Sexual assault can happen to anyone. It impacts both cisgender and transgender people. It can happen at any age. You are not alone. 1 in 2 transgender people, 1 in 4 women, and 1 in 6 men have experienced an attempted or completed sexual assault. Most often, the assailant and the victim know one another.
Every person responds differently to sexual assault. Frequent responses include feelings of fear, distress, humiliation, anger, confusion, numbness, guilt, and self-blame. There are many of resources both on and off campus, and in the form of books, movies, and websites, to help you through every step of the healing process.
More About Sexual Assault
The immediate aftermath of a sexual assault can be a confusing time for survivors. You may be presented with decisions that you’re not ready to make. This is completely normal. However, several medical options are only available within 7 days of sexual assault.
Measures to prevent pregnancy and contracting a sexually transmitted infection are most effective within 7 days of an assault.
Evidence collection (Sexual Assault Nurse Examination) is an option within 7 days–some evidence lasts even after bathing. Consenting to a SANE exam does not mean that you have to report to the police, but it does gives you more options should you decide to report in the future. VAT advocates are available to accompany you during the exam and to provide emotional support. For more information about the SANE process visit our SANE Page.
If you think drugs or alcohol may have contributed to the assault, you may wish to receive a toxicology report. Toxicology testing should be performed within 3 days (72 hours) for the most accurate results.
Even after 7 days, sexual assault survivors are still encouraged to seek treatment from a health professional.
Sexual assault is any sexual contact without consent and may include touching of intimate body areas, intercourse, or penetration.
Sexual assault is also:
- a violation of a person’s physical and emotional well being.
- a crime prosecutable under Colorado law.
- an act of power and control.
- sexual assault is NOT an expression of love, passion, or sexual desire.
- sexual assault is NOT your fault.
Many people use “rape” and sexual assault synonymously. Rape is a type of sexual assault. We separate them out because we believe this is part of the process of examining the dynamics of sexual violence. If we view “rape” and “sexual assault” as the same, it could minimize or make invisible other forms of sexual assault.
CSU Student Code of Conduct
The CSU Student Code of Conduct defines Sexual Misconduct as follows:
Any actual or attempted non-consensual behavior of a sexual nature including (but not limited to):
- Intentional and unwelcome touching, kissing or coercing, forcing, or attempting to coerce or force another to touch a person’s intimate parts.
- Sexual intercourse without consent, such as penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral sex, without the consent of the victim.
- Taking, sharing, or posting of videos or photographs/images of a sexual nature without consent.
- Deliberate observation of others for sexual purposes without their consent.
- Exposing one’s genitals in non-consensual circumstances.
- Viewing, placing, or posting pornography in public venues; possessing, distributing or viewing illegal pornography.
- Sexual harassment that creates an intimidating, offensive, or hostile environment for another.
- Any act of sexual misconduct in violation of state or federal law or university policy.
Colorado State Law
The State of Colorado defines consent as:
- Cooperation in act and attitude. The person must say yes with words and actions. In Colorado, the absence of “no” is not consent.
- Exercise of free will. Consent must be given without coercion or force.
- Knowledge of what’s happening. If someone is under the influence of alcohol or drugs to the extent they cannot make decisions, they CANNOT give consent. If someone is asleep or unconscious, they CANNOT give consent.
It’s important to know that once consensual sexual activity starts, consent CAN still be withdrawn at any point in the process.
Silence and/or submission because of fear is NOT consent.
CSU Student Code of Conduct
The CSU Student Code of Conduct defines Consent as follows:
Consent to sexual activity is consent that is informed, knowing and voluntary. Consent is active, not passive, and requires cooperation in act or attitude pursuant to an exercise of free will and with knowledge of the nature of the act. Silence, in and of itself, cannot be interpreted as consent. Sexual activity with someone known, or who should be known, to be mentally or physically incapacitated by alcohol or other drug use, unconscious or in a state of blackout, or otherwise unable to give consent, is not valid consent. A person is considered to be incapable of giving consent when the person lacks the cognitive ability to make an important life decision, and this measure applies even when the same persons have engaged with one another in consensual sex in the past.
