WHAT IS SEXUAL VIOLENCE?
Sexual Assault (or sexual violence) is any unwanted sexual contact. It is coerced, manipulated, or forced and is a crime in which the assailant uses sex to humiliate or exert power and control over the victim.
Sexual violence is never the victim’s fault. No one deserves to be assaulted.
What Survivors Might Feel
There is no one right way to react.
Shocked and Numb Not knowing how to feel or what to do and sometimes not feeling anything at all may occur.
Helpless and Afraid They may feel like their whole life has been turned upside down and that they will never have control of their life or body again. During the first few days or weeks after the assault they may feel preoccupied with intrusive thoughts about the event—fear that the rapist may return, fear for their general physical safety, or fear of being alone. Other people or situations may remind them of the assault.
Angry They may feel angry and generalize that feeling of anger to all men/women (or those who remind you of the attacker).
Guilty and Self-Blaming Feeling like they could or should have done something to avoid or prevent the assault.
Distrustful and Isolated They may not know who to trust or how to trust themselves or others, and may feel suspicious and very cautious. Feeling that this experience has set them apart from other people, not wanting to “burden” other people with their experience, and wondering whether their reactions are “crazy or abnormal” is possible.
Physical Symptoms They may experience difficulty concentrating and sleeping. Nightmares, changes in appetite, startling easily, phobias, general anxiety, or depression may also occur. Being afraid to have sexual relations and wondering whether they will ever again want or enjoy sexual relationships is not uncommon. They may fear that being sexually intimate will remind them of the rape.
Steps Survivors Can Take
- First, get to a safe location.
- Consider calling someone you trust for support. This could be a friend, relative or your local Sexual Assault Crisis Line (877-221-6176).
- A trained sexual assault advocate can accompany you to the hospital and/or police station if you wish. The advocate is there to offer you support, answer your questions and help you through the process. An advocate can talk with you about your options, including decisions around reporting. The information you share with a sexual assault advocate is confidential. Services are available regardless of whether or not you decide to report the incident to the police.
- If you think you may want evidence collected, try not to change your clothes, bathe, or use any feminine cleansing products until you have reviewed all of your options.
- If you have any medical concerns or you are considering evidence collection, you can go to the nearest hospital emergency room or police station.
- At the hospital, a trained medical professional can assess for injuries, STDs, and pregnancy. The staff can answer your medical questions and gather evidence if you chose to report the assault. Adults who go to a hospital in NH do not necessarily have to report the assault.
Words for a Survivor
Take It Slow Your whole system has been violated, so try to do only one thing at a time, focusing on small things such as the daily decisions that need to be made. Make a list and get help sorting out what you want and need.
Take Care of Yourself Make your physical environment as safe and comfortable as you can, including asking familiar people to be around you as often as necessary. In addition to emotional exhaustion, you may also be healing from physical injuries or you may develop physical reactions to the trauma such as headaches, stomach discomfort, or general aches and pains. Try to focus on sleeping and relaxing, eating healthy, and finding appropriate people to talk to about the experience when you are ready.
Talk to Others Try to talk to people who you have found dependable in the past, who you enjoy spending time with, and who you trust to be good listeners and nonjudgmental. Let people know you want support, not over-protectiveness. There are also many professionals who have worked with others who have had similar experiences as you and may be able to act as additional support people for you.
Allow Your Feelings Be accepting of your feelings, including anger, but remember that feelings and thoughts do not need to become actions. Even if you have thoughts of committing violence toward the attacker, it does not mean you are a violent person. You have a right to feel angry about the violation you have experienced. Try writing down your thoughts and feelings about the situation and talk about them with those you trust. Try to tell your sexual partner what levels of intimacy feel comfortable over time. Communication is very important.
Reactions of Family and Friends The people in your life may have their own reactions to what has happened to you. Try not to feel as if you need to protect them; let them get support from people other than you so they can in turn give you the support you need.