1 in 3 females and 1 in 6 males will be the victim of sexual assault in their lifetime. Even with these startling statistics, rape remains the most underreported of all crimes.
While you can be there and be supportive, please remember there are many resources available to help your friend and you. You may experience many similar feelings as you hear about the assault – like rage, sadness, fear, guilt, depression, or shock. It is important not to ignore those feelings you might be having as well. At WKU, students are welcome to come to the Counseling and Testing Center for confidential counseling with a professional counselor or psychologist. Here are some phone numbers to keep available:
- WKU Counseling and Testing Center: 745-3159
- WKU Health Services: 745-5641
- WKU University Police: 745-2548
- Hope Harbor: A Sexual Trauma Recovery Center: 782-5014 or 24 hour crisis line 270-846-1100 or 1-800-656-4673
What prevents someone from reporting a sexual assault?
Unfortunately, many survivors feel ashamed. Many feel as though they are alone or at fault. They may feel embarrassed or not understand the situation themselves. They sometimes feel blamed or rejected by family or friends. They may be afraid of further harm, especially if the perpetrator is someone they know, or someone on whom they depend. Some rape survivors judge themselves so harshly for a crime that was not their fault, they may believe that others will judge them as well. Face it, society often encourages the survivor to prove their innocence instead of perpetrators being proved guilty.
Many times, survivors feel guilty or blame themselves because they may have known or even liked the perpetrator. Yet in approximately 80 percent of reported sexual assaults, the perpetrator is someone the survivor knows. 70 – 80 percent of all sexual assaults involve alcohol and/or drugs, either on the part of the perpetrator or the survivor, or both. When an individual is impaired through the use of alcohol or drugs (including “date rape drugs”), consent is impossible.
What are some common responses to a sexual assault?
Everyone copes with traumatic events differently. These ways of coping are influenced by the individual's coping skills prior to the assault, the severity of the assault, and the support system that is available to the survivor. Keep in mind people heal in different ways and at different rates. Some reactions you might see in response to an assault could be:
- A diminished self-esteem, feelings of shame, humiliation, anger, powerlessness, and guilt.
- A negative attitude towards her or his body. This could lead to self-harming behaviors (i.e. alcohol/drug abuse, eating disorders, mutilation, etc.)
- Difficulty trusting and being intimate with others
- Avoidance of sexual activity, or engagement in risky sexual activity
- Nightmares, fears of the future, fears of being alone
- Feeling numb and/or detached, like being in a daze or dream, or feeling the world is strange and unreal.
- Reliving the assault through repeated thoughts, memories, or nightmares.
- Avoidance of things (places, thoughts feelings) that remind them of the assault.
- Anxiety or increased arousal (difficulty sleeping, concentrating, etc.)
- Social problems: Could affect their performance at school and work. Difficulties in social relationships.
What can I do to help a friend who has been assaulted?
It’s so important to offer support to this person. You may be the first person that they have shared this trauma with. How you respond is very important.
- LISTEN: Talking about the experience, when the survivor is ready, will help acknowledge and validate what happened to them and can reduce stress and feelings of isolation. Let the survivor take the lead!! Be there for them; be supportive, not judgmental.
- REASSURE: Assure them it was not their fault. This is something they often need to hear and often will not indicate that this is what they need. They often blame themselves. So take the initiative on this and assure them they are not alone and not to blame!
- EMPOWER: Aid them in maintaining routine, as well as offer survivors options and possible solutions. Help them gain back control!
- BE PATIENT: Every journey through healing is unique. Try to understand it takes time and do what you can to be supportive. Each person heals differently and at different rates!
- ENCOURAGE: Encourage them to seek counseling! Encourage them to seek support! Encourage them to report the assault.
- SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION: Encourage them to seek medical attention, even if they do not wish to pursue charges and/or have a physical evidence recovery kit completed. There could be acute or internal trauma from an assault, but there is also the concern for pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections.
- BELIEVE THEM!