If you have experienced unwanted sexual activity, we hope you know that you are not alone and that we are here to provide you with information to help you make informed choices, and support your recovery.
Many people who have experienced some form of unwanted sexual activity may not think of themselves as sexual assault victims. However, sexual assault is a term that describes a wide range of unwanted sexual activities. Anyone can be a victim of sexual assault. It happens to men and women, children, teenagers, adults, and the elderly. It can happen regardless of one's race, religion, social status, sexual orientation or gender identity. And it happens in every community, in both urban and rural areas.
Through the media (television, newspapers, the internet, etc.) we hear that the majority of publicized sexual assults are committed by strangers. This can be misleading since in reality sexual assaults committed by strangers are not as common as sexual assaults committed by someone the victim knows.
For instance, sexual violence may take place on a date, with a partner/spouse, with a co-worker, a friend, or even a family member. The majority of sexual assaults occur in the home of the survivor by their friend, relative or neighbour. It does not matter if the two people know each other, are on a date, or are married, sexual assault can still happen.
Sexual assault is an emotional shock and a trauma. Power and control were taken away from the victim. This type of trauma can cause people who are victimimized to experience a mixture of uncomfortable feelings and thoughts. Common feelings often include a mix of emotions such as: shock, confusion, fear, anger, helplessness, self-blame, guilt, embarrassment, shame, numbness, and disbelief.
Everyone who is sexually assaulted deals with it differently. There is no 'right way' of dealing with this crime. Do what seems right for you at the time. With support, self-understanding, and self-compassion, difficult or painful emotions will lesson over time. Please know that whatever you did to survive the assault was the right action. No matter what the situation, no one deserves to be victimized. It was not your fault. The responsibility belongs to the person who assaulted you. That person committed an act of violence, which is a criminal offense.
Sexual assault causes a great deal of confusion in a survivor's life. Allow yourself time and assistance, you may need to heal. Be gentle and patient with yourself. Honour yourself by acknowledging the reality of what happened. Allow yourself to have whatever feelings may come. Use as many resources (family, friends, counselors, rape crisis programs, online support groups) as you need. You do not have to recover from this trauma alone.
Even if you did not fight back or say "no," it is still sexual assault. Feeling like you had to "give in" to be physically or emotionally safe is not the same as consent. If you did not freely say "yes," you did not consent. Sexual activity without consent is sexual assault.
You are not going crazy, even though it may feel that way
The thoughts and feelings you might experience after a sexual assault are related to trauma. Survivors often experience shock, guilt, fear, anxiety, and shame. Common physical reactions may include: nightmares, difficulty sleeping or wanting to sleep all the time, changes in eating, and many other reactions. Your ability to enjoy your daily life may change, even to the point of depression and thoughts of suicide. If you experience thoughts of suicide, please call 911 or the suicide hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-TALK. Trained hotline counselors are available 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.
The trauma of sexual assault might also affect your ability to feel safe in the world, trust others, or your sense of control over what happens to you. When these beliefs get tested, confusing thoughts and feelings may occur.
It was not because of how you dressed or acted
Sexual assault is an act of violence, manipulation, and coercion by the perpetrator. People who perpetrate sexual violence exploit people's trust, good nature, and vulnerabilities and use sexual assault as a tool to take away power and control from another person. Anyone can be a victim of sexual violence. Survivors of sexual assault are all genders and ages. Although perpetrators often try to blame the survivor ("She asked for it," "He led me on," etc.), the responsibility always falls to the perpetrator and that person is always at fault.
You kept yourself alive
It is important to acknowledge that as a victim of sexual assault, you survived. You are a survivor. Whatever you did to stay alive or get through the situation was exactly the right thing to do. In a physically threatening situation, survival instincts take over. Even if there was no strong physical force, perpetrators often use coercion, pressure, or threats to take control. The fact is, above all, you survived. Many people submit to assault to keep from being hurt or killed, or in fear because of the relationship with the perpetrator. 'Freezing' or being unable to move, is a well-documented response to trauma. It is a common and valid reaction.
This may have happened before
If you have been sexually assaulted before, you may have an especially difficult time coping with the recent assault. The effect of a new assault can bring back problems from other experiences. Many victims of multiple assaults feel like it is something about them that makes this happen, or that they deserve the assaults for some reason. Please try to remember that no matter how many times you have been assaulted and no matter what the perpetrator(s) may have told you, you do not deserve what happened. NO ONE deserves to be the victim of assault. Counseling can be especially helpful if you have experienced more than one sexual assault.
Some things that may be helpful to know
1. Sexual assault is a crime that reduces or eliminates the victim's power and control during intimate contact. You can begin to reclaim your power by making your own choices about how to move forward after an assault.
2. A sexual assault victim advocate from a sexual assault crisis center, on a college campus, or a military base can provide emotional support by being an objective listener (someone who is not directly involved in your situation who can listen without biases). This person can help you make informed choices by providing information about common reactions to the trauma of sexual violence, medical considerations, law enforcement procedures, and other legal issues. You have the right to learn this information without needing to file a police report, talk to a counselor, or see a doctor. These are personal decisions to make as you begin to understand your feelings and options.
3. You are not to blame. The person who assaulted you is responsible. You deserve to be believed and treated with respect and compassion.
4. If you have concerns about injury, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and/or pregnancy, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible.
5. If you are over 18 years of age, you can choose whether or not you report the offense or work with law enforcement. If you are under age 18 or indicate a current minor is in danger, the Department of Social Services and/or law enforcement will need to be notified of the crime.
6. You may be able to get Crime Victim's Compensation to help you pay for medical care, counseling, and other expenses if you do report to the police.
7. If you do not participate in the criminal justice system but choose to obtain a medical forensic examination, it is okay.
8. It may be helpful to seek counseling to help you heal from the trauma of sexual violence. Although many survivors simply want to forget about it and move on with their lives, sometimes unsettled feelings can make it hard to move forward with your life.
9. It is never too late to talk about past sexual violence and begin the healing process.
Click here to read more in depth about Healing and Recovery.