“Afterwards I kept thinking, ‘Did that just happen?’” I hear this phrase from nearly every person that walks through my door and tells me about being sexually assaulted. But what is sexual assault?
Sexual assault is defined as “any type of sexual activity that you do not agree to. It can be verbal, visual, or anything that forces a person to join in unwanted sexual contact or attention.” Most people think of rape when they hear the words sexual assault; however, this sexual assault also includes inappropriate touching, voyeurism, exposure of themselves, and sexual harassment, to name a few situations.
Before going back to school to obtain my master’s degree, I worked at a facility for girls in foster care. I listened to countless stories about the sexual abuse these girls survived. And the effects the abuse had varied from girl to girl. Most of the girls coped using various self-harming techniques, from drugs to eating disorders to cutting or other physical harm. Many of the girls felt guilty, ashamed, confused, angry, hurt, etc. Sometimes the confusion came because the person(s) that harmed them were family or close friends. Sometimes they felt confused because there was a part of them that liked the way it felt. It is important to understand that all of these feelings are normal!
These feelings are also normal if sexual assault happens in adulthood. Reactions vary from person to person. Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault! It does not matter if a woman is dressed provocatively or if a man's penis is erect or if the two of you have been kissing or any other situation. Sexual assault can happen to all genders. And it can happen at any age.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, I know you or they may be scared and confused. You are not alone! There are multiple support groups that meet in person, via phone or even online forums. Topics range from incest to rape to sexual harassment at work, just to name a few. We are here to help you work through these many effects and others of sexual assault. You can also get more general information from the following organizations:
· Womenshealth.gov – Phone: 800-994-9662 (TDD: 888-220-5446)
· Loveisrespect.org – Phone: 866-331-9474 (TDD: 866-331-8453)
· National Center for Victims of Crime – Phone: 800-394-2255 or 202-467-8700 (TDD: 800-211-7996)
· National Crime Prevention Council – Phone: 202-466-6272
· National Domestic Violence Hotline – Phone: 800-799-7233 (TDD: 800-787-3224)
· National Sexual Violence Resource Center – Phone: 877-739-3895 or 717-909-0710 (TDD: 717-909-0715)
· Office on Violence Against Women, OJP, DOJ – Phone: 202-307-6026 (TDD: 202-307-2277)
· Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network – Phone: 800-656-4673 or 202-544-1034