Protecting Your Friends and How to Respond to a Survivor

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You have a crucial role to play in keeping your friends safe. No matter what the setting, if you see something that doesn’t feel quite right or see someone who might be in trouble, there are some simple things you can do to help out a friend.

Distract. If you see a friend in a situation that doesn’t feel quite right, create a distraction
to get your friend to safety. This can be as simple as joining or redirecting the conversation: suggest to your friend that you leave the party, or ask them to walk you home. Try asking questions like: “Do you want to head to the bathroom with me?” or “Do you want to head to another party – or grab pizza?”

Step in. If you see someone who looks uncomfortable or is at risk, step in. If you feel
safe, find a way to de-escalate the situation and separate all parties involved. Don’t be shy
about directly asking the person if they need help or if they feel uncomfortable.

Enlist others. You don’t have to go it alone. Call in friends or other people in the area
as reinforcements to help defuse a dangerous situation and get the at-risk person home safely. There is safety in numbers.

Keep an eye out. Use your eyes and ears to observe your surroundings. If you
see someone who has had too much to drink or could be vulnerable, try to get them to a safe place. Enlist friends to help you. Even if you weren’t around when the assault occurred, you can still support a friend in the aftermath.

How to Respond to a Survivor

When someone you care about tells you they’ve been sexually assaulted or abused, it can be a lot to handle. A supportive reaction can make all the difference, but that doesn’t mean it comes easy. Encouraging words and phrases avoid judgment and show support for the survivor. Consider these phrases:

  1. “I’m sorry this happened.” Acknowledge that the experience has affected their life. Phrases like “This must be really tough for you,” and, “I’m so glad you are sharing this with me,” help to communicate empathy.
  2. “It’s not your fault.” Survivors may blame themselves, especially if they know the perpetrator personally. Remind the survivor, maybe even more than once, that they are not to blame.
  3. “I believe you.” It can be extremely difficult for survivors to come forward and share their story. They may feel ashamed, concerned that they won’t be believed, or worried they’ll be blamed. Leave any “why” questions or investigations to the experts—your job is to support this person. Be careful not to interpret calmness as a sign that the event did not occur—everyone responds differently. The best thing you can do is to believe them.
  4. “You are not alone.” Remind the survivor that you are there for them and willing to listen to their story. Remind them there are other people in their life who care and that there are service providers who will be able to support them as they recover from the experience.
  5. “Are you open to seeking medical attention?” The survivor might need medical attention, even if the event happened a while ago. You can support the survivor by offering to accompany them or find more information. It’s ok to ask directly, “Are you open to seeking medical care?”
  6. “You can trust me.” If a survivor opens up to you, it means they trust you. Reassure them that you can be trusted and will respect their privacy. Always ask the survivor before you share their story with others. If a minor discloses a situation of sexual abuse, you are required in most situations to report the crime. Let the minor know that you have to tell another adult, and ask them if they’d like to be involved.
  7. “This doesn’t change how I think of you.” Some survivors are concerned that sharing what happened will change the way other people see them, especially a partner. Reassure the survivor that surviving sexual violence doesn’t change the way you think or feel about them.

Continued Support
There’s no timetable when it comes to recovering from sexual violence. If someone trusted you enough to disclose the event, consider the following ways to show your continued support.

  • Check in periodically. The event may have happened a long time ago, but that doesn’t mean the pain is gone. Check in with the survivor to remind them you still care about their well-being and believe their story.
  • Avoid judgment. It can be difficult to watch a survivor struggle with the effects of sexual assault for an extended period of time. Avoid phrases that suggest they’re taking too long to recover such as, “You’ve been acting like this for a while now,” or “How much longer will you feel this way?”
  • Remember that the healing process is fluid. Everyone has bad days. Don’t interpret flashbacks, bad days, or silent spells as “setbacks.” It’s all part of the process.
  • Know your resources You’re a strong supporter, but that doesn’t mean you’re equipped to manage someone else’s health. Become familiar with resources you can recommend to a survivor, like the National Sexual Assault Hotline 800.656.HOPE (4673) and online.rainn.org.

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How Can I Protect My Child From Sexual Assault?

Protection-of-Children-from-Sexual-Offences2Parents are surrounded by messages about child sexual abuse. Talk shows and TV news warn parents about dangers at school, in the home and on the Internet. Despite all the media coverage, parents don’t get much advice about how to talk to their children about sexual abuse and how to prevent it.

