About Sexual Assault and Rape
Sexual assault and rape affect people of all genders and ages in every community around the world. Sexual assault and rape are not motivated by a sexual desire, perpetrators commit sexual assault and rape to exert power over, dominate, and hurt their victims. It is NEVER the victim’s fault.
What is sexual assault?
Sexual assault refers to sexual behavior or contact that occurs against or without an individual’s consent. Some forms of sexual assault include:
Penetration of the victim’s body, also known as rape
Fondling or unwanted sexual touching
Forcing a victim to perform sexual acts, such as oral sex or penetrating the perpetrator’s body
What is rape?
Rape is forced intercourse; it is a form of sexual assault, but not sexual assault is rape. The FBI defines rape as “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”
What is consent?
Consent must be freely given or informed without being forced or cohered. An individual can change their mind at any time. An individual is not able to give consent if they are impaired by emotional, mental, or physical reasons.
Victims are never at fault!
Choosing to take advantage of someone and violating their rights is a choice. It is never about “what they were wear,” “how much they were drinking,” “having a good time,” or “how they were acting.” Violating another person’s rights is inexcusable and a choice.
Effects of Sexual Assault and Rape
The aftermath of a sexual assault or rape leaves victims’ feelings a range of emotions. There is no right way to react or feel. Every victim responds to traumatic events differently. As the body and the mind process the traumatic experience of a sexual assault, many different behaviors, emotions, and physical responses appear and disappear, this is the body’s way of protecting itself. The effects of the trauma can be short-term or last long after the sexual assault or rape.
Common Emotional Effects
Anger & Blame: Thinking they “allowed” the crime to happen. Angry that this happened to them.
Changes in trusting others: Many sexual assault survivors find it difficult to trust other individuals, they even find it difficult to trust themselves and their own perceptions. Sexual assault is a betrayal of trust.
Denial: Saying, “I am okay.” “It wasn’t that bad.” “Everything is fine, I don’t need anything, I don’t need any help.”
Guilt: Feeling that the abuse was their fault. It is difficult for survivors to put the blame on the individual who assaulted them at first. Many times, the offender was a person close to them that they want to protect. Other, times they feel they could have done something different to prevent the crime.
Shame: Survivors may think they are permanently damaged, dirty, no one will want them anymore, in the wrong.
Common Mental Effects
Amnesia: not remembering details of what happened.
Depression: Includes prolong sadness, feelings of hopelessness, weigh gain or loss, loss of energy or interest in activities previously, unexplained crying.
Flashbacks: This are memories from the trauma that come flooding back. These memories can take many forms: body sensations, dreams, images, sounds, smells, or overwhelming emotions. Some flashbacks are mild and brief, only a passing moment, while others may be powerful and last a lot longer. The re-experiencing of the trauma often comes out of nowhere and can blur the lines between past and present.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): PTSD is not an unusual occurrence, many individuals experience PTSD as result of a traumatic experience such as rape or sexual assault. PTSD is a normal human reaction to an abnormal or extreme situation. You may be experiencing PTSD if you have experienced the following symptoms for at least a month:
Experienced distressing memories of the event
Regularly avoided things or triggers that remind you of the event
Shown at least two symptoms of increased arousal (sleep difficulties, difficulty concentrating, hyper vigilance, an exaggerated startle response, or irritability or outbursts of anger/rage)
Shown significant impairment or distress due to the event
Shown symptoms of intense horror, helplessness, or fear
Acute Phase: occurs instantly after the assault and usually lasts a few days to several weeks. In this phase, you may experience many reactions but they typically fall into three different categories:
Expressed: when you are openly emotional
Controlled: when you appear to be without emotion, and act as if "everything is fine" and "nothing happened"
Shocked disbelief: when you react with a strong sense of disorientation
Outward Adjustment Phase: resume what appears to be your "normal" life, but inside you are still suffering from considerable turmoil. This phase has five main coping techniques:
Dramatization: you cannot stop talking about the assault and it dominates your life and identity
Explanation: you analyze what happened, what you did and what the rapist was thinking/feeling
Flight: you try to escape the pain (moving, changing jobs, changing appearance, changing relationships, etc.)
Minimization: pretending that everything is fine or convincing yourself that "it could have been worse"
Suppression: you refuse to discuss the event and act as if it did not happen
Resolution Phase: the assault is no longer the central focus of your life. You still realize that you will never forget the assault, the pain and negative outcomes lessen over time. The rape or sexual assault happened to you and is a part of you but you have chosen to move on.
Some survivors of sexual assault many become so depressed that they think about ending their life. If you or some you know is feeling suicidal, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
In the case of an emergency situation, always call 911. Emergency situations involve any act of violence or threat, recent act of violence or if your safety or someone else’s is in imminent danger.
Crisis Hotline (All hotlines are 24 hours a day unless stated otherwise)
Rape Crisis of Cumberland County: 1-910-485-7273