What is Sexual Assault?
According to the United States Department of Justice, sexual assault is defined as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” Sexual assault encompasses unwanted sexual interaction ranging from unwanted fondling to rape. In the United States, one in three women and one in six men experience sexual assault at least once in their lives.
The perpetrator is not always a stranger. In fact, the crime is more often committed by an acquaintance. Almost seven out of ten rapes are committed by someone known to the victim -- family member, classmate, friend, or even a spouse. This can be exceedingly painful for victims as they experience a feeling of betrayal along with the attack itself.
Sexual assault can occur in many forms including rape, attempted rape, unwanted physical contact, and unwanted oral sex. It can occur whether a person engages in risky behavior or if they follow all the rules. Despite all of these differences, all victims have one thing in common-- they should never be blamed. It is never their fault.
Signs of Sexual Assault:
Sexual assault is an emotionally, physically and mentally traumatizing experience. Not all victims display the same signs of having experienced sexual assault. The most common physical sign is bruising, bleeding, soreness, and broken bones.
However, visible injuries are not always present. Some victims experience emotional isolation, outbursts of anger, and difficulty forming trust in relationships. About 94% of women who are raped experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following the rape. They can experience feeling of sadness and helplessness that, if untreated, can develop into depression. Many victims experience flashbacks that can be triggered even by the smallest stimulus.
If a loved one displays signs of sexual assault, it is okay to approach them about it and show them that they are not alone. They should be reminded that it is not their fault and urged to seek treatment.
South Asian organizations with primary focus in sexual assault awareness/recovery:
Steps for Recovery/Self-Care:
When seeking therapy, you must consider several factors. First, you should find a therapist you are compatible with. This means it is helpful to find someone with professional experience in the issue you need help with. Your personalities must also align well to create an environment comfortable enough to allow for you to talk about uncomfortable things. You should also look into the type of therapy they use. Some therapists practice a blend of different forms of therapy, while others subscribe to a specific type.
Therapy provides people with space in which they can communicate their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment. It also allows them to talk to someone about private issues and trust that those conversations will stay private. Therapy is a very flexible strategy for recovery, meaning you can stay in therapy for as long as you believe you need it. There is no minimum or maximum time limit that you have to stay in therapy.
It can be difficult to find a counselor for you. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center provides a directory of support services.
You must physically take care of yourself after an assault takes place. You have the option of receiving a free confidential exam at any Emergency Department in the US. You can be tested for sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy. Survivors of trauma should also assess how they are physically coping after the assault takes. Are you sleeping? Eating healthy? Engaging in exercise that you enjoy? If not, you may consider seeking help. A healthy, strong body can greatly impact your ability to mentally and emotionally cope with the stress of the assault.
Emotional self care is different for everyone as people process things differently. However, it is important that you do take the time to process what occurred. Writing down personal thoughts has proven to be an effective coping strategy. Surrounding yourself with loved ones from a strong support system can significantly improve your emotional and mental health. Engaging in activities you enjoy can also help. You may seek out calm, relaxing activities such as yoga or reading.
Self-care can be difficult to do. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) operates a hotline of trained professionals for those who may not know where to start: 800.656.HOPE or 1-800-656-4673. They also have an online chat service.