Talk to your children about sexuality and sexual abuse in age-appropriate terms.

  • Talking openly and directly abProtection-of-Children-from-Sexual-Offences1out sexuality teaches children that it is okay to talk to you when they have questions.
  • Teach children the names of their body parts so that they have the language to ask questions and express concerns about those body parts.
  • Teach children that some parts of their body are private.
    • Let children know that other people should not be touching or looking at their private parts unless they need to touch them to provide care. If someone does need to touch them in those private areas, a parent of trusted caregiver should be there, too.
    • Tell children that if someone tries to touch those private areas or wants to look at them, OR if someone tries to show the child their own private parts, they should tell a trusted adult as soon as possible.
  • All children should be told that it’s okay to say “no” to touches that make them uncomfortable or if someone is touching them in ways that make them uncomfortable and that they should tell a trusted adult as soon as possible.
    • This can lead to some slightly embarrassing situations, such as a child who then says they don’t want give a relative a hug or kiss! Work with your child to find ways to greet people that don’t involve uncomfortable kinds of touch.
    • Talking openly about sexuality and sexual abuse also teaches children that these things don’t need to be “secret.” Abusers will sometimes tell a child that the abuse is a secret. Let your children know that if someone is touching them or talking to them in ways that make them uncomfortable that it shouldn’t stay a secret.
    • Make sure to tell your child that that they will not get into trouble if they tell you this kind of secret.
  • Don’t try to put all this information into one big “talk” about sex.
    • Talking about sexuality and sexual abuse should be routine conversations.

Be involved in your child’s life.

  • Be interested in your child’s activities.
    • Ask your child about the people they go to school with or play with.
    • If your child is involved in sports, go to games and practices. Get to know the other parents and coaches.
    • If your child is involved in afterschool activities or daycare, ask them what they did during the day.
  • Talk about the media.
    • If your child watches a lot of television or plays video games, watch or play with them.
      • Many TV shows (for example, CSI or Law and Order) show sexual violence of different kinds.
      • Some video games (for example, Grand Theft Auto) allow the user to engage in sexual violence.

    • Use examples from TV or games that you have watched or played together to start up conversations about sexuality and sexual abuse.
  • Know the other adults that your child might talk to.
    • Children sometimes feel that they cannot talk to their parents.
    • Know the other trusted adults in your child’s life.

Be available.

  • Make time to spend with your child.
  • Let your child know that they can come to you if they have questions or if someone is talking to them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable.
    • Be sure to follow up on this! If your child comes to you with concerns or questions, make time to talk to them.

 

When you empower your child to say “no” to unwanted touch and teach them that they can come to you with questions and concerns, you take critical steps to preventing child sexual abuse.

 

To learn more about child sexual abuse and talk to someone who can help, contact
1-800-656-HOPE or visit: online.rainn.org

 

Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse experience an array of overwhelming and intense feelings. These may include feelings of fear, guilt, and shame. Abusers have been known to tell children that it is the fault of the child that they are abused, shifting the blame away from the abuser, where it belongs, and placing it on the child. Along with this, abusers may threaten or bribe the child into not speaking up; convincing the child that he or she will never be believed.i The reaction of a survivor’s friends and family to the disclosure of the abuse also has the potential to trigger immense feelings of guilt, same and distrust, particularly if those individuals denied that the abuse was taking place, or chose to ignore it.

While each individual’s experiences and reactions are unique, there are some responses to child sexual abuse that are common to many survivors:—i

  • Low self-esteem or self-hatred
  • Survivors may suffer from depression
  • Guilt, shame and blame
    • Survivors may feel guilt or shame because they made no direct attempt to stop the abuse or because they experienced physical pleasure
  • Sleep disturbances / dblue ribbonisorders
    • Survivors may have trouble sleeping because of the trauma, anxiety or may directly be related to the experience they had as a child; children may be sexually abused in their own beds.
  • Lack of trust for anyone
    • Many survivors were betrayed by the very people they are dependent upon (family, teachers etc.) who cared for them, who insisted they loved them even while abusing them; learning to trust can be extremely difficult under these circumstances.
    • 93% of victims under the age of 18 know their attacker.—-ii
  • Revictimization
    • Many survivors as adults find themselves in abusive, dangerous situations or relationships.
    • Woman who were sexually assaulted before the age of 18 [are] twice as likely to report being raped as adults.—-iii
  • Flashbacks
    • Many survivors re-experience the sexual abuse as if it were occurring at that moment, usually accompanied by visual images of the abuse. These flashes of images are often triggered by an event, action, or even a smell that is reminiscent of the sexual abuse of the abuser.
  • Dissociation
    • Many survivors go through a process where the mind distances itself from the experience because it is too much for the psyche to process at the time. This loss of connection with thoughts, memories, feelings, actions or sense of identity, is a coping mechanism and may affect aspects of a survivor’s functioning.
  • Sexuality / Intimacy
    • Many survivors have to deal with the fact that their first sexual encounter was a result of abuse. Such memories may interfere with the survivor’s ability to engage in sexual relationships, which may bring about feelings of fright, frustration, or being ashamed.

Adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse often adopt coping mechanisms (or survival strategies) to guards against feelings of terror and helplessness that they may have felt as a child. These past feelings can still have influence over the life and present behavior of an adult survivor. Here are some common coping mechanismsi:

  • Grieving / Mourning
    • Many things were — childhood experiences, trust, innocence, relationships with family members. The survivor may feel a deep sadness, jealousy, anger or longing for something never had.
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
    • The abuse of substances can act as an escape from the intense waves of feelings, the terror and helplessness.
  • Disordered Eating / Eating Disorders
    • Compulsive control of food intake can be a way of taking back control over the body that was denied during the abuse.
  • Self-injury
    • There are many ways survivors have coped with the feelings that can cause emotional or physical injury on the self. Burning or cutting are some ways for a survivor to relieve intense anxiety, triggered by memories of the abuse

 

Treatment—i
In most instances, the survivor never discussed the abuse with others while it was occurring. In fact, many survivors do not remember the abuse until years after it has occurred, and may never be able to clearly recall it. Usually, after being triggered by a memory, this individual learns how, as an adult, to deal with the effects of the abuse.

It is important to speak with someone, whether it be a friend or counselor, about the abuse and past and current feelings.

Community health centers, mental health clinics and family service centers may have counselors who have worked with survivors before. They may also be able to refer you to a self-help group.

If you are an adult dealing with the effects of childhood sexual abuse, please remember that you are not responsible for the abuse and that you are not alone. You can overcome the effects the abuse may have on your life. Please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE) or visit the Online Hotline. It’s never too late to get help.

i—Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse. Dr. Carol Boulware, MFT, Ph.D. 2006.http://www.psychotherapist.net/adultsurvivors.html

ii—-U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. 2000 Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement. 2000.

iiiExtent, Nature, and Consequences of Rape Victimization: Findings From the National Violence Against Women Survey. U.S. Department of Justice: Office of Justice Programs: National Institute of Justice. 2006. http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij

 

This product was supported by grant number 2009-D1-BX-K023 awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this product are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Stalking

Discovering that you are being stalked, either in person, online, or via technology, can be unnerving. Learning more about stalking behaviors can help you notice them before they escalate and help you protect yourself.

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What is stalking?
“Stalking is a pattern of repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, contact, or any other course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear,” according to the Department of Justice. Similar to crimes of sexual violence, stalking is about power and control.

Stalking laws and definitions differ from state to state. You can read more about your state’s laws by visiting the Stalking Resource Center. Stalking behavior can take many forms including:

  • Non-consensual communication, such as repeated phone calls, emails, text messages, and unwanted gifts
  • Repeated physical or visual closeness, like waiting for an someone to arrive at certain locations, following someone, or watching someone from a distance
  • Making threats against someone, or that person’s family or friends
  • Any other behavior used to contact, harass, track, or threaten someone

What is “the use of technology to stalk”?
One of the ways perpetrators stalk victims is through the use of technology. You may have heard the term cyberstalking to refer to these types of interactions. “Use of technology to stalk” is a broad term that is used to cover all forms stalking that rely on technology.

Some uses of technology to stalk include:

  • Using someone’s computer and/or spyware to track their computer activity
  • Posting threatening or personal information about someone on public internet forums
  • Persistently sending unwanted communication through the internet, such as spamming someone’s email inbox or social media platform
  • Video-voyeurism, or installing video cameras that give the stalker access someone’s personal life
  • Using GPS or other software tracking systems to monitor someone without their knowledge or consent

What are some common reactions to being stalked?
The DOJ uses “fear” to define the experience of being stalked, but there are other reactions that are just as important to consider. You might feel anxious, nervous, isolated, become stressed, or develop signs of depression.

