What is sexual assault?
Mosby’s Medical, Nursing and Allied Health Dictionary (4th edition) defines it as “the forcible perpetration of an act of sexual contact on the body of another person, male or female, without his or her consent. Legal criteria vary among different communities.”
Sexual Assault can be identified by any of the following:
- The victim is under 16 years of age
- The victim is incapable through mental illness or any other unsoundness of mind, temporary or permanent, of giving legal consent
- Force or violence is used or threatened on the victim or another person
- The victim is intoxicated by a chemical substance
- The victim is unconscious.
If you have a questions as to whether an act is sexual assault, don’t be afraid to ask someone who knows (lawyer, medical professional, counselor, etc.). There are other means of sexual assault.
If I have been a victim of sexual assault, am I alone?
No. 78 rapes occur every hour in America, and attackers are someone the victim knows in 80% of all cases. Sexual assault happens to people of all races, rich and poor, old and young. (YWCA leaflet)
Are my feelings normal?Even though one in five women are raped during their lives, and even though rape or violence is never the fault of the victim, it is natural and normal to feel a strong sensation of guilt, shame, confusion, disorientation, embarrassment, fear, and even anger after being attacked. No one can tell you how to feel after the assault. Each survivor has a different reaction.
Some of the reactions that occur are:
- Shock (feeling numb)
- Denial (not believing yourself what has happened)
- Discomfort (embarrassment about the assault)
- Fear (fear of being assaulted again, of trusting others)
- Guilt (I should have been able to avoid, predict or prevent this from happening)
- Anger (wondering how this happened, blaming yourself or others).
Even though these feelings are natural, they should not be permanent. Talking with friends and family, a trained counselor, or meeting privately with a small caring group who have survived the same things can help resolve these emotions. Never be ashamed to ask for help!
What should I do if I am sexually assaulted?
During the assault:
- Use sense. Do whatever is necessary to prevent yourself from becoming hurt or killed.
- If possible, leave evidence at the scene of the crime, such as fingerprints, a piece of jewelry, an article of clothing, or anything else that will confirm your presence at the scene of the crime.
Immediately after the assault:
- Get to a safe area
- Call the police
- Evidence collection is very important in prosecuting the attacker. In order to preserve evidence:
- Do NOT take a shower or use the bathroom
- Do NOT clean or throw away your clothing
- Do NOT clean, rearrange, or alter the scene of the crime
- Do NOT eat, drink, or smoke
- Agreeing to a rape evidence exam can increase your chance of success if you decide to prosecute.
- Take care of your emotional needs, seek out help, and remember IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT!
- Rape is not about sex, it is about power and control.
What should I do if a friend is sexually assaulted?
- The most valuable support is to believe the survivor’s experience without question.
- Never blame the survivor, blame rests only on the rapist.
- Be non-judgmental and supportive in attitude.
- Respect the survivor’s fear. This fear is real and may stay with the survivor for some time.
- Being supportive does NOT mean that you have to do something.
- Listen without making judgments or giving advice. Accept the survivor’s feelings. Do not criticize actions or feelings. Avoid the words “why”, “only” and “just”.
- Allow your friend to make decisions, even small ones. Do not be overprotective, as this could reinforce the survivor’s feelings of powerlessness.
- Instead of giving advice, help your friend explore options, and urge your friend to talk to a trusted adult or trained counselor.
- Anger toward the rapist is normal, but venting extreme rage or making threats of revenge in the survivor’s presence may increase your friend’s fear and will also take more control away from the survivor. Focus your energy on supporting your friend instead.
- Let the survivor decide who to trust. Do not make that decision for your friend.
- If your friend does not want to tell anyone else right now, that is your friend’s right. Since the decision to tell others about the assault belongs to your friend, do not pressure them into telling others. Speaking to a trusted adult in the future is still a possibility, so ask your friend to keep someone in mind. Don’t be surprised if the victim makes excuses or protects the rapist. Often times their relationship with the attacker causes mixed emotions about what has happened.
What can we do to prevent sexual assault?
- Double date. Most rapes or attacks are from a man that the woman is dating, or knows. When you’ve just started dating, go as a group with other friends, and take turns paying so neither person feels obligated to the other. If you do go out alone, agree to meet them some place public, like a mall or movie theater. By arranging your own transportation and avoiding secluded places you have drastically reduced your risks.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs, on dates especially. No, we’re not just preaching at you. The fact is, young adults who drink and use drugs are three times as likely to be attacked or raped. About 80% of rapes involve alcohol.
- Don’t leave your drink alone, any type of drink! And, don’t drink something you didn’t open yourself. “Date rape drugs” put in a drink can cause intense drunkenness, difficulty moving and memory loss.
- Express what you want clearly, set sexual limits in dating relationships about what you want and stick to them. Openly communicating these limits with your partner frequently is also helpful.
- Always tell someone where you’re going, with whom, and how long you’ll be there.
- Get away. If you feel uneasy with the a person or think you may be in danger, leave. Trust your intuition and act on it.
- Take emergency money to call parents, friends, police, etc…
- Be aware of warning signs. Be wary of men who are extremely jealous, angry, violent, or paranoid about the relationship. Also, be careful of men who control what you are allowed to wear, who you are allowed to be friends with, where you can go, or whether you are allowed to make decisions on your own. Abuse, including rape, is based on taking power and control away from you.
- Have a safety plan, especially if you are attacked by a man who lives with you. Make an escape kit of clothes, money, car keys, I.D., phone coins, and crisis phone numbers. If you are attacked, do not flee to a room with weapons, knives (kitchen), hard surfaces (bathroom), or confined spaces. DO call the police when you are safe. Even if you don’t press charges, you help create a “paper trail” that can protect you in the future.
- Support individuals who have been mistreated. Rape and violence are traumatic experiences. It is important that we show our willingness to be caring, patient, and gentle.
- Refuse to use sexist language or humor, and confront people who do. It is not right to use people as objects, either for violence, insulting jokes, or sexual conquest.
Southeastern’s Counseling Center
Offices are in the Glen D. Johnson Student Union, Suite 229
Appointments are available and walk-ins are accepted during office hours.
In case of Emergency
Medical Emergency: call 911
Mental Health Emergency: call 1.800.522.1090
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: call 1.800.273.TALK (8255)
Crisis Text Line: text HOME to 741741