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.