How common is stalking?
Each year in the United States approximately 3.3 million people ages 18 and older are victims of stalking1. The majority of victims are young, between 18 and 24 years old, and know their stalker.

As technology and digital platforms continue to grow, so do the chances that someone could interact with you in an unwanted, sexual manner. Not all of these behaviors are considered stalking, but they can be violating and make you feel uncomfortable. Learn more about the different ways people can use technology to hurt others.

What should I do if I’m being stalked?
If you think you are being stalked, please know you are right to be concerned. Stalking may escalate in behavior. Consider the following tips to increase your safety and effectively report the crime.

  • Try to avoid the person stalking you. This can be difficult at times, especially if the person stalking you is close to you or your family.
  • If you are being stalked through communication technology, like email or text messaging, make it clear that you wish to stop contact. Once you’ve made it clear, do not respond to further communication.
  • Keep any evidence received from the stalker such as text messages, voicemails, letters, packages, emails, etc., but do not respond. You can do this by taking screenshots of conversations or even printing out email exchanges.
  • Inform family, friends, supervisors, and co-workers of the situation.
  • If you have children, create a code word that lets them know they need to leave the house or call the police.
  • Consider reporting the stalking to local law enforcement.
  • Keeping an accurate journal or log of all incidents connected to the stalking.
  • Become familiar with computer safety and ways to stay safe online

To learn more about stalking and safety planning visit the Stalking Resource Center.

 

  1. Shannan, C. (2012, September 1). Stalking Victims in the United States – Revised.http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/svus_rev.pdf

D-I-V-O-R-C-E

It was a scalding Texas Sunday not a cloud in the sky. My mother is taking my brother and me to the lake. We never went to the lake so I began to get excited about playing in the water. I also grew concerned, what did she have on her mind. Even at 6 years old I knew she always had an agenda. My brother was 3 years old and had no clue what the day would bring. We pulled up to the picnic tables on the far side of lake, nowhere near the water. She tells us our parents are getting  divorced. Not understanding what it meant I ask her to spell it for me. I kept repeating the spelling in my head so I could ask my friend.

I would find out sooner than later. We turned down our street, my grandfathers truck in front of  house with my father’s belongings. They were driving off as we rounded the corner. My parents relationship went from bad to hell My mother took every chance to tell us how much she hated my father. She married within six months, we called him Lucifer. He could get her closer to the white picket fence. We moved into a new house with a big back yard, things looked so normal on the outside. If people only knew the truth.

Custody was a nightmare, daddy would bring us home and she would throw things at him. One time she hit him in the head with the Sunday paper. This was the beginning of a twice a month cycle of harassment. After a couple of years we moved to the country population 137. It was almost a two-hour trip from my dad’s. One Thanksgiving my dad arrived 15 minutes early and she called the sheriff. My dad didn’t get out of the car, he knew he was early and she was crazy. It’s sad when parents separated or divorced talk bad about the other.

My mother did not abuse my brother. She physically and emotionally abused me from a young age.  Her grandmother and mother hated my dad. He forced her to get pregnant and I’m the mistake child. They would call our house ranting how I was mistake, ruined my mother’s future and how much they hated my father. We lived in a toxic environment because my mother was toxic.

The conflict between my parents reached a point where I had to pick up my brother to avoid fighting. My father was no angel but he never talked bad about my mother. My mother told me that daddy raped her and I was a mistake. She tells me several times a day, I hate your father and you’re just like him. At 9-10 years old it doesn’t take long to figure out your mother hates you because you’re just like your father.

I believed my dad raped my mother, I don”t know why. I held it in for years. I don’t know how we got to the topic. I was angry at my father and spit out what she had told me. The look in his eyes said everything. My father was so hurt and said I loved your mother.

When my father killed himself he had a lock box on the coffee table and papers spread everywhere. Their divorce papers were on the table, his Bible open to Job and a note pad with written words scattered on the page. No sentences, I did see the number for the suicide hotline and one of his oldest friends. Written in one corner was 11:00 and he died between 7-8 pm. I often wonder if it took him that long to pull the trigger or was he trying to fight his demons. There are tear stains in the book of Job.

