can get to a doctor within the first week following a rape, she can have an IUD or the morning after pill, both of which will prevent pregnancy. However, if a woman does become pregnant as a result of a rape, there is a range of different options available to her. If a woman decides to carry the baby to full term, she can either choose to keep it or adopt/foster the baby out to another family. She may also choose to terminate the pregnancy. Whatever option a woman decides to take, it is really important that she gets some support for herself and a general check-up. You can contact your nearest sexual assault agency to find out about good doctors in your area.”
Question 9 – Are men who abuse other males (when they are children) gay?
“No. Research shows that only around 3% of men who sexually offend against males identify as being homosexual. Around 80% of men who sexually offend against males, are living in a heterosexual relationship at the time that they offend.
Question 10 – If you are abused by someone of the same gender as you… does that make you gay?
“No. Your sexual orientation is not determined by any abuse that you have suffered. If you are wondering about your sexual orientation, whether or not you’re gay or straight, you might like to talk to somebody who is open and non-judgmental, like a counsellor. If you’re looking for a counsellor, you can contact your nearest sexual assault support agency for information. Talking to someone can really help you work out what you want for yourself.”
Question 11 – Do people sexually abuse because it has happened to them when they were children?
“What we know from sexual offender treatment programmes, is in fact that more offenders have experience emotional and physical abuse than sexual abuse. So, no, the answer is ‘no’ to this. Every person is responsible for whether or not they go on to offend. In Aotearoa/New Zealand, there are treatment programmes for people who think they may sexually offend. So it’s not something that people just have to live with.”