Sexual assaults occur more often than most people realize. According to the U.S. Dept of Justice, someone is sexually assaulted in the United States every 2 minutes. Women are the majority of the survivors, but sexual assault does not discriminate. The nature of such attacks can leave survivors feeling bewildered and confused, questioning how and why something like this could have happened to them. For many, it also raises the question of whether or not what happened, though certainly a violation of their person, places them in the category of “victim” of an actual crime. To add to this confusion, the legal definition of terms such as rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse vary from state to state. Often, the terms are used interchangeably, so it is not uncommon for states to use different words to mean the same thing or use the same words to describe different things. For an exact legal definition, it is important for survivors to look up the laws within their own state. A basic definition and distinction between rape and sexual assault is as follows:
- Forced intercourse including vaginal, anal, or oral penetration.
- It is done with another person, by force or threat of force, against the will & without consent of that person
- Unwanted sexual contact – inappropriate touching/fondling of person’s private body parts
- By force or threat of force against a person’s will and without that person’s consent
Sexual assault can be a devastating crime. Even more so when the perpetrator is a date or someone the victim knows. Effects of sexual assault reach far beyond the physical injuries sustained.
Common Reactions After Sexual Assault Include:
- Headaches, stomachaches, or other physical symptoms
- Fear and anxiety: fear for personal safety, fear that the assailant may return, fear of being alone, or fear of being around people
- Recovery Strategies: Ask people you trust to stay with you; stay with a trusted friend; avoid being alone until a sense of safety is re-established; install additional home security devices; use a night-light; ask friends to walk with you to class, etc.
- Guilt, shame and self-blame: feeling you could have, or should have, done something to avoid the assault; feeling embarrassed by the reactions of others to your assault
- Recovery Strategies: Regardless of the circumstances surrounding the assault, it is not your fault. Sexual assault is a crime. You cannot be responsible for, or control the actions of anyone else. People sometimes blame the survivor as a way of feeling control over their own safety. Seek out people who understand that you are not responsible for being assaulted.
- Numbness and denial: feelings of confusion, being overwhelmed, withdrawing, feeling “nothing”.
- Recovery Strategies: Recognize these are normal reactions. Talk with others about your feelings, give yourself time to heal; use available resources.
- Anger: feeling angry at your assailant, angry that you no longer feel safe, having thoughts about retaliation.
- Recovery Strategies: You have a right to feel angry about what happened to you. Talk about your feelings with others who understand this.
- Anxiety and Depression: feeling anxious, restless, profoundly sad and hopeless, that your sense of personal safety and well-being have been shattered.
- Recovery Strategies: Be aware that you are not alone; it may be helpful to talk with others who understand the process of recovery from sexual assault. Talk with people who have been good listeners and non-judgmental in the past. Consider seeking professional counseling particularly when these feelings persist and begin to interfere with everyday routines or academic performance.
- Sleep disturbances, changes in eating habits: being unable to sleep, or sleeping all the time; loss of appetite or over-eating.
- Recovery Strategies: These are frequently associated with stress reactions and tend to dissipate over time. Use a nightlight and try to re-establish a consistent bedtime routine. Understand that you need time to heal, take things slowly as you begin to re-establish your daily routine. Seek professional counseling if these problems persist.
- Change in intimate/sexual relationships: Some survivors feel uncomfortable in sexual relationships as this triggers memories and feelings associated with the assault.
- Recovery Strategies: Talk openly with your partner about your needs and feelings; respect your own comfort level when re-establishing intimacy. You may be more comfortable initiating intimacy rather than having your partner initiate intimate contact.
Sexual Assault is Against the Law
LCC is here to help. If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted you can call any of our confidential lines to get crisis counseling or help with resources. Call 410-479-HELP or 1-800-422-0009.
What is Sexual Assault?
Being forced to kiss someone.
Being touched when you don't want to be.
Being forced to touch someone else.
Being forced to look at someone else's genitals.
Sex or sexual touching without consent. No one has the right to touch you if you don't want them to! Ever. No matter who. Tell someone you trust. Go to the hospital or doctor. Call your local rape crisis center. Call the police. Get help. Know you didn't do anything to deserve it.