 

Acquaintance Rape

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Definition:

Acquaintance assault involves coercive sexual activities that occur against a person’s will by means of force, violence, duress, or fear of bodily injury. These sexual activities are imposed upon them by someone they know (a friend, date, acquaintance, etc.).

Key Reminders:

  • A prior or current relationship or previous acts of intimacy are insufficient indicators of consent.
  • Verbal consent must be obtained both in each instance of sexual intimacy and as the level of sexual intimacy increases (e.g., moving from kissing to petting, from petting to oral sex, from oral sex to intercourse or anal sex, etc.).
  • Like other forms of sexual assault, acquaintance assault is motivated by a need to control, to humiliate, and to harm.

Obstacles to Coping & Recovery:

  • Common social myths (e.g. the attack was incited through suggestive dress or intimate acts such as kissing)
  • Fear of:
    1. Retaliation
    2. Subsequent harassment
    3. Future harm
    4. Harassment from family and friends of the person responsible for the assault
  • Returning to a normal routine (this is especially the case if the assailant is a part of the victim’s daily routine)
  • Family/friends may blame the survivor, or, worse, they may support the assailant.

NOTE: Despite the violation and reality of physical and emotional trauma, victims of acquaintance assault often do not identify their experience as sexual assault. Instead of focusing on the violation of the sexual assault, victims of acquaintance rape often blame themselves for the assault.

Physical & Emotional Reactions:

  • Sleeping and eating disturbances
  • Mood swings
  • Feelings of humiliation and self-blame
  • Nightmares
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Helplessness
  • Substance abuse
  • Suicidal ideation/behavior, self-harm
  • Depression

Continued Trauma:

Because the perpetrators are known to their victims and are often someone with whom they socialize, victims of acquaintance sexual assault often have to encounter their assailants after the rape. Fear of such encounters can cause increased distress and humiliation for the victims.

Prevention:

In order to prevent acquaintance sexual assault we all need to be aware of the three stages of acquaintance rape so that, whenever possible, we can avoid or prevent such an event from occurring.

Three Stages of Acquaintance Rape:

  1. Intrusion- Attempt by the offender to violate the victim’s personal space and level of comfort. May draw close by revealing personal information or through “accidental” touches and stares.
  2. Desensitization- Occurs when the victim feels comfortable with the offender and has come to regard intrusive actions as no longer or, at least less, threatening. The victim of the desensitization may feel uneasy but convinces himself or herself that the feeling is unfounded.
  3. Isolation- The offender uses the victim’s trust to isolate him or her from others.

Social Norms:

Social norms put pressure on many of us to be polite and passive. Relying on these norms, many victims of such assaults may suppress feelings of fear and discomfort in an attempt not to offend. Acquaintance assault prevention demands that we set aside such social norms and listen to our instinctual sense of fear and discomfort.

Learn more about the laws in your state through RAINN’s state database.

 

Was It Rape?

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Unfortunately, sexual violence can come in many forms. In order to better understand the wide range of personal violence’s that can occur, we have included definitions of different types of rape and sexual violence, as well as other kinds of violence that often arise hand-in-hand with sexual violence.

Was I Raped?

How can you figure out if what happened was rape? There are a few questions to consider.

For purposes of this page, we use the term “rape” to mean all crimes of sexual violence, not just those crimes that would qualify as “rape” under the FBI definition or under state laws.

The exact definition of “rape,” “sexual assault,” “sexual abuse” and similar terms differs by state. The wording can get confusing, since states often use different words to mean the same thing or use the same words to describe different things. To see how your state legally defines these crimes, visit our RAINN State Law Database.

For its Uniform Crime Reports, the FBI defines rape as:

Please note that this definition is rather graphic, which is inevitable when describing crimes this violent.

“Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

  • Sexual assault victims may be forced through threats or physical means. In about 8 out of 10 sexual assaults, no weapon is used other than physical force. Anyone may be a victim of sexual assault: women, men or children, straight or gay.

So, how can you figure if what happened was rape? There are a few questions to consider.

There are three main considerations in judging whether or not a sexual act is consensual (which means that both people are old enough to consent, have the capacity to consent, and agreed to the sexual contact) or is a crime.