“Time has a way of rushing and moving us forward, but also a way of holding and healing us.” – Heather Handle
Stages of Recovery after a Sexual Assault
Stage One: Initial Shock
Shock following an assault can take on many forms. You may experience emotional as well as physical shock, which could be exhibited in controlled and withdrawn behavior, or highly expressive behavior such as crying, screaming, or shaking. You may not be comfortable expressing these feelings to others.
Stage Two: Denial
Also called pseudo-adjustment, this stage may find you attempting to go on with your normal routine, wanting to forget about the assault. This denial or rationalization of what happened is an attempt to deal with inner turmoil and return to normal life.
Stage Three: Reactivation
This stage involves a re-experiencing of the feelings from Stage One, usually brought on by the triggering of memories of the assault. Feelings of depression, anxiety and shame may increase. Other symptoms can include nightmares, flashbacks, a sense of vulnerability, mistrust and physical complaints.
Stage Four: Anger
You may experience feelings of anger—often toward yourself, friends, significant others, society, the legal system, all men/women, etc. With skillful support this anger can be redirected in ways that are healing.
Stage Five: Integration (Closure)
As you integrate the thoughts and feelings stemming from the assault into your life experience you will begin to feel “back on track.” As a result of support, education, and the passing of time, you will feel strengthened.
Help Healing from Trauma
After experiencing a traumatic event, such as a sexual assault, you might find yourself reacting to situations in ways you would not have before the assault. You may feel numb, like the whole world is just floating by. Or, you may have memories that are so strong you find it difficult to stay in the present moment. These strong memories are called flashbacks, and they can be triggered by a thought, smell, color, or anything that reminds you of the attack.If you have a flashback, try grounding yourself and reentering the present moment using sensory techniques. For more information visit Managing Symptoms of Trauma.
What you should know about men who have been sexually assaulted
Rape is a men’s issue for many reasons. One we don’t often talk about is the fact that men are sexually assaulted. We need to start recognizing the presence of male survivors and acknowledging their unique experience. The following questions and answers can help us all learn about male survivors so that we stop treating them as invisible and start helping them heal:
1. How often are men sexually assaulted?
While the numbers vary from study to study, most research suggests that 10-20 percent of all males will be sexually violated at some point in their lifetimes. That translates into tens of thousands of boys and men assaulted each year alongside hundreds of thousands of girls and women.
2. If there are so many male survivors, why don’t I know any?
Like female survivors, most male survivors never report being assaulted, even to people they know and trust. They fear being ignored, laughed at, disbelieved, shamed, accused of weakness, or questioned about being gay. Perhaps worst of all, men fear being blamed for the assault because they were not “man enough” to protect themselves in the face of an attack. For all these reasons, many male survivors remain silent and alone rather than risk further violation by those around them.
3. Can a woman sexually assault a man?
Yes, but it’s not nearly as common as male-on-male assault. A recent study shows that more than 86% of male survivors are sexually abused by another male. That is not to say, however, that we should overlook boys or men who are victimized by females. It may be tempting to dismiss such experiences as wanted sexual initiation (especially in the case of an older female assaulting a younger male), but the reality is that the impact of female-on-male assault can be just as damaging.
4. Don’t only men in prison get raped?
While prison rape is a serious problem and a serious crime, many male survivors are assaulted in everyday environments (at parties, at home, at church, at school, on the playground), often by people they know — friends, teammates, relatives, teachers, clergy, bosses, partners. As with female survivors, men are also sometimes raped by strangers. These situations tend to be more violent and more often involve a group of attackers rather than a single offender.
5. How does rape affect men differently from women?
Rape affects men in many ways similar to women. Anxiety, anger, sadness, confusion, fear, numbness, self-blame, helplessness, hopelessness, suicidal feelings and shame are common reactions of both male and female survivors. In some ways, though, men react uniquely to being sexually assaulted. Immediately after an assault, men may show more hostility and aggression rather than tearfulness and fear. Over time, they may also question their sexual identity, act out in a sexually aggressive manner, and even downplay the impact of the assault.
