Surviving Sexual Assault and Rape
IT MY FAULT?
Too often survivors of sexual assault and rape fail to identify these acts as violence. Failing to name them as violence often prevents survivors from seeking the help they need to overcome the trauma of having the control over themselves and their body forcibly taken away.
Healing begins when survivors are able to identify the assault or rape as a crime against them, regardless of whether the act meets legal definitions. Whenever an individual is forced to have sex or engage in sexual activity without giving consent, a crime has occurred. The act may or may not meet the legal definition of rape; however, the reactions, feelings, and need for assistance for the survivor are always present.
Rape and sexual assault are about power and dominance; they are not about sex and certainly not about feelings of affection or love.
For more information regarding definitions, legislation, and state statutes visit the National Center for Victims of Crime website.
In Kansas, as well as Kansas State University, policy prohibits sexual violence. Copies of the Kansas statutes regarding these offenses are available in Hale-Farrell Library. The complete K-State policy may be obtained from the Office of Student Life at
The Kansas Law and K-State policy are abbreviated below.
Excessive use of alcohol and other drugs precedes many incidents of sexual violence. Use of these substances may interfere with one's capacity to consent to or to refuse sexual activity, and taking advantage of another person's vulnerability is unacceptable. Under no circumstances does the use of alcohol or other drugs diminish personal responsibility for aggressive or other socially unacceptable behavior.
Victims of sexual violence will be assisted in their efforts to seek redress to whatever extent they desire through the relevant laws of society. In addition, the university has established an administrative review process through which it may administer its own sanctions, which may be in lieu of or in addition to any legal redress.
DO I DO?
Making rational decisions during this time of emotional upheaval is difficult. Survivors need to weigh alternatives, and they usually will benefit from talking with gentle, informed, and trained crisis helpers. Most communities have a telephone hot line that can help survivors sort out options even if the survivor does not want to give a name or make any sort of formal or official report. Below are some resources that may be helpful in trying to figure out what to do next.
Decisions to consider:
WHAT IS IT THAT I AM FEELING? 1
Recovering from rape is a process that begins as soon as the immediate threat has ended and the perpetrator is gone. There are many decisions to be made and many feelings to be expressed. Not all of the decisions or feelings will need to be handled at once, but rather as recovery progresses. The following are common reactions.
Possible Physical Effects of Sexual Assault
Possible Emotional/Psychological Effects of Sexual Assault
Possible Physiological Effects of Sexual Assault
1 This information was obtained from the National Center for Victims of Crime
IF I FEEL LIKE I JUST CAN’T “GET OVER IT?”
Remember that no matter how much difficulty you're having dealing with sexual violence, it does not mean you are "going crazy." The fear and confusion will lessen with time, but the trauma may disrupt your life for a while. Survivors will likely feel anger, depression, anxiety, and perhaps have a general sense that everything is falling apart. This phase is often marked by recurring nightmares, a generalized feeling of anxiety, and flashbacks to the attack. While these feelings are disturbing, they are a normal reaction to a trauma and are part of the healing process. Often it is at this time that survivors seek assistance from trained professionals who can help to put their lives back together and recover from rape-related post-traumatic stress. Even long after a sexual assault, some reactions may be triggered by people, places or things connected, or seemingly unconnected, to the assault. These are called "triggers" and they are difficult, but common.
Survivors may also have a fairly dramatic shift in feelings and sometimes in behavior very soon after the sexual assault or rape. Where once they were fearful, tearful, confused, emotionally drained, and out of control, now they may appear to be just fine. Survivors are trying to heal by gaining emotional distance from the trauma. Thus, they still need the support of family and friends regardless of how they may appear to be feeling or behaving.
Loss of sexual identity may also occur. Survivors may change their clothing style, hairstyle, makeup, or anything else that will allow them to see themselves as different from the person who was attacked. Though this is a painful time, this phase suggests that the survivor is beginning to deal with the reality of the sexual assault or rape.
enough of the anger and depression is released and worked through, survivors
may begin to recover from what has happened to them. They may still
think and talk about what happened, but they will now understand and
feel in control of their emotions. The trauma begins to play less of
a major role in their life. In no way do they condone what happened
but they are now able to live again. Though their lives may have changed,
their feelings of self-worth and strength will reemerge. Life will probably
be different, and their world view may have changed somewhat, but the
survivor can feel stronger, more whole, and more in control of life
again. At this point, they have not only survived but also recovered
from the trauma.
HOW DO I TAKE CARE OF MYSELF?
The aftermath of sexual violence can be an emotional and difficult time. As a survivor, self-care is a key part of the healing process. Below is a list of ways in which a survivor can practice good self-care. Be sure to make a special effort to ensure that whatever you do to take care of yourself is done at your own pace and in agreement with your own needs.
Make your self-care a priority, not something that happens (or doesn’t happen!) by accident.
HOW DO I HELP/SUPPORT SOMEONE WHO HAS BEEN SEXUALLY ASSAULTED?
The process of recovering from a sexual assault or rape takes time. As a friend or loved one, your help during this process is essential. Survivors need a great deal of support and caring as they begin to address and survive a very frightening and violent experience. Friends and family can help by:
and being available.
Survivors will need to talk about what happened and will probably express many feelings. Providing a safe environment in which to talk and also setting aside time for these conversations may be the most helpful thing that friends and family can do. You do not need to provide answers. Just listen.
If you are not able or willing to listen, acknowledge that, then help the survivor in ways that you can. Remember that the recovery process may last for several months to years and that the need and desire to talk will vary depending on where the survivor happens to be in the recovery process
may also need encouragement from loved ones to seek the assistance of
a trained professional who can help the survivor to express the often
painful thoughts and feelings connected to the sexual assault or rape.