  1. Are the participants old enough to consent? Each state sets an “age of consent,” which is the minimum age someone must be to have sex. People below this age are considered children and cannot legally agree to have sex. In other words, even if the child or teenager says yes, the law says no.
    • In most states, the age of consent is 16 or 18. In some states, the age of consent varies according to the age difference between the participants. Generally, “I thought she was 18” is not considered a legal excuse — it’s up to you to make sure your partner is old enough to legally take part.
    • Because laws are different in every state, it is important to find out the law in your state. You can call your local crisis center or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1.800.656.HOPE to find out more about the laws in your state.
  2. Do both people have the capacity to consent? States also define who has the mental and legal capacity to consent. Those with diminished capacity — for example, some people with disabilities, some elderly people and people who have been drugged or are unconscious — may not have the legal ability to agree to have sex.
    • These categories and definitions vary widely by state, so it is important to check the law in your state. You can call your local crisis center or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1.800.656.HOPE to find out more about the laws in your state.
  3. Did both participants agree to take part? Did someone use physical force to make you have sexual contact with him/her? Has someone threatened you to make you have intercourse with them? If so, it is rape.
    • It doesn’t matter if you think your partner means yes, or if you’ve already started having sex — “No” also means “Stop.” If you proceed despite your partner’s expressed instruction to stop, you have not only violated basic codes of morality and decency, you may have also committed a crime under the laws of your state (check your state’s laws for specifics).

Common Questions

I didn’t resist physically – does that mean it isn’t rape?

People respond to an assault in different ways. Just because you didn’t resist physically doesn’t mean it wasn’t rape — in fact, many victims make the good judgment that physical resistance would cause the attacker to become more violent. Lack of consent can be express (saying “no”) or it can be implied from the circumstances (for example, if you were under the statutory age of consent, or if you had a mental defect, or if you were afraid to object because the perpetrator threatened you with serious physical injury).

I used to date the person who assaulted me – does that mean it isn’t rape?

Rape can occur when the offender and the victim have a pre-existing relationship (sometimes called “date rape” or “acquaintance rape”), or even when the offender is the victim’s spouse. It does not matter whether the other person is an ex-boyfriend or a complete stranger, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve had sex in the past. If it is nonconsensual this time, it is rape. (But be aware that a few states still have limitations on when spousal rape is a crime.)

I don’t remember the assault – does that mean it isn’t rape?

Just because you don’t remember being assaulted doesn’t necessarily mean it didn’t happen and that it wasn’t rape. Memory loss can result from the ingestion of GHB and other “rape drugs” and from excessive alcohol consumption. That said, without clear memories or physical evidence, it may not be possible to pursue prosecution (talk to your local crisis center or local police for guidance).

I was asleep or unconscious when it happened – does that mean it isn’t rape?

Rape can happen when the victim was unconscious or asleep. If you were asleep or unconscious, then you didn’t give consent. And if you didn’t give consent, then it is rape.

I was drunk or they were drunk – does that mean it isn’t rape?

Alcohol and drugs are not an excuse – or an alibi. The key question is still: did you consent or not? Regardless of whether you were drunk or sober, if the sex is nonconsensual, it is rape. However, because each state has different definitions of “nonconsensual”, please contact your local center or local police if you have questions about this. (If you were so drunk or drugged that you passed out and were unable to consent, it was rape. Both people must be conscious and willing participants.)

I thought “no,” but didn’t say it. Is it still rape?

It depends on the circumstances. If you didn’t say no because you were legitimately scared for your life or safety, then it would likely be considered rape. Sometimes it isn’t safe to resist, physically or verbally — for example, when someone has a knife or gun to your head, or threatens you or your family if you say anything.

If you’ve been raped or sexually assaulted, or even if you aren’t sure, contact the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Assault Hotline (1-800-656-HOPE) for free, confidential help, day or night.

Learn more about the laws in your state through RAINN’s state database.

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The Trauma of Victimization

Overview
The trauma of victimization is a direct reaction to the aftermath of crime. Crime victims suffer a tremendous amount of physical and psychological trauma. The primary injuries victims suffer can be grouped into three distinct categories: physical, financial and emotional. When victims do not receive the appropriate support and intervention in the aftermath of the crime, they suffer “secondary” injuries.

The physical injury suffered by victims may be as apparent as cuts, bruises, or broken arms and legs. However, it is not uncommon for victims to be fatigued, unable to sleep, or have increased or decreased appetites. Many victims believe that the stress caused by victimization endangers them to physical problems later in life. Victims and survivors suffer financially when their money or jewelry is taken, when their property is damaged, when their medical insurances does not cover all expenses, and when they must pay funeral costs. The primary emotional injuries of victimization cause both immediate and long-term reactions to victims, their loved ones and, sometimes, their friends.

