Acquaintance Rape

September is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.  I wrote this post last year, but feel it is worth repeating.  Date rape happens more often than people think and the beginning of the school year is when most rapes occur.  You think you would know if you’d been raped right?  Not necessarily.  I’ve had women come in for counseling because they felt a friend or acquaintance took advantage of them, either while they were drinking or while they were feeling vulnerable.  They either felt they couldn’t say no or felt pressured by the person they thought they could trust.

Acquaintance Rape happens a lot more often then being assaulted by a stranger.  Over 77% of women report being sexually assaulted by someone they know.  Of those 77% only 2% will actually report the assault.  Why do you think so many women refuse to come forward?  Sometimes it is out of fear.  Sometimes it’s because the woman blames herself for getting into the situation.  Sometimes the woman feels she didn’t say no forcefully enough.   A lot of the time, women will minimize their feelings and try to tell themselves to just forget what happened.

The following situation is an example of why sexual assault isn’t always so black and white:   One night a woman runs into one of her male friends.  She is upset, and he offers to listen and give her some advice.  She starts crying and opening up about what happened with another guy.  She tells him she feels rejected and unlovable.   Her male friend offers comfort and support.  He may start to hug her and rub her back.  It starts to get late and he asks her to stay a little longer so she won’t feel lonely.  They hang out and talk some more.  He starts to cuddle with her and before she realizes it they are kissing.  She says she should leave, but he convinces her that the other guy is stupid for rejecting her.  He tells he thinks she is beautiful, and he would never do that to her.  He continues to touch her and she gives in.  Soon most of their clothing is removed.  She starts to push him away again, but he resists and continues to hold and touch her.  He tells her not to worry, he’ll treat her right.  She feels guilty for letting things go this far.  She also feels she owes him for listening to her.  They have sex.

The best outcome of this scenario is the next day she feels bad about giving in and having sex.  She feels she consented in the end because she didn’t say no.  She may confront her friend and tell him she regrets her decision and doesn’t want to have sex with him again.  She may or may not ever choose to open up to him again when she feels upset or vulnerable.  She may also have lost some respect or trust for him, but doesn’t feel traumatized by the event.

The next best scenario is the next day she feels bad about giving in and having sex.  She regrets it, but doesn’t feel strong enough to say anything to him.  She may act like it never happened.  She most likely will avoid talking to him when she feels so upset and vulnerable.  She has lost trust and respect for her friend.  A distance grows between them.  She may feel a little upset about the event, but tells herself she has lived and learned.  Next time she will open up to a girlfriend or talk to her guy friends during the daytime when she feels a little safer.

The worst scenario is the next day she feels sick to her stomach when she thinks about what happened.  She feels violated.  She regrets not saying no more forcefully, but feels he should have known she wasn’t there for sex.  She wishes he would have listened when she tried to stop him earlier and pushed him away.  She not only has lost trust and respect for this male friend, she now feels like he is a predator who only listened to her so he could get sex.  She feels traumatized by the event and can’t stop thinking about it.  She is very emotional and doesn’t know what she should do now.  She is very afraid of seeing him again.  Will anyone believe her?  She may start to blame herself and tell herself all the things she should have done.  She most likely won’t report it.  She will go on to blame herself even though somewhere inside she knows she was sexually assaulted by her friend.

Research funded by the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that  1 out of 5 college women will be sexually assaulted.  September happens to be the month when most sexual assaults are reported.  School has just begun and many college students are experiencing their freedom for the first time.  Students go out with their friends and blow off stress from the week.  Some may drink and end up in situations similar to the one above.  The next day they may feel they were assaulted, but don’t report it because they blame themselves for drinking too much.

Unfortunately, sexual assault can happen in all different types of situations.  However, they all leave the person assaulted feeling very vulnerable, scared and alone.  A lot of guilt is also embedded into these situations.  I used the above example to show that rape isn’t always black and white.  Different people are going to feel differently after experiencing similar situations.  However, your feelings are not wrong, whether you feel just slightly uncomfortable or horribly traumatized.  Everyone is different, and your feelings are more true than the details of how it happened.  No one can tell you that you shouldn’t feel something.

If you do feel traumatized, it does help to talk about it.  Processing your feelings can help you move through them.  This will make them less powerful in your mind and help you learn to not blame yourself.  You won’t “get over it”, but it may help you not think about it all the time or have nightmares about it.   I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, but I do know that women have worked through this and felt they were able to take their power back.  If you are continuing to struggle, please see a counselor or someone non-judgmental who won’t tell you how to feel, but help you process your feelings no matter what they are.

