Sexual Assault

Rape or sexual assault is any sexual contact that is manipulated, coerced or forced on a person.  Sexual assault can be any unwanted hugging, kissing, touching, oral sex, or intercourse. It can be a stranger or it can be someone known.  If you or a friend has been sexually assaulted it is important to remember that it is never the victim’s fault.  While over 90% of people who are sexually assaulted are women, it can happen to men as well.

The following are some things to consider if you or a friend has been sexually assaulted:

 

What to do first if you have been sexually assaulted:

Remember that you are not to blame.

  • Get to a safe place.  Call someone you know and trust that can provide    trust and support.
  • If you live on campus you can contact your RA, RC or Safety and Security(215-951-2999).  Information you share with them will be handled with great care and your privacy will be respected.  You also have the option of contacting the local police (911).
  • If you live off campus, you can contact Safety and Security and/or the local police.
  • Though it will go against your instincts, you should not shower or discard any clothes that you are wearing.  If you seek immediate medical attention, wear your clothing there but bring a clean change of clothes to change into afterward.
  • Get medical attention as soon as you can, preferably within 24-72 hours.  This will address the possibility of any injuries, sexually transmitted infections, or pregnancy.  Results of the exam may be useful if you decide to press charges.
  • You may want to consider going to Philadelphia Safety Collaborative located at 300 East Hunting Park Avenue, Philadelphia.  This is a specialized center is best equipped to provide the medical care you need in this situation. 24 hour hotline number is 215-425-1625.
  • You have time to decide about pressing charges.  Take time to think through what you want to do next.  You are the best judge of what you need to do and what you are ready to do.

Filing a complaint against your attacker: 

If you were attacked by another Philadelphia University student, you have the option of filing a complaint which will be handled through the University’s Judicial System.  For more information please see the Section 5 of the University’s Student Handbook.  Click here to access the handbook.   You may also ask to speak with a member of the Sexual Assault Response Team to assist you in the process of filing a complaint. 

If you were attacked by someone who is not a Philadelphia University student you and you wish to press charges you can speak to someone on the Sexual Assault Response Team for guidance.  You can also contactWomen Organized Against Rape (WOAR) or the local police department.

Again, it is important to give yourself time to understand your options and to think things through before you take action.

 

Helping a friend:

Believe what you are told.  Accept the description of the experience as it is described to you.  Don’t second guess your friend’s behavior or her story.  This is probably the most important thing you can do them.

  • Remind your friend that she (or he) is not responsible for the assault.  Many survivors look for a cause and blame themselves for causing the assault.  Let your friend know that no one deserves to be assaulted and that the attacker is always responsible for what happened.
  • Encourage your friend to seek medical attention.  Take time to explain in a calm and caring way why it is important to do that.  If your friend is resisting that option accept the decision. 
  • Let your friend take control.  You can best help by identifying options and possible outcomes but leaving the decision about what to do solely with your friend.  Sexual assault is an experience in the loss of control.  Pushing your friend to do something that she or he is not sure about furthers the feeling of loss of control.
  • Provide emotional support.    Just listening can be of great help to your friend.  Follow your comforting instincts.  Ask about what helps.  Your friend has confided in your because she (or he) trusts you and knows that she can rely on you.
  • Encourage your friend to get support from a professional counselor.  Being sexually assaulted is an overwhelming experience.  Each person responds to the event in his or her own unique way.  Sometimes, the emotional impact is felt immediately and sometimes it is delayed.  If you feel that your friend is struggling emotionally you can suggest that he or she talk with a counselor.  Counselors in Counseling Services are experienced and helping people deal with the trauma of sexual assault. 

Recovery and Healing 

People who have been sexually assaulted typically experience symptoms of emotional trauma.  Each person’s responses to sexual assault will differ, depending on individual circumstances, history of trauma and typical coping style.  The following are common emotional responses to sexual assault and trauma.  You may experience all of them or some of them.  Some may appear early on and some may surface months after the event.  No matter what you feel it is important to remember that it is normal.

Shock or Numbness

Sometimes, after being sexually assaulted women experience a kind of detachment or numbness to the event.  There may be a state of disbelief – a feeling that something very wrong happened but not feeling quite sure of how to make sense of it. 

Fear and Anxiety

A person who has been sexually assaulted may fear encountering her attacker and experience intense distress at reminders of the assault.  There may be more generalized fears such as being afraid of being alone or just being afraid without apparent cause.  Some people may become jumpy and find it hard to sit through class or interact with others.  Some people may cope by appearing outwardly calm, yet underneath feeling very distressed.

Reliving the Memory of What Happened

A person who has been sexually assaulted often relives the event in some way – nightmares, flashbacks, or intrusive thoughts or feelings about the event.

Minimizing What Happened

People who have been sexually assaulted usually just want to forget what happened and avoid thinking about it.  They may be reluctant to label the experience as assault or rape.  Often people feel it is behind them initially but then begin to experience difficulty later.

Self-blame and Guilt

People who are sexually assaulted feel that they are to blame for what happened.  Self-reproach about events leading up to the assault or believing that she did not do enough to prevent it is not uncommon.  Remembering that she is not responsible for her attacker’s actions is an important part of the healing process.

Shame

Women and men who have sexually assaulted feel deeply ashamed.  It is common to feel degraded or damaged and these feelings can have a negative impact on overall self-esteem.  This shame contributes to feeling different from others and may cause the person to isolate themselves.

Anger

People who are sexually assaulted may feel angry.  Anger may be directed toward the assailant, themselves, the assault itself, or the ways others reacted.  Anger may also generalize to daily irritations in life that would ordinarily be considered minor.

 Depression

People who have been sexually assaulted often develop depression.  They may struggle with persistent low mood or sadness, sleep problems, eating problems and difficulty concentrating.

 

Resources:

National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)

Sexual Assault Resources at PhilaU