Help And Healing
If you've been sexually assaulted… Remember that it was not your fault. Whatever happened, you did nothing to deserve it. Sexual assault can happen to anyone and it is never the victim's fault.
What to do after a rape or sexual assault:
- Go to a safe place and call the police if you want to report the incident.
- Seek medical help. Even if you do not prosecute you should be seen by a doctor who can check for injuries. However, if you want to file a police report, it is best to get care within 24 hours of the assault. Contact CASAS for information about where to get medical assistance.
- Do not bathe, douche, or change your clothes, especially if you think you might file charges. Evidence can be destroyed even by something as simple as drinking water or going to the bathroom.
- Do not move anything in the place where the assault occurred.
- Get help. Call CASAS, a confidential resource, to talk to a professional staff person who can give you information about available options. It is always confidential.
Medical staff can:
- Determine if you have been injured in any way, including injuries you may not be aware of.
- Screen you for sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy.
- Collect medical evidence for possible future prosecution.
Seeking medical assistance does NOT obligate you to report the assault to the police. You have the legal right to decide if you want the police involved.
"When one person helps another it can be such a joyful, profoundly satisfying cooperative experience. I wish to distinguish such a positive helping experience from the unpleasant and destructive experiences which I call 'rescues'." -Claude Steiner
Helping a friend who has experienced sexual assault or other abuse can be very difficult. Often, our first reaction to friends in need is to try to solve all their problems and rescue them from the pain of the assault. Unfortunately, this kind of rescuing takes away the power of the survivor to help her or himself and gain control, and makes the survivor feel even more helpless. Here are some suggestions on how to help a friend in need without further victimization:
- Believe what a person tells you about her or his sexual assault or abuse. Listen, do not judge.
- Offer to assist the person in getting to a safe place, both physically and emotionally.
- Reinforce that the assault was not their fault. Many victims of sexual assault blame themselves. Reassure them that they are not to blame. The assailant is completely responsible for the assault.
- Be patient and understanding. Survivors have their own timetable for recovery.
- Accept their choice of solution to the assault -- even if you disagree with what they have chosen to do. It is more important that they feel empowered to make choices and take back control than it is for you to impose what you think is the "right" decision.
- Let the person know that there are resources to help them. CASAS is a confidential, safe resource on Western’s campus for survivors of violence.
Remember to take care of yourself! If you, as the helper, need someone to talk to, please call CASAS. Dealing with the sexual assault of a friend can be hard on your health too.
Being sexually assaulted can be a very traumatic experience. Feelings of violation can evoke many reactions. This page is designed to assure survivors that they are not alone and their reactions are normal.
An individual who has experienced trauma may respond in a wide variety of ways. Whatever you feel is a natural response to the sexual violence or violent crime.
Some Natural Responses:
Fear of the assaulter
Because of direct threats made by an assaulter or because media stories sensationalize sexual assault, it is likely that a victim felt that they would either be brutally injured or killed during an attack. Normal fear responses may be quite generalized or specific. The victim's fear may be particularly strong if the assaulter threatened to harm them again, as often happens if the rapist suspects the victim will report to the police. Fear of re-attack under any circumstances is a normal human fear. The survivor is not crazy or paranoid to be fearful. They need positive reassurance from those around them that life is worth living and they need to explore alternate ways of coping with the attack. Help the survivor express and specify their fears. Encourage them to list all the things they can do to protect themselves. Whatever they decide, their plan should be clear in their mind and simple to put into operation even when they are emotionally upset.
The survivor's feelings of guilt are difficult for them to deal with and will likely have an effect on their decision to contact the police. Many survivors have internalized the prevalent mythology which emphasizes the idea that victims are to blame for having been assaulted. It is important to let them talk and to help them define in precise terms what they might have done "wrong" - and what they might have done differently. Talk to them about victim blaming and help them to place responsibility for the assault to whom it belongs-the offender.
Loss of control over their own lives
The assaulter has forced the individual to submit to something they did not want to do. Possibly, they harbored some ideas before the assault that assault couldn't happen to them, that they would be able to resist or that they could take care of themselves. Since the assaulter overcame their resistance by force or fear, they no longer feel sure of anything about themselves and their self-determination. Sometimes even little decisions like whether to have a cigarette or whether to eat become momentous things. The survivor practically has to repossess themselves after the assault took possession by force. They have to reassert the value of doing things for themselves. They have to insist to themselves that they are worthwhile and that they still have willpower and can control their lives.
The survivor may be embarrassed to discuss the physical details of the assault. Our bodies and sexual activity have always been regarded as private and their privacy has been savagely stripped from them by another. Telling anyone at all, including medical and law enforcement personnel, may be painful.
Wondering, "Why me?"
Some survivors wonder why the assaulter chose them. What is it about them that separates them from others? These feelings arise from the common mistaken belief that sexual assault happens to people who "ask for it", or who in some other way made themselves noticeable. It may be helpful to them to know that this is a common, normal feeling of survivors and that anyone can be sexually assaulted. Commonly, an assaulter will manipulate a situation so that it leads to sexual assault. For this reason, a survivor should be reminded that the assaulter made the decision to harm them.
This can be one of the more healthy feelings felt by survivors, yet it is not commonly seen immediately after an assault. When it is seen in the early stages of the healing process, it is often misdirected anger (directed at family, the system, or generalized to all men, if it was a male perpetrator). If the survivor is directing their anger at the assaulter, they should be encouraged to express it freely. If they are misdirecting their anger, try to help them understand what they are doing, and help them to identify the person with whom they are really angry. It may be, also, that the survivor is angry at themselves for getting into the situation; this is a form of misdirected anger.
How to help the healing process:
Many survivors find it helpful to talk to a counselor trained to understand and assist victims of sexual assault.
Counseling may be useful for recovering a sense of control over your life, thinking through the pros and cons of reporting, getting back on track academically, deciding who will be the best support during recovery, coping with not being believed, or dealing with self blame and loss of confidence.
Regardless of how much time has passed since the sexual assault, counseling is available. Call CASAS, (360) 650-3700 for more information.
CASAS offers a support group, Women Supporting Women, for sexual assault survivors each quarter. This group is open to anyone who has ever experienced any kind of sexual violence including:
- Child sexual abuse
- Sexual assault
Topics discussed in group include feelings, boundaries, assertiveness, building healthy relationships, healing your sexuality, anger, guilt, and coping with stress. Call CASAS for more information or to register for the next group.
Other ideas for coping and beginning the healing process:
- Writing in a journal
- Talking to a trusted friend
- Volunteering at the local rape crisis center or battered women's shelter