What do I do next?
One of the most important ideas to understand after you've experienced a sexual assault centers around what is "normal." Many survivors say they feel "crazy" and "different" in the days, weeks and months after experiencing the trauma of a sexual assault. It's critical to remember that these feelings are a normal response to an unnatural, extreme event. It takes a while to get back to your true "normal."
It's tough to feel as though you are alone, and that no one understands the wide range of emotions common after an assault. You are not alone at the University of Idaho. A team of trained and caring professionals are here, on campus and in the larger community, to serve as support and guides on your healing journey.
While sexual assault is extremely difficult to experience and process, it is also a problem you can tackle and overcome.
- Get safe – If the assault has happened within the last few hours, safety is your priority. Get to a safe place, and ask a friend to stay with you. If you have any concerns for your immediate safety, call 911 or go to the Moscow Police Department, 118 E. Fourth Street in downtown Moscow.
- Call For Help – Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse offers a 24-hour helpline at 208-883-HELP (4357) and emergency response to the hospital, police station, dorm room or other living space, no matter what time it is.
You can speak with an advocate for confidential and anonymous support. This advocate can help walk you through the process of seeking medical help, preserving evidence and reporting the crime, based on what you a comfortable with.
- Preserve Evidence – Try to preserve all evidence of the assault. Avoid drinking, bathing, showering, douching, brushing your teeth or changing your clothes. Evidence can be collected at an emergency room, and you can decide later whether or not you want to press criminal charges. Collecting physical evidence must occur within 96 hours (4 days).
- Write Down Details – Try to write down, or have a friend write down, everything you can remember about the incident including a physical description of the perpetrator, their identity if you know it, and the use of threats or force.
- Get Medical Attention – At our local hospital, Gritman Medical Center, a trained medical professional can assess for injuries, STDs and pregnancy. The staff can answer your medical questions and gather evidence if you chose to report the assault. Adults who go to a hospital in Idaho are not required to report the assault.
A trained sexual assault advocate from Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse can accompany you to the hospital and/or police station, if you wish. The advocate is there to offer support, answer questions and help you through the process. An advocate can talk with you about your options, including decisions around reporting. The information you share with a sexual assault advocate is confidential. Services are available regardless of whether or not you decide to report the incident to the police. It is suggested that you bring a change of clothing with you, if possible. Any clothes worn at the time of the assault may be collected as evidence.
- There is no one "right" response a victim should provide to sexual violence.
- Sexual assault can be a life-threatening situation and whatever you did to survive was the right thing to do.
- Sexual assault can happen to anyone.
Listen, believe and suggest help.
How well a survivor heals from sexual assault and rape is greatly affected by the response of those they tell. Know that sexual violence can happen to anyone, regardless of gender, age, disability or other factors. Take a look at these guidelines so that you can be prepared in the event someone close to you is assaulted.
Be aware of your own feelings about sexual abuse.
If you are uncomfortable talking about this issue, it is OK. Helping the survivor identify who might be able to talk with them about the issue can also be supportive.
Try to respond calmly and openly.
Regardless of your comfort level, point the survivor to the resources on campus and in the community who are here to provide help and options at this critical time. Hearing about sexual abuse can be difficult. It can be very helpful to a survivor if you remain calm and non-judgmental.
Refrain from negative comments about the perpetrator.
Keep in mind that about 85 percent of the time individuals who are sexually assaulted/abused are assaulted by someone they know. As a result they may have mixed feelings about the person.
Do not interrogate.
Let the individual tell you about the abuse on his/her terms. Do not pressure the person but let him/her talk when they are comfortable. Never ask questions such as, “Why did you go there,” or “Why did you trust that person?”, etc.
Let the individual know that you believe him/her.
Fear of not being believed is a concern expressed by many survivors. Being believed is important for people of all ages.
Commend the survivor for talking and reaching out for help.
Talking about the abuse is often a big step. Acknowledge this.
Encourage the survivor to seek medical services
If the assault happened recently, urge the survivor to reach out for medical services to prevent STDs, and gather evidence should the survivor choose to report the assault. Survivors often have deep feelings of guilt or shame about the abuse. Only sexual offenders are at fault for the abuse.
Assure the survivors that they are not to blame for the assault.
Survivors often have deep feelings of guilt or shame about the abuse. Only sexual offenders are at fault for the abuse.
Respect the privacy of the survivor.
Provide additional confidential and campus resources about supportive services.