Was I Raped?

You think you would know if you’d been raped right?  Not necessarily.  I’ve had women come in for counseling because they felt a friend or acquaintance took advantage of them, either while they were drinking or while they were feeling vulnerable.  They either felt they couldn’t say no or felt pressured by the person they thought they could trust.

Acquaintance Rape happens a lot more often then being assaulted by a stranger.  Over 77% of women report being sexually assaulted by someone they know.  Of those 77% only 2% will actually report the assault.  Why do you think so many women refuse to come forward?  Sometimes it is out of fear.  Sometimes it’s because the woman blames herself for getting into the situation.  Sometimes the woman feels she didn’t say no forcefully enough.   A lot of the time, women will minimize their feelings and try to tell themselves to just forget what happened.

The following situation is an example of why sexual assault isn’t always so black and white.  A lot of men and women are friends with each other.  One night a woman runs into one of her male friends.  She is upset, and he offers to listen and give her some advice.  She starts crying and opening up about what happened with another guy.  She tells him she feels rejected and unlovable.   Her male friend offers comfort and support.  He may start to hug her and rub her back.  It starts to get late and he asks her to stay a little longer so she won’t feel lonely.  They hang out and talk some more.  He starts to cuddle with her and before she realizes it they are kissing.  She says she should leave, but he convinces her that the other guy is stupid for rejecting her.  He tells he thinks she is beautiful, and he would never do that to her.  He continues to touch her and she gives in.  Soon most of their clothing is removed.  She starts to push him away again, but he resists and continues to hold and touch her.  He tells her not to worry, he’ll treat her right.  She feels guilty for letting things go this far.  She also feels she owes him for listening to her.  They have sex.

The best outcome of this scenario is the next day she feels bad about giving in and having sex.  She feels she consented in the end because she didn’t say no.  She may confront her friend and tell him she regrets her decision and doesn’t want to have sex with him again.  She may or may not ever choose to open up to him again when she feels upset or vulnerable.  She may also have lost some respect or trust for him, but doesn’t feel traumatized by the event.

The next best scenario is the next day she feels bad about giving in and having sex.  She regrets it, but doesn’t feel strong enough to say anything to him.  She may act like it never happened.  She most likely will avoid talking to him when she feels so upset and vulnerable.  She has lost trust and respect for her friend.  A distance grows between them.  She may feel a little upset about the event, but tells herself she has lived and learned.  Next time she will open up to a girlfriend or talk to her guy friends during the daytime when she feels a little safer.

The worst scenario is the next day she feels sick to her stomach when she thinks about what happened.  She feels violated.  She regrets not saying no more forcefully, but feels he should have known she wasn’t there for sex.  She wishes he would have listened when she tried to stop him earlier and pushed him away.  She not only has lost trust and respect for this male friend, she now feels like he is a predator who only listened to her so he could get sex.  She feels traumatized by the event and can’t stop thinking about it.  She is very emotional and doesn’t know what she should do now.  She is very afraid of seeing him again.  Will anyone believe her?  She may start to blame herself and tell herself all the things she should have done.  She most likely won’t report it.  She will go on to blame herself even though somewhere inside she knows she was sexually assaulted by her friend.

Research funded by the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that  1 out of 5 college women will be sexually assaulted.  September happens to be the month when most sexual assaults are reported.  School has just begun and many college students are experiencing their freedom for the first time.  Students go out with their friends and blow off stress from the week.  Some may drink and end up in situations similar to the one above.  The next day they may feel they were assaulted, but don’t report it because they blame themselves for drinking too much.

Unfortunately, sexual assault can happen in all different types of situations.  However, they all leave the person assaulted feeling very vulnerable, scared and alone.  A lot of guilt is also embedded into these situations.  I used the above example to show that rape isn’t always black and white.  Different people are going to feel differently after experiencing similar situations.  However, your feelings are not wrong, whether you feel just slightly uncomfortable or horribly traumatized.  Everyone is different, and your feelings are more true than the details of how it happened.  No one can tell you that you shouldn’t feel something.

If you do feel traumatized, it does help to talk about it.  Processing your feelings can help you move through them.  This will make them less powerful in your mind and help you learn to not blame yourself.  You won’t “get over it”, but it may help you not think about it all the time or have nightmares about it.   I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, but I do know that women have worked through this and felt they were able to take their power back.  If you are continuing to struggle, please see a counselor or someone non-judgmental who won’t tell you how to feel, but help you process your feelings no matter what they are.