6. Don’t men who get raped become rapists?
NO! This is a destructive myth that often adds to the anxiety a male survivor feels after being assaulted. Because of this misinformation, it is common for a male survivor to fear that he is now destined to do to others what was done to him. While many convicted sex offenders have a history of being sexually abused, most male survivors do not become offenders. The truth is that the great majority of male survivors have and never and will never sexually assault anyone.
7. If a man is raped by another man, does it mean he’s gay?
NO, again! While gay men can be raped (often by straight men), a man getting raped by another man says nothing about his sexual orientation before the assault, nor does it change his sexual orientation afterwards. Rape is primarily prompted by anger or a desire to harm, intimidate or dominate, rather than by sexual attraction or a rapist’s assumption about his intended victim’s sexual orientation. Because of society’s confusion about the role that attraction plays in sexual assault and about whether victims are responsible for provoking an assault, even heterosexual male survivors may worry that they somehow gave off “gay vibes” that the rapist picked up and acted upon. For a gay man, especially one who is not yet out of the closet, the possibility that he is broadcasting his “secret sexual identity” to others without even knowing it can be particularly upsetting.
8. How should I respond if a man I know tells me he has been assaulted?
While there may be some differences in how rape impacts a male versus a female survivor of sexual assault, the basics of supporting survivors are the same for men as for women. Believe him. Know what your community’s resources are and help him explore his options. Don’t push and don’t blame. Ask him what he wants and listen. Be cautious about physical contact until he’s ready. Get help for yourself.
Jonathan C. Stillerman, Ph.D, is a Washington, D.C., psychotherapist and co-director of the Men’s Rape Prevention Project.
Healing can begin at many starting points and everyone’s journey is different. With many survivors breaking the silence, we have learned that there are shared reactions and experiences as survivors heal from childhood sexual abuse. It is important to find someone to talk to about your experiences and feelings, either someone you know and trust, or a counselor. It is important to know that childhood sexual trauma is not gender specific. In fact, 1 in 6 boys is sexually abused before the age of 16. The average age for the first time of the abuse is 8 years and 4 months old.1
Why Do I Have To Deal With It Now, If It Happened Back Then?
Survivors of childhood sexual abuse may believe that since the abuse happened so long ago it would be better not to rehash the past. They may avoid feelings and memories in order to function in their day-to-day lives. However, the abuse may still be affecting them. Triggers (internal or external reminders of the trauma) may bring up unresolved emotional issues. Some common situations survivors may find themselves in that make them realize they should seek support include:
- I am reacting unusually to situations differently than before.
- I am having emotional or sexual problems that are not getting any better.
- New circumstances have made me more aware of past experiences.
If you are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, know that you are not alone. Survivors have found that recognizing what has happened to them and speaking about their experiences can be one of the most vital components in the healing process. Below is a list of common affects of sexual abuse that may linger with survivors in their adult lives.
Common Challenges for Adult Survivors
Intimate Relationships and Personal Boundaries
Trust is a crucial issue for many survivors throughout their lives because it was broken as such a young age by the very people who were supposed to care the most for them. Because survivors of childhood sexual abuse may have had to keep the abuse a secret in order to protect the family, as a result, many survivors may feel they have to put the needs of others above their own. Because their personal boundaries were invaded when they were young, adult survivors may have trouble understanding that they have the right to control what happens to them.
Some adult survivors report problems with anger. It may be anger against a particular person, fate, or a higher power. They may even feel angry with themselves for not being able to stop the abuse, angry with the abuser, or angry with parents or care givers for not protecting them. These emotions need to be acknowledged and validated.
Many adult survivors suffer from depression as a result of childhood sexual abuse. Research shows, in fact, that depression is the most frequently reported symptom.
Being abused as a child means the loss of many things- childhood experiences, trust, innocence, normal relationships with family members (especially if the abuser was a family member). Survivors must be allowed to name those losses and grieve them.
