Coping With Emotions
HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN TO ME?
There are many notions of what sexual assault is, who gets sexually
assaulted, who the assailant is, and where such crimes occur. Many of us
have never really thought about attacks until they happen to us. And after
a sexual assault, many of us still think, “If only I had…I wouldn’t have been
Maybe if we knew some of the facts about sexual assault, we would learn
that we as victims and survivors are not to blame. Understanding the facts
can help you deal with sexual assault. You can discuss your own feelings
and ideas about rape with an advocate who knows the realities of
|It could never happen
||Everyone is a potential rape victim: Females/
males of any age, race, class, religion,
occupation, education or sexual orientation.
|Most sexual assaults
occur as a “spur of the
moment” act in a dark
alley by a stranger
||Most rapes are planned and often occur in
one’s own home. Many times the offender
is a relative, friend, neighbor, or other
acquaintance of the victim.
|Sexual assault is
primarily motivated by
||Sexual assault is violence that is acted out
sexually. It violates not only the victim’s
personal integrity, but also his/her sense of
safety and control over his/her life.
|It’s the victim’s fault if
they were using alcohol
or other substances.
||Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault,
regardless of their choices and behaviors
prior to the assault. No person deserves to be
|A person cannot be
sexually assaulted by
their partner or spouse.
||Sexual assault is a crime regardless of the
relationship between the victim and offender.
There is no reason to believe that assault by
an intimate partner is somehow easier to
experience or “get over.”
|A rapist is easy to spot
in a crowd.
||Most rapists appear to be normal. They can be
of any race, color or economic class.
|Most rapes are
||The overwhelming majority of rapes involve
persons of the same race or culture.
|Rape only happens to
||Rape occurs to victims of all ages. In the
U.S., there are reports of rape victims ranging
in ages from just days old to close to 100.
People of all ages, socio-economic groups,
neighborhoods, and lifestyles can be victims.
|Some victims are
“asking for it” by the
way they dress or by
||Most rapes are pre-planned. Research
shows that rapists are looking for available,
vulnerable targets, not victims who dress or
behave in a particular way. No person asks to
be hurt or degraded.
|If you stay in safe areas
and only are with
people you trust you
will never be sexually
||There is no way to guarantee that you will
never be a victim of sexual assault, but there
are ways to reduce the risk of assault and
increase awareness, sensitivity and safety. For
example, there are self-defense classes which
help teach one to be alert, fend off an attack,
and aid others in crisis.
WHAT AM I FEELING?
SOME HOW, SOME WAY, I lived through the experience of sexual assault.
I didn’t’ know whether I would and maybe I didn’t even know if I wanted
to, but I did. Now I face people and I wonder what they think. Maybe they
wonder whether I was careful enough, whether I provoked it in some way,
whether I fought hard enough. Maybe I wonder the
I can’t handle or cope with other people and their thoughts right now. I have
so much to think about but I don’t’ want to think about any of it. I’ve lost all
of my normal thoughts and concerns right now and everything is focused on
myself and safety.
AND HIM! I want to do something terrible to him… maybe sometimes, even
to myself. Will he come back? AM I SAFE? Oh, I feel so helpless! I feel I
lost control of my life and I feel like I’m going crazy. But what about those
who depend on me? Can I cope? I also wonder about being intimate with
someone again. I don’t want to be touched and I’m not ready to talk about
any of this.
I’m rambling on because I can’t seem to concentrate or care about other
things or matters like before. Is that wrong? Who knows how I’ll be able
to sleep at night? How am I going to go on? How am I going to be able to
care for those who depend on me?
I WANT TO FORGET
I WANT TO ESCAPE
I WANT MY LIFE BACK IN ORDER
WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN TO ME?
DOES ANYONE KNOW HOW I FEEL?
The experience of sexual assault has different meanings for each person.
No one knows precisely how an individual will react, but sexual assault
advocates have found that most people experience sexual assault as a
severe emotional and physical violation. This section will help you sort out
and understand some of what you may be feeling right now, or what you
may feel in the future.