Dr. Morton Bard, co-author of The Crime Victim’s Book, has described a victim’s reaction to crime as the crisis reaction.1 Victims will react differently depending upon the level of personal violation they experience and their state of equilibrium at the time of victimization. Victims of non-violent crimes — such as theft — may experience less of a personal violation than victims of violent crimes, however, that is not always the case. Homicide is the ultimate violation for a crime victim, and leaves behind the victim’s survivors to experience the personal violation. All people have their own “normal” state of equilibrium. This normal state is influenced by everyday stressors such as illness, moving, changes in employment, and family issues. When any one of these changes occur, equilibrium will be altered, but should eventually return to normal. When people experience common stressors and are then victimized, they are susceptible to more extreme crisis reactions. There are certain common underlying reactions that a victim will undergo either in the immediate hours or days after the crime. Frequent responses to a criminal victimization include, but are not limited to: shock; numbness; denial; disbelief; anger; and, finally, recovery.

Tips for Coping
These are some ideas that may help you cope with the trauma or loss:

Find someone to talk with about how you feel and what you are going through. Keep the phone number of a good friend nearby to call when you feel overwhelmed or panicked.
Allow yourself to feel pain. It will not last forever.
Spend time with others, but make time to spend time alone.
Take care of your mind and body. Rest, sleep, and eat regular, healthy meals.
Re-establish a normal routine as soon as possible, but don’t over-do.
Make daily decisions, which will help to bring back a feeling of control over your life. Exercise, though not excessively and alternate with periods of relaxation.
Undertake daily tasks with care. Accidents are more likely to happen after severe stress.
Recall the things that helped you cope during trying times and loss in the past and think about the things that give you hope. Turn to them on bad days.

Shock and Numbness
Shock and numbness are usually considered a part of the initial stage of the crisis reaction. Victims are faced with a situation beyond their control, and some may almost immediately go into shock and become disoriented for a while.

Victims may experience what is referred to as the “fight or flight” syndrome. The “fight or flight” syndrome is a basic automatic physiological response that individuals have no control over. Because many victims do not understand this response, and their lack of control over it, they do not understand why they fled instead of fought, and vice versa. A woman who takes a self-defense course may blame herself when confronted with an attacker because she is unable to put into practice what she has learned. A man may be criticized, or not believed, if he did not fight back when confronted. To question a victim’s response to a criminal incident is to inflict a second injury on that crime victim and can cause emotional harm.

In many instances, physical and emotional paralyses occur whereby the victim is unable to make rational decisions such as reporting the incident to the police or obtaining medical attention. The individual loses control, feels vulnerable, lonely, and confused; the sense of self becomes invalidated.

Denial, Disbelief and Anger
In this phase, victims’ moods will fluctuate. As Steven Berglas states in his article “Why Did This Happen to Me?”, victims almost always think, “This could not have happened to me!” or “Why did this happen to me?” Many will replay the disturbing event by dreaming, having nightmares or even fantasies about killing or causing bodily harm to the offender.2 Survivors or homicide victims may even express anger at their loved one, believing that if the victim had done something differently, he or she would not have been killed. During this period, victims must contend with a variety of stressful emotions, such as fear, despair, self-pity, and even guilt and shame for their anger and hostility.

Recovery
If victims are to recover form the traumatic event, it is crucial that they are provided with the proper support during the initial impact stage and throughout the criminal justice process. Immediate crisis intervention is needed. Trained crisis intervenors should inquire about the victim’s welfare by asking if they feel safe, assuring victims that they are safe if that is true, and determining if they are in need of medical attention. Victims will often blame themselves for the crime. The crisis intervenor needs to assure the victim that they were not at fault. If these initial and crucial steps are missing, the trauma can have long-term effects on the healing and recovery process. After experiencing the initial traumatic reactions to victimization, victims will most likely undertake the task of rebuilding their equilibrium. Their lives will never be the same, but they begin to regain some form of control and a sense of confidence.