Fear, anxiety, and being ‘always on guard’ and the Art of Remembering
Fear and anxiety are normal responses to trauma. Some survivors have experienced traumatic amnesia or delayed recall of memories of child sexual abuse. Traumatic amnesia is a particular response of the brain that prevents a child from having any conscious recall of the abuse. It is associated with extreme emotional trauma. Memory loss has a reason: we may have been so young when abused that we were unable to form thoughts or put our feelings into words. Memories can’t be forced; they will come back when the brain is ready to handle them.
If you were sexually abused in childhood there may be things that bring back or ‘trigger’ memories. These include not only obvious things like childbirth, Pap smears or the way your partner touches you sexually, but also everyday things such as colors, kinds of furniture or vehicles, sounds, or smells, which bring back memories or feelings associated with the abuse. These experiences can trigger a flashback, which is a re-experiencing of the abuse as if it were occurring at that moment. It is usually accompanied by visual images, or flashes of images, of the abuse. This is one of the ways of remembering the abuse. For more information on how to work with triggers, check out Managing Symptoms of Trauma.
Reclaiming Your Sexual Self after Abuse
Healing begins at different stages for different people. Sexual abuse influences a survivor’s ability to establish and maintain healthy sexual relationships. Sexual concerns often emerge naturally after survivors have resolved feelings of anger and fear about the abuse, and begun to feel better about themselves. For many therapists and survivors, addressing sexual issues is seen as a final stage in sexual abuse recovery, but sexual concerns come up at all points in sexual abuse recovery.
You may want to work with a therapist who specializes in sexual abuse treatment. Survivors can greatly benefit from joining a therapy or support group and spending time with friends who are familiar with healing from sexual abuse.
Sexual abuse can disrupt many facets of our sexuality, including:
- How we feel about our gender
- How we feel about our bodies, sex organs, and bodily functions
- How we think about sex
- How we express ourselves sexually
- How we experience physical pleasure and intimacy with others
It takes time and effort to develop a positive sexual self-concept. Not only do we have to watch for the false conclusions and negative beliefs about ourselves that resulted from the abuse, we also need to replace old ways of thinking with new, healthy ones.
Begin your journey only when you feel ready for it. Go slowly and trust yourself. Sexual healing is usually never as fast as survivors and intimate partners would wish. Sexual healing is a profound personal growth work. During the process you will probably look closely at who you are, how you feel, what has happened to you in the past, and how you now take care of yourself and relate to others. (taken from The Sexual Healing Journey: A Guide for Survivors of Sexual Abuse. Wendy Maltz, 2001)
Suggested Readings Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse
The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse. Dan Allender (2008).
Why Me? Help for Victims of Sexual Abuse (Even if They Are Adults Now). Lynn Daugherty (2013).
Beginning to Heal: A First Book for Men and Women who were Sexually Abused as Children. Ellen Bass & Laura Davis. (2003).
The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse. Ellen Bass & Laura Davis (2008).
Legacy of the Heart: The Spiritual Advantage of a Painful Childhood. Wayne Muller (1993).
On the Path: Affirmations for Adults Recovering from Childhood Sexual Abuse. Nancy W. (2001).
The Sexual Healing Journey: A Guide for Survivors of Sexual Abuse. Wendy Maltz (2012).
Secret Survivors: Uncovering Incest and Its Aftereffects in Women. E. Sue Blume (1998).
Victims No Longer: The Classic Guide for Men Recovering from Childhood Sexual Abuse. Mike Lew (2004).
Healing the Incest Wound: Adult Survivors in Therapy. Christine Courtois (2010).
Outgrowing the Pain: A Book for and about Adults Abused as Children. Eliana Gil (1988).
Overcoming Childhood Trauma: A Self-help Guide Using Cognitive Behavioral Techniques. Helen Kennerley (2000).
Surviving Child Sexual Abuse: Practical Self-help for Adults Who Were Sexually Abused as Children. Carolyn Ainscough & Kay Toon (2000).
Beyond Surviving: The Final Stage of Recovery from Sexual Abuse. Rachel Grant (2012).