Feeling "crazy" is normal
Sexual assault is a violent or coercive invasion of personal privacy and space, and can be a humiliating and terrifying experience. Sometimes victims fear for their lives. In other cases, sexual activity without consent may not have violent overtones, but it can still radically affect the survivor in all aspects of life. The experience of sexual assault has different meanings for different people. Survivors typically experience a variety of behavioral and emotional reactions, based on their experiences, their support systems, and the characteristics of the assault itself.
Feelings after an assault vary widely and are dependent on the emotional makeup of the individual survivor and past traumatic experiences. But the range of reactions has a name: Rape Trauma Syndrome, which is often referred to as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. It means that a survivor has experienced a trauma or a significant, terrifying event.
Many survivors of sexual assault find support and understanding in talking with other survivors to see how they have reacted to their own experiences of assault. Healing is facilitated by developing a support network. Not everyone has understanding friends or family, yet there are ways to find the support you need. Research shows that the sooner a survivor can speak of her/his experience in a supportive environment, including with family, friends, and professional counselors, the more rapid and thorough the healing process. Professional counselors with experience in this area understand Rape Trauma Syndrome. They can help you sort out your options and refer you to support groups for survivors or individual counseling.
Survivors of sexual assault may experience a spectrum of fears, and have a legitimate concern for their safety. These fears are normal, and each person will need her/his own time to heal and to feel safe again. Some people are afraid at home (whether or not the assault occurred there), and some may be afraid when they go out. They may fear being alone while at the same time have a need to isolate themselves. Others feel mistrustful of others; this is especially true if you know your assailant. These feelings will go away, but it will take time for them to subside. Staying with a close friend or supportive relative for a while may be helpful. Talking with a sexual assault counselor can be a vital connection that can help you through this difficult time.
An effective method for calming these fears without the help of a therapist is called systematic desensitization. With the help of a partner or close friend, make a list of the things you are afraid of doing. Put the things you fear least at the top of the list and end with activities you fear most. Take a few deep, relaxing breaths, and then imagine yourself doing the first thing on the list. Try to keep your body relaxed as you visualize successfully completing the activity. Proceed to the next item on the list only if you feel relaxed and able to do so. Take as much time as you need to work through each listing. The next step is to try the activity, first with a friend and later alone, if you feel it is safe to do so. Confronting each fearful situation at your own pace will help empower you to live without the fears and constraints that naturally occur following an assault.
The most important concept to keep in mind is that everyone reacts differently and it is not unusual for feelings to change from day to day. In particular there can be a long gap between the assault and the emotional reaction. It can be difficult to talk about the experience to friends or family yet it is important to have understanding and support.
It can be helpful to reach out to resources for emotional support and healing:
- Talk to a trained person in confidence a counselor from the Counseling & Testing Center
- Talk to an advocate from Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse or a counselor of your choice
- Instant message an advocate confidentially through the National Sexual Assault Hotline 24-hours a day.
Fear and mistrust are very normal, natural and common reactions to a sexual assault. Many survivors look for quick solutions, which can create a sense of guilt. You may think you could have prevented the assault. But the responsibility for sexual assault lies with the offender, even if you knew the person. Or you just want the experience to go away, which, unfortunately does not happen.
Women and men who have suffered sexual assault describe feeling:
- Loss of self-confidence
Sometimes survivors have difficulty with eating or sleeping. They may lack concentration and find this makes academic work difficult. The Dean of Students Office can help survivors work with faculty for academic success through the stressful weeks following a sexual assault.
If you or a friend has been sexually assaulted, there is help available.
- Violence Prevention Programs | 208-885-6757
- Office of the Dean of Students | 208-885-6757
- Counseling & Testing Center | 208-885-6716
- Women's Center | 208-885-2777
- LGBTQA Office | 208-885-6583
- Vandal Health Education | 208-885-4146
Create the buildings blocks for a healthy future and find answers to tough questions regarding mental and physical well-being.
- Student Health Services | 208-885-6693
- Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse (ATVP) | 208-883-4357
If you need a confidential advocate to walk you through the process of getting you the help that you need regarding sexual assault, domestic violence or stalking, contact ATVP.
- Moscow Police Department | 208-882-2677
To report sexual assault or domestic violence, contact the Moscow police Department.
- National Sexual Assault Hotline | 800-656-HOPE
Men Can be Victims, Too
In the U.S., about 10 percent of all sexual assault victims are male. Sexual violence is devastating, regardless of gender.