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somewhere in America, someone is sexually assulted 2000 National Crime Victimization Survey. Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice.
St Cloud State University | Women's Center
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Women's Center: Gender Violence Prevention Program

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 assaulted.”

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 sexual assault.

MYTH REALITY
It could never happen to me. 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 desire. 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 assaulted.
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 interracial. The overwhelming majority of rapes involve persons of the same race or culture.
Rape only happens to young women. 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 their actions. 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 assaulted. 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 same things.

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, and power.

WHAT ARE SOME COMMON REACTIONS TO SEXUAL ASSAULT?

EMOTIONAL I feel so numb.
SHOCK Why am I so calm? Why can’t I cry?
DISBELIEF Did it really happen? Why me?
EMBARRASSMENT What will people think? No, I can’t tell my family.
SHAME I feel so dirty, like there is something wrong with me now.
GUILT I feel as if I did something to make this happen to me. If only I had...
DEPRESSION How am I going to go on? I feel so tired and hopeless.
POWERLESSNESS Will I ever feel in control again?
DISORIENTATION I can’t sit still. I’m having trouble getting through the day. I’m just overwhelmed.
RE-TRIGGERING I keep having flashbacks. I wish they would stop.
MINIMIZING AND DENIAL Wasn’t it “just” a bad sexual experience?
FEAR 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.
ANXIETY 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.
ANGER 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 go away.

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 this need.

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 appropriate reaction.

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

Basic Information

  • 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. Walk confidently.
  • 911 can be dialed from any cell phone regardless of cell phone service plan.
  • 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 and streets.
  • 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 surroundings.

Safety in the Residence Halls

  • Always lock your door; even when you’re sleeping or just going down the hall.
  • 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 hall staff.
  • 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 the room.
  • 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 information.
  • 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 in groups.
  • 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 unattended.
  • 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 drinking.
  • 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 weapon.

An advocate from the SCSU Women’s Center can work with you to develop an individualized safety plan.

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