Date Rape

I had the first interview with Jaycee Lee Dugard on my DVR.  I watched it last night and it prompted me to write a post about a topic I see too often in my office.  Jaycee wasn’t on a date when she was raped, but the story made me think of several of my clients from the past who have been date raped.  Jaycee’s story is incredible and a lot of things she said in her interview are things I say to my students when they have been through a traumatic event such as rape.  I can’t imagine being Jaycee’s counselor.  I’ve never counseled someone who has undergone so much trauma over such a long period of time.  She stated in the interview that she wanted to tell her story to help other survivors of sexual abuse.  I know the statistics are high for women who have been sexually assaulted.  In college the numbers go up.  Date rape is more common than people realize because it goes unreported most of the time.

I want to point out some of the things that Jaycee said in her interview in hopes that it may help those of you out there reading this who have survived some type of sexual abuse.  Obviously, Jaycee’s story is an extreme one which is why it so amazing that she can speak about what happened to her at all.  If you are not aware, she was kidnapped at age 11 and held prisoner in Phillip Garrido’s back yard for 18 years.  Jaycee was raped repeatedly for several years and had two children  by Garrido in her teenage years.  She stated in her interview that she is not angry and doesn’t feel rage toward Phillip or his wife, Nancy.  She stated that she is unwilling to give him any more of her than he has already taken.  I can’t imagine how hard that is for her to not feel anger.  Although, I agree, it only means he wins if she continues to be angry.  Anger and rage take a lot of energy.  That energy can be put to better use because it isn’t hurting the person you want it to hurt.  Students always ask me how to let go of the anger.  The answer isn’t easy or simple.  It is a matter of refocusing your thoughts and feelings.  Those feelings of anger and rage will come unexpectedly and threaten to take over.  When that happens it is a matter of distracting yourself and focusing on the blessings you do have in this life.  I know Jaycee focused on her mother in those dark times.  She also looked at the moon and remembered the pine cone she last touched before she was taken which were symbols of home.  She stated today she focuses on her daughters and being back home.  I believe she is also grateful just to be alive.

I also tell students to let yourself grieve.  This person has taken a lot from you.  They’ve taken your trust in people, your innocence, and sometimes your virginity.  There isn’t a way to get some of those things back.  It is okay to cry when you need to.  It is healthy to recognize the loss, and it will take some time to adjust.  Most students tell me they just want to forget it happened.  I will tell you from my experience that isn’t possible.  I recommend telling your story.  I see people who have locked this secret in their heart for years.  They haven’t told anyone or maybe only confided in one other person.  It can consume your thoughts if you’ve been too afraid or ashamed to share.  I think it was healing for Jaycee to write down her story and then talk about it in an interview with Diane Sawyer.  I can’t explain the science behind why talking about the trauma is healing.  I just know it seems to help those who do open up.  Some people tell me it is validating that someone hears them and believes them.  It takes away some of the burden and helps them to realize it wasn’t their fault.  Some people are better at communicating their feelings through journals, music or art.  Any way that you can let some of those emotions out is helpful.  I think the best part about telling your story is you may be able to help someone else.

Jaycee mentions in her interview that she felt she was keeping Philip Garrido from hurting other little girls.  If she stayed with him he wouldn’t have to seek out other girls to rape.  This is what prompts many women to report their rape.  Even though it is extremely difficult, in their mind it is worth it because it may save someone else.  I know a lot of rape survivors who go on and counsel others going though the same thing.  By reaching out to someone else, you can get outside of your own pain.  It helps the brain to feel that at least something good is coming out of this horrible thing that happened.  We all know that life isn’t fair.  Bad things happen to good people.  I can ask why all I want, but the reality is that it could happen to anyone.  Jaycee thought this man was only going to ask her for directions.  She didn’t sense any danger when she was suddenly kidnapped.  In a date rape situation this happens all the time.  You trust the person you are with.  You don’t sense the danger.  You believe this person will listen if you say no or get the hint by your body language that you want to stop.  Unfortunately, there are many people out there only concerned about what they want and they don’t care who they hurt in the process.

If you are blaming yourself for being raped, please stop.  It is not your fault.  Your mind is going to play tricks on you.  We all want to feel in control.  Our brains tell us, “if only” all day long.  It is not your fault that this person chose to violate you.  In Jaycee’s interview she says it is his shame, not hers.  He is the one with the problem, not her.  She was an innocent victim who survived and is now thriving.  She told her story so other victims could learn to feel the same way.  I plan to buy and read her book, “A Stolen Life: A Memoir” that comes out today.  I believe it may be helpful to many survivors of sexual abuse.  I encourage all those out there who have survived being raped to continue to work on healing yourself and I hope in time you are able to find peace.