Sexual assault is a violent act of domination and humiliation in which the
victim’s power and free will is taken away. Following such an experience,
it is natural to feel frightened and powerless. You may also feel a sense
of having lost control over your life, or a sense of shock and disbelief.
Restoring feelings of control is important. By making decisions (regarding
your medical examination or reporting the crime, for example) you can
regain some control you may feel was taken.
Following a sexual assault, you may find your lifestyle disrupted in a number
of ways. You may have difficulty concentrating. You may feel the need to
change schools or to move. You may also experience a loss of appetite,
depression, or nightmares. Some victims fear being alone, others are afraid
to be in crowds. All of these are common reactions.
These feelings can occur once or many times. They can come and go. Some
survivors try to block out the painful memories. Others need to talk about
their experience over and over again.
Many survivors have found it helpful to know how others have reacted to a
sexual assault. This gives them some idea of what they can expect.
Because rape is one of the crimes in which the victim is often treated as
the guilty party, it is understandable that many survivors experience guilt
feelings. These feelings can be especially strong if you knew your assailant.
You may feel guilty because you were not able to foresee or stop the assault.
It is important to remember that:
- It was not your fault. No one asks to be raped.
- Other people often try to make the survivor feel guilty in order to
reduce their own feelings of vulnerability.
- Rape is not an act of lust but one of aggression, humiliation,
WHAT ARE SOME COMMON REACTIONS TO SEXUAL ASSAULT?
||I feel so numb.
||Why am I so calm? Why can’t I cry?
||Did it really happen? Why me?
||What will people think? No, I can’t tell my family.
||I feel so dirty, like there is something wrong with
||I feel as if I did something to make this happen to
me. If only I had...
||How am I going to go on? I feel so tired and
||Will I ever feel in control again?
||I can’t sit still. I’m having trouble getting through the
day. I’m just overwhelmed.
||I keep having flashbacks. I wish they would stop.
|MINIMIZING AND DENIAL
||Wasn’t it “just” a bad sexual experience?
||I’m afraid of so many things. Will I get pregnant
or get an STI? Am I safe? Can people tell what’s
happened to me? Will I ever want to be intimate
again? Will I ever get over this? I’m afraid I’m
going crazy. I have nightmares that terrify me.
||I’m a nervous wreck! I have trouble breathing.
Anxiety is often expressed in physical symptoms,
like difficulty breathing or muscle tension, sleep
disturbances, changes in eating habits, nausea,
stomach problems, and nightmares.
||I want to hurt him!
These are all common feelings after a sexual assault. You are not going
crazy. There are many techniques you can learn to help cope with these
reactions. Ask your advocate or counselor for coping techniques or go to
the Women’s Center website at www.stcloudstate.edu/womenscenter.
HOW LONG WILL I FEEL THIS WAY?
Getting back to normal can take a long time and you may be wondering if
there is anyone who can help.
Many survivors have found it helpful to talk to a sexual assault advocate.
They are trained to listen and will try to help you make your own decisions
and deal with your feelings in a way that is best for you.
It is the sexual assault advocates job to keep you as educated as possible
so that you can make the most informed decision based on your situation.
HOW WILL MY FAMILY AND FRIENDS REACT?
Your family and friends will struggle with many feelings of their own at the
same time you are struggling with yours. They may need assistance, too.
- They may view sexual assault as a sex act rather than a crime of
violence and this misinformation needs to be corrected.
- They may mistakenly blame you or themselves for the assault.
- They may believe that not talking about feelings will make the feelings
After being sexually assaulted, you may have mixed feelings about telling
your friends and family. You may also be extremely sensitive to the way
they respond to you. At a time when you may need to talk out your feelings,
others may have difficulty listening. When you need to make your own
decisions about reporting the assault or seeking help, the important people
in your life may seem to want to make decisions for you. When you want
to be comforted because of the violence you experienced, your spouse or
partner may pressure you for more physical intimacy than you desire.