Every victim’s experience is different, and the recovery process can be extremely difficult. It can take a few months or years — or an entire lifetime — depending upon the variables involved. For instance, if an individual has suffered from other traumatic incidents prior to the victimization — such as the death of a close relative or friend — his or her initial emotional reaction, reorganization and recovery might be different from someone who is experiencing victimization for the first time. The road to recovery is very similar to a roller-coaster with unexpected “ups and downs.” This is why crisis intervention and supportive counseling play a significant role in helping victims recover.

If victims have difficulty rebuilding or finding a new equilibrium, they may suffer from a long-term crisis reaction or from posttraumatic stress disorder. Victims never completely forget about the crime. The pain may lessen and even subside, but their lives are changed forever. Victims who suffer from long-term crisis reactions can be thrown back into the initial crisis reaction by what are known as “triggers.” Many victims will have particular triggers that remind them of their victimization, such as sights, smells, noises, birthdays, holidays or the anniversary of the crime.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was first applied to military veterans who experienced psychological trauma while serving in combat. Researchers are now applying this syndrome to crime victims. Being a victim of crime does not necessarily mean that an individual will develop PTSD. If victims receive appropriate crisis intervention, the chances of developing PTSD are reduced. Some recognizable symptoms of PTSD are:

Sleeping disorders/continued nightmares;
Constant flashbacks/intrusion of thoughts;
Extreme tension and anxiety;
Irritability/outbursts of anger;
Non-responsiveness or lack of involvement with the external world;
Prolonged feelings of detachment or estrangement of others; and
Memory trouble.
PTSD is a very complicated diagnosis and the presence of any of the above-mentioned symptoms does not mean that a person is suffering from PTSD. This bulletin does not provide the proper forum for a complete review.

Secondary Injuries
Victims not only have to struggle with primary injuries in the aftermath of the crime, but they must also battle with the “secondary” injuries. Secondary injuries are injuries that occur when there is a lack of proper support. These injuries can be caused by friends, family and most often by the professionals victims encounter as a result of the crime. Law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, social service workers, the media, coroners, clergy, and even mental health professionals can cause secondary injuries. Those individuals may lack the ability or training to provide the necessary comfort and assistance to the victim. Often, those individuals blame the victim for the crime. Failing to recognize the importance of the crime or to show sympathy can be damaging to the victim’s self-worth and recovery process.

Interaction with the Criminal Justice System
Perhaps the most agonizing experience for victims involves dealing with the criminal justice system if and when an offender is apprehended. At this level, the crime is considered to have been committed against the state, and victims become witnesses to the crimes. This procedure is very difficult for the crime victim to understand and come to terms with, because in the victim’s mind, he or she is the one who has suffered emotionally, physically, psychologically and financially. At this stage of the process, a victim can sometimes feel that he or she is losing complete control because he or she is not directly involved in the prosecution or sentencing of the offender.

However, participation in the criminal justice system can aid victims in rebuilding their lives. If victims are kept well-informed about the criminal proceedings and feel that they have a voice in the process, they will feel that they are a part of a team effort. This added effort enables victims to understand the judicial process and helps to return to them a sense of control to their lives and circumstances.

Conclusion
In order to have a better understanding of the aftermath of criminal victimization, we must begin to accept the reality that crime is random, senseless and can happen to anyone regardless of the precautions that are taken to prevent being victimized. We must also understand that a victim’s life is turned upside down when he or she becomes a victim of crime. In order to help victims learn to trust society again and regain a sense of balance and self-worth, we must educate all those who come in contact with victims and survivors. With proper training, all professionals will be better able to assist victims in dealing with the aftermath and trauma of victimization.

1. Bard, Morton and Dawn Sangrey. (1986). The Crime Victim’s Book. Secaucus, NJ: Citadel Press.

2. Berglas, Steven. (1985, February). “Why Did this Happen to Me?”, Psychology Today: 44-48.

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Copyright 2008 by the National Center for Victims of Crime. This information may be freely distributed, provided that it is distributed in its entirety and includes this copyright notice.

Help for Victims and Persons Experiencing PTSD

If you are experiencing complications from a previous trauma or victimization, please contact Gift From Within (GFW). GFW is an international non-profit organization dedicated to those who suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),those at risk for PTSD, and those who care for traumatized individuals. GFW helps everyone with PTSD by sharing ideas, improving morale, and reducing the stigma of the diagnosis and its treatment. GFW was founded by Dr. Frank Ochberg, an expert in the field of traumatic stress. Please visit us at http://www.giftfromwithin.org

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