Believing and not Judging.
Too often family and friends may fall into the trap of believing some of the rape myths -- particularly those that have to do with the victim somehow being responsible for the assault or rape. The job of family and friends is to support, to believe, and to be non-judgmental. Survivors will be dealing with their own sense of shame and guilt and should not be burdened by the ill-founded judgments of those people who are closest to them.
Offering a safe place to stay or even staying with the survivor.
This may seem like such a small thing, but feeling safe again may be very difficult for the survivor. Having family or friends close at hand can facilitate that sense of being safe and protected. It is important, however, not to be smothering. Allow survivors to determine where they want to stay and with whom.
Recognizing that recovery takes a long time.
It is important for significant people in the survivor's life to refrain from suggesting or even hinting that the survivor "should have gotten over it by now." This sort of nonsupport may further delay or interrupt the healing process.
and family can aid in the healing by acknowledging the feelings, by
reminding the survivor that the feelings are a normal part of healing,
and by emphasizing that these feelings will not last forever.
the decisions that the survivor makes.
Part of feeling in control includes making decisions and having those decisions be respected. Sometimes family and friends may not agree with the decisions that are being made; however, it is important that survivors be allowed to determine their own solutions to the sexual assault or rape.
Being gentle, sensitive, and respectful of the survivor's wishes for closeness or affection.
Do be gentle and sensitive. Survivors may want affection or they may not want to be close. If you are not sure what they want, ask before acting and recognize that what they want may change from time to time.
with your own feelings.
Typically family and friends have some fairly strong reactions when someone they care about has been assaulted or raped. They may feel anger, rage, guilt, confusion, blame, or numerous other strong emotions. Just as the actual survivor must express emotion, so too must friends and family.
But rather than expressing this emotion to the survivor, the friend or family member should deal with these emotions with someone else. It is not fair to survivors to have to handle not only their own feelings but also those of the people they are turning to for support and assistance. In fact, this can only add to the feelings of guilt and remorse that survivors may already be feeling. In essence, it may only make healing more difficult (Hughes & Sandler, 1987)2 .
the impact of the trauma on sexual interactions with your partner.
Sexual Partners: A Special Relationship.
Since sexual assault violates an individual in a most personal way, the intimate partner of a survivor has a special place in the healing process and will especially need to use all of the ways to help:
2Hughes, J.O. & Sandler, B.R. (1978). "Friends" raping friends: Could it happen to you? Washington, D.C.: Project on the Education and Status of Women, Association of American Colleges
CAN MEN BE SEXAULLY ASSAULTED?
The sexual assault of a male is forcing a man or boy into sexual acts. Sexual assault may involve touching, fondling, contact between the mouth and either the victim’s or the abuser’s private parts (genital area), and putting body parts or other objects inside the victim’s body. Sexual assault is an act that is done to the victim or that the victim is forced to do with someone else. Every state has laws against sexual assault, whether the victim is male or female.
Who Commits Male Rape?
Most perpetrators of male rape (those who commit the crime) are male. But men and boys can be victimized by females, too. Some victims are hurt by strangers. But most are assaulted by someone they know: family, friends, romantic partners, acquaintances, or dates.
How Do Rapists Control Victims?
Rapists don’t always use physical force or weapons to commit the crime. They may threaten to hurt victims or someone they care about if victims do not cooperate. They may isolate them (take them to a place where there are no other people who might help victims). Or they may give the victims alcohol or drugs so they have trouble protecting themselves.
Does Sexual Assault Affect Male Victims?
Victims react to the crime in many different ways. They may not tell anyone about what happened. They may be ashamed or afraid of what people might think. Or they may blame themselves or think they should have been able to protect themselves. They may think the police might not believe them or take the assault seriously.
Some male sexual assault victims are concerned because they had a physical response or arousal during the attack. This does not mean that they enjoyed what happened or wanted to be attacked. Sexual assault is forced on the victim without his consent.
victims wonder why the rapist chose them. Both straight and gay men
may fear they were targeted because the rapist thought they were gay.
They may not know that sexual assault often has little to do with the
sexual orientation of the rapist or the victim. Rapists may choose victims
simply because they are available, without concern for sexual orientation,
gender, or age.
ANY SUGGESTED READING?
There are resources written about rape and sexual assault that has the potential to be helpful to someone in the healing process. Below is a list of books that have been recommended by counselors at Counseling Services. Again, practice good self-care and seek support, or discontinue reading, if material becomes too overwhelming.
Boys – The neglected victims of sexual abuse
by Mic Hunter (1991), Ballantine Books
with Trauma – A guide to self understanding
by Jon G. Allen (1995), American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc
Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse
by Ellen Bass & Laura Davis, Harper Paperbacks
never called it rape: The Ms. Report on Recognizing, Fighting, and Surviving
Date and Acquaintance Rape
by Robin Warshaw (1994), Harper & Row
she is raped. A book for husbands, fathers and male friends.
by Alan W. McEvoy & Jeff B. Brookings (2001), Learning Publications
you are raped: What every woman needs to know
by Kathryn M. Johnson (1998), Learning Publications
After Rape: A guide to transforming from victim to survivor
by Matt Atkinson (2008), R.A.R. Publishing
A Memoir of Rape and Recovery
by Patricia Weaver Francisco (2000), Harper Paperbacks
no longer: men recovering from incest and other sexual child abuse
by Mike Lew (1990), Harper & Row
the Tiger: Healing Trauma: The Innate Capacity to Transform Overwhelming
by Peter A. Levine Ph.D. and Ann Frederick (1997), North Atlantic Books
in the Counseling Services Student Resource Library