Friends or family may ask questions about the assault that indicates a
lack of understanding of what it was like for you. It is up to you to decide
who and what to tell. However, it is also very important for you to have a
support system you can turn to and family and friends are often able to fulfill
A spouse or partner may avoid closeness with you or may feel that
immediate intimacy will erase the trauma of the assault. Loved ones may
become overprotective in trying to cope with their own feelings of fear,
powerlessness, and helplessness.
Understanding the feelings of your loved ones does not mean that you
must take responsibility for helping them cope with their feelings when
you need to be dealing with your own. However, talking about feelings
directly, perhaps with the support of an outside person, can help everyone.
The Women’s Center Gender Violence Prevention Program has resources
specifically for friends and family members.
WILL I EVER FEEL SAFE AGAIN?
Your concern for safety and self-protection is a normal and
I’m Afraid to be Alone
Your fear is natural. After being sexually assaulted, you may also feel
humiliated, degraded and depressed. You may want to isolate yourself even
if you are afraid to be alone. These feelings are common and it is helpful to
your recovery to deal with them.
I Wonder if I’ll Ever Feel Safe Again
It is very common for you to feel afraid, especially in circumstances similar
to those under which the assault occurred (i.e., same place, same time of
day, etc.). Most people find that they begin to feel safer after a period of
time. The length of this period varies. Again, fear for your safety is a very
normal reaction. A supportive, non-judgmental listener can help you deal
with this normal reaction.
I’m Considering Purchasing a Gun or Pepper Spray to Protect Myself
It is not uncommon after a sexual assault to want to purchase a weapon. It’s
a good idea to consider the following before making a decision.
- Pepper spray canisters, guns, knives, hat pins, etc., can all be taken
away and used against you. Also, pepper spray canisters may
malfunction at any time.
- You may not have your pepper spray or other weapon with you when
you need it.
- Many assailants are known by the survivor.
As an alternative to weapons, you may want to enroll in self-defense
courses. A good instructor can help turn fear into anger and then into
action. You can learn how to use awareness, assertiveness, and physical
action to defend yourself. Learning self-defense is one way of dealing with
fear and anxiety. What you learn becomes part of you and you always
have it with you.
I Don’t Feel Safe at Home or in my Residence Hall
Whether or not you were attacked in your home, you may not feel safe
there, especially if you live alone. Many sexual assault survivors share
this feeling. Some have found it helpful to stay with a supportive friend
or relative until they feel less frightened or until they are able to move or
make their homes safer. Talking with a sexual assault advocate can help
you determine the options available to you (i.e., asking a friend or relative
to stay with you, moving, switching rooms or residence halls, or learning
techniques to reduce your level of fear).
WHAT ARE SOME SAFETY TIPS I CAN USE IN THE FUTURE?
Fear is a very normal, natural, and common reaction to a sexual assault.
Many survivors look for immediate solutions, like the suggestions that follow.
Sometimes reading these suggestions can create a sense of guilt. You may
think you could have prevented the assault. Remember, the responsibility for
the sexual assault lies with the perpetrator.
Safety Plan Suggestions Specific to Campus
- If you drive, consider purchasing a parking permit so that you don’t
need to walk through the neighborhood to get to your car. This is
important because Public Safety will provide escorts on campus,
and a two block radius off campus.
- Consider parking in the ramp attached to the Public Safety offices
(hourly or daily fee).
- If walking alone, always be alert and look around you.
- 911 can be dialed from any cell phone regardless of cell phone
- If you have a protective order against your offender, make sure Public
Safety has a copy as well as a description of the offender.
- If you work on campus and have a protective order against someone
or are being harassed by an offender, make sure that your co-workers
are aware of the situation so that they ask the offender to leave and/
or call the police or Public Safety.
- If you live in the Residence Halls, do not let anyone who doesn’t live
there into the building. Familiarize yourself with the exits so that if you
need to get out quickly, you know where to go.
- Do not put information on Facebook or other social network sites that
may aid your abuser/stalker.
Know How to Contact Public Safety or the Police
- Regardless of the time of day, if you feel uneasy or unsafe please call
Public Safety at 320.308.3333 and request an escort.
