What is Sexual Assault?
In legal terms, sexual assault is sexual relations against a person's
will and without consent. Some sexual assaults are committed by strangers in
dark alleys; but they may also be
committed by someone you know or who lives next door. Sexual assault by a friend, date, partner, or casual
acquaintance is the most prevalent form of sexual assault on college campuses. It is predicted that one
in seven college women will be raped before graduation, and 90% will know their attacker. While the
figures are much smaller for men, they also experience sexual assault.
The following information is designed to help you heal after a sexual assault:
What to do if You've Just Been Sexually Assaulted
- Get to a safe place.
- Contact someone who can help you: a friend, the police (911), or other campus and community agencies.
- Do not shower, drink or eat, douche, or change your clothes. These activities destroy important physical evidence in the even that you decide to prosecute the assailant.
- Get medical attention. You may have hidden injuries and may want to explore options for preventing pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.
- Write down everything that you remember happening, with as much detail as possible. This can help with your own healing process and in any legal action you might decide to take.
Remember - You are not to Blame, even if:
- Your attacker was an acquaintance, date, friend or spouse.
- You have been sexually intimate with that person before.
- You were drinking or using drugs.
- You froze and did not or could not say "no," or were unable to fight back physically.
- You were wearing clothes that others may see as seductive.
Sexual assault is a crisis, and we all handle crisis in different ways. Though each person and
situation is unique, the following list summarizes the range of reactions to sexual assault that may help
you know what's normal to expect.
- Emotional Shock: I feel so numb. Why am I so calm? Why can't I cry?
- Disbelief: Did it really happen? Why me? Maybe I just made it up.
- Embarrassment: What will people think? I can't tell my family or friends.
- Shame: I feel so dirty, like there is something wrong with me. I want to wash my hands or shower all the time.
- Guilt: I feel as if it's my fault, or I did something to make this happen.
- Depression: How am I going to get through this quarter? I'm so tired. I feel so helpless. Maybe I'd be better off dead.
- Powerlessness: Will I ever feel in control again?
- Disorientation: I don't even know what day it is, or what class I'm supposed to be in. I can't remember my appointments. I keep forgetting things.
- Triggers: I keep having flashbacks. I am still re-living it. I see his face all the time.
- Denial: It wasn't really "rape."
- Fear: I'm scared of everything. What if I'm pregnant? Could I get a STD, or even AIDS? How can I ever feel safe again? Do people realize there's anything wrong? I can't sleep because I know I'll have nightmares. I am afraid I'm going crazy. I'm afraid to go outside. I'm afraid to be alone.
- Anxiety: I'm having panic attacks. I can't breathe! I just can't stop shaking. I can't sit still in class anymore. I feel overwhelmed.
- Anger: I want to kill the person who attacked me!
- Physical Stress: My stomach (head or back) aches all the time. I feel jittery and don't feel like eating.
Getting Back on Track
It is important for you to know that any of the above reactions are normal and temporary reactions to
an abnormal event. The fear and confusion will lessen with time, but the trauma may disrupt your life for
awhile. People, places or things concerned with the assault may trigger some reactions, while other
reactions may seem to come from "out of the blue."
Remember that no matter how much difficulty you're having dealing with the assault, it does not mean
that you're "going crazy" or becoming "mentally ill." The recovery process may
actually help you develop strengths, insights and abilities that you never had (or never knew you had)
Talking about the assault will help you feel better, but may also be really hard to do. In fact, it's
common to want to avoid conversations and situations that may remind you of the assault. You may have a
sense of wanting to "get on with life" and "let the past be the past." This is a
normal part of the recovery process and may last for weeks or months.
Eventually you will need to deal with fears and feelings in order to heal and regain a sense of
control over your life. Talking with someone who can listen with understanding and affirmation-whether
it's a friend, family member, hotline staff member or counselor-is a key part of the healing process.
Ways to Take Care of Yourself
- Get support from friends and family; try to identify people you can trust to validate your feelings and affirm your strengths.
- Talk about the assault and express feelings; choose when, where and with whom to talk about the assault, and set limits by only disclosing information that feels safe for you to reveal.
- Use stress reduction techniques-hard exercising like jogging, aerobics, walking; relaxation techniques like yoga, massage, music, hot baths; prayer or mediation.
- Maintain a balanced diet and sleep cycle as much as possible and avoid overusing stimulants like caffeine, sugar, and nicotine.
- Discover your playful and reactive "self." Playing and creativity are important for healing from hurt. Find time for noncompetitive play-start or resume a creative activity like piano, painting, gardening, handicrafts etc.
- Take "time-outs." Give yourself permission to take quiet moments to reflect, relax and rejuvenate-especially during times you feel stressed or unsafe.
- Try reading. Reading can be relaxing, healing activity. Try to find short periods of uninterrupted leisure reading time.
- Consider writing or keeping a journal as a way of expressing thoughts and feelings.
- Release some of the hurt and anger in a healthy way: write a letter to your attacker about how you feel about what happened to you. Be as specific as you can. You can choose to send the letter or not. You can also draw pictures about the anger you feel for your attacker as a way of releasing the emotional pain.
- Hug those you love. Hugging releases the body's natural painkillers.
- Remember you are safe, even if you don't feel it. The rape is over. It may take longer than you think, but you will feel better.
For Family and Friends
Remember - After a sexual assault, the person needs to:
- Obtain medical assistance
- Feel safe
- Be believed
- Know she or he was not at fault
- Take control of his or her life
Things you can do to help:
- Listen-don't judge. Try simply to understand the survivor's feelings.
- Offer shelter. If possible, stay with the person at a comfortable, reassuring place.
- Be there and give comfort. The survivor may need to talk a lot or at odd hours at the beginning. Be there as much as you can and encourage the survivor to talk to others.
- Encourage the person to seek professional help.
- Be patient. Don't try to rush the healing process or "make it better."
- Accept the person's choice of what to do about the rape-don't be overly protective. Ask what is needed, help the survivor list some options, then encourage independent decision-making, even if you disagree. It is very important that the survivor make decisions and have them respected.
- Put aside your feelings and get support for yourself. It may be too overwhelming to deal with your angry feelings on top of the victim's. If you have strong angry feelings or feelings of blame toward the survivor, talk to a friend or call a hotline.
CSU Bakersfield Campus Resources
CSU Bakersfield Public Safety (24 hrs) - 654-2111
CSU Bakersfield Health Center - 654-2394
CSU Bakersfield Counseling Center - 654-3366
BPD (Bakersfield Police Department) - 327-7111
Sex Crimes Division - 326-3850
Kern County Mental Health
Crisis Stabilization Unit - 868-8000
Alliance Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault - 322-0931
For emergencies call 911 immediately
If you are in doubt about where to turn for assistance, please feel free to call the
Counseling Center at 661-654-3366.
This information was prepared by the University of Texas at Austin Counseling and Mental Health Center
to assist students with mental health issues. Information contained herein was gleaned from on-line