Many people who have experienced some form of unwanted sexual activity may have difficulty identifying themselves as victims of sexual assault. However, sexual assault is a term that describes a wide range of unwanted or nonconsensual sexual activities that occur most frequently between two people who know each other such as acquaintances, significant others, and family members (a parent and a child). Non-stranger sexual assaults are some of the most underreported crimes in the United States and something which many people find very difficult to discuss.
Sexual assault is considered to be a form of trauma in which power and control have been taken away from a survivor. The most common feelings following an assault include shock, confusion, fear, anger, helplessness, self-blame, guilt, embarrassment, shame, numbness, and disbelief. Whatever your reaction, please know that it is not uncommon to experience one or a mixture of these uncomfortable emotions. It is important to remember that there is no one "right way" to seek resolution and healing following an assault. With time, support, self-understanding, and self-compassion, the difficult or painful emotions you may be feeling will subside.
Sexual assault can cause a great deal of confusion in our lives. Allow yourself the time and assistance you may need to heal. Be gentle and patient with yourself. Honor yourself by acknowledging the reality of what happened. Allow yourself to experience whatever feelings that may come, and use as many resources (family, friends, counselors, rape crisis programs) as you need. You do not have to recover from this without support and assistance.
If you have been sexually assaulted, we hope that this information will help you know that you are not alone, provide you with information to help you make informed choices, and support your recovery.
- Sexual assault is a crime of power and control. You can begin to reclaim your power by making your own choices about how to proceed following an assault.
- An advocate or counselor can provide emotional support by being an objective listener and helping you make informed choices by providing information about common reactions to sexual violence, law enforcement procedures and legal issues.
- You are not to blame. The person who assaulted you is responsible.
- It is important to seek medical attention for possible injuries and to be screened and treated for the possibility of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
- You may be eligible for Crime Victim’s Compensation to help you pay for medical, counseling and other expenses.
- Although it is not uncommon for survivors to simply want to forget about the assault and move on with their lives, many find that unresolved feelings create obstacles to moving on.
- It is never too late to talk about a past incident of sexual violence and begin healing.
Adapted from: Horak, Joanne F. Common Reactions of Victims/Survivors of Sexual Assault and How to Respond. YMCA of Western Massachusetts. 2000.