- Keep emergency phone numbers on your phone, or program the
numbers in on speed-dial.
- Learn where the campus emergency telephone (Blue Light Telephones)
are located on campus and how to use them.
Walking Around Campus
- Familiarize yourself with the layout of the campus. Survey the campus
while classes are in session and after dark to see that academic
buildings, walkways, facilities, and parking lots are adequately
secured and well lighted.
- Plan the safest route to your destination; choose well-lit, busy pathways
- Share your class schedule only with trusted individuals. Give them your
contact telephone number and address.
- At night, stick to well-lit areas whenever possible and avoid alleyways
or “short-cuts” through isolated areas.
- If you are being followed, change direction and go to the nearest
business or home; knock on the door, and request that someone
call the police. It will be helpful to law enforcement if you have a
description of the individual who followed you.
- Walk with confidence. Keep your head up and be aware of your
Safety in the Residence Halls
- Always lock your door; even when you’re sleeping or just going down
- Do not allow strangers to enter your room. Do not open your door
unless you can identify the person.
- Do not let unknown individuals “tailgate;” ask who they are visiting
and offer to call Public Safety.
- Do not prop any exterior doors open to allow unescorted visitors into
the residence hall (pizza delivery, friends, etc.).
- Report lost or stolen residence hall keys immediately to your residence
- Report any malfunctioning locks, doors or windows to your
residence life staff.
- Do not leave your keys lying around in your room when you are not in
- Do not leave messages on your door about when you will be returning
to your room.
- Tell a roommate or friend if you are planning to be away overnight
or for a few days.
- Report any suspicious persons or activities (including solicitors) in
or near your residence hall to your residence hall staff, Public
Safety or Police.
- Secure your valuables and engrave expensive items with identifying
- Always lock your windows at night, especially if you reside on the first
or second floors.
- Do not leave your identification, keys, wallets, checkbooks, or other
valuables in open view.
- Get to know your CA, residence life staff and neighbors.
Safety While Dating or with Friends
- Be assertive, forthright and definite. Do not go along with any
behavior that makes you feel uncomfortable.
- Communicate your limits clearly. Do not be afraid of being impolite.
You have the right to set limits and say no.
- Try not to be alone with someone you don’t know well. Socialize
- Before leaving, let other people know what your plans are and where
you can be reached. Let others know what time you plan to be home.
- Avoid letting a date or friend take you to an isolated or deserted
location. Stay in groups.
- Carry cash on you so that you can pay for your bill and leave quickly.
- When drinking, do not under any circumstances leave your drink
- Alcohol is a date-rape drug: a potential offender may ply you with
alcohol to lower your ability to judge situations. Besides watching your
drink at all times, watch the amount you drink.
- Make a pact with friends: watch out for each other when you are at
the bar or at a party. Ask your friends to take you home if you seem
drunk. Ask them to not let you leave with someone when you’ve been
- Be aware of a person who wants to keep you away from other friends
or family. This is a warning sign of an abusive partner.
- If you are with a friend or date who is pressuring you for unwanted
sexual activity say no FIRMLY. This may be enough for the person to
stop. If it isn’t, use one of the following tactics:
- Pretend to get sick.
- Use your words: ask the person to brush their teeth or to get you
some water and leave while they’re doing so, say you need to
use the restroom first and leave through a door or window, etc.
- If you feel this is an option, physically fight.
- Lock yourself in another room and call a friend or the police.
- Run out the door.
- Tell them you have an STD or HIV. Use this cautiously as the
offender may also have one of these infections.
If you are feeling it is unfair to have to think about safety tips all the time,
YOU ARE RIGHT. However, it is important that you be as safe as possible. If
your intuition tells you that something is wrong, or if you feel threatened or
uncomfortable in ANY situation, make every attempt to get to a safer place
as soon as possible. The two key words in self-protection are AWARENESS
of surroundings and ASSERTIVENESS of yourself. Your brain is your best
An advocate from the SCSU Women’s Center can work with you to develop
an individualized safety plan.