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Violence against women

Sexual assault
Learn about rape trauma syndrome, date rape, and the impact of rape on relationships

Domestic violence
Learn why it happens and how to get help.

Child sexual abuse/incest
Learn how to spot child sexual abuse and how to report it.

Sexual assault

The impact of sexual assault on relationships

Women's Web gratefully acknowledges the University of Alberta Sexual Assault Center (UASAC) for granting us permission to repint its materials and resources on our website. Be sure to visit the UASAC website for additional information, resources, and link to other sites.

If you have been sexually assaulted, be sure to go immediately to your local hospital or police detachment. If you are unable to get to a hospital, call the police, your community sexual assault center, or your community's 24-hour crisis line.

Sexual assault is a serious crime. Compassionate support is available and such crimes must be reported to the police.

Some important things to know about sexual assault/rape

  • Sexual assault is not making love. No one "secretly desires" to be sexually assaulted. Sexual assault is a total violation of a person's right over his or her own body and ability to make sexual choices.
  • Sexual assault is an act of violence. Sexual assault is a violent assault and is not something the survivor wants or enjoys.
  • The survivor is in no way responsible for the assault. Regardless of the clothes he/she was wearing, where he/she was, or whether she/he was drinking, knew the assailant, or fought back, the survivor is never to blame for the assault.
  • It is very common for people in terrifying situations to "freeze up" or become too frightened to fight back.
  • Sexual assault is a frightening experience that takes time to recover from.

How you can help

Many people make wonderful supporters, as being a great support involves listening to the survivor, believing what he/she says, and providing options for him/her by letting him/her make his/her own choices.

If someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can help by:

  • knowing what to expect from him/her after the assault.
  • recognizing and accepting his/her feelings as well as yours.
  • communicating with him/her. Show compassion and acceptance.
  • allowing him/her to make decisions for herself/herself that will help him/her to get control over his/her life.
  • letting the survivor know he/she has your unconditional love and support. Share with him/her that you will be there when he/she needs you.

How should you respond?

Your first reaction may be one of anger and hostility. Those emotional reactions are normal. It is important that you choose not to contact or threaten the perpetrator. Threats may result in a legal action by the perpetrator against you at a time when the survivor needs your strength and support. Keep in mind that your anger can shift attention away from the survivor and toward yourself. He/She may feel guilty for burdening you, frightened of your rage, or reluctant to upset you further at a time when he/she needs your support.

Empathetic touch (if the survivor is comfortable with it) and speech may help him/her to feel safe enough to share his/her experience with you.

Tell the survivor that he/she is not responsible for the crime that was committed against him/her. Avoid asking him/her "why" questions like "Why didn't you scream?" He/she may feel judged by such questions. The survivor needs to know that you do not blame him/her for the assault.

It is very important that you convey the message that you do not see the survivor as defiled or any less moral than before the incident.

It is important that the survivor understands that you believe him/her and his/her description of the events, and that the feelings he/she has about the incident are valid.

Encourage the survivor to make his/her own decisions about future proceedings on the incident, for example, telling others or reporting. Communicate your commitment by supporting the decisions she or he makes.

Let him/her talk.

Be patient and approachable; the survivor will express his/her feelings as she or he feels safe, comfortable, and ready.

Do not pressure the survivor to tell you details or specifics; he/she will tell you when or if he/she is ready.

Become aware of the parts of the survivor's experience that seem to come up repeatedly. They may represent areas that need special attention and understanding.

Consider sharing you feelings about the effects of sexual assault on your relationship. Consider relationship counseling to help the two of you deal with the event.

Spend some time helping others involved with the survivor to learn ways to support him/her. Others need to understand that the survivor needs a safe, accepting environment where his/her feelings and the event will not be judged.

If the survivor is a partner

The process toward recovery is a lengthy one. The survivor's partner may have reactions to the grief that he/she may not understand. He/she may need to learn to understand and deal with his/her anger around the situation, himself/herself, and the survivor.

Partners may feel that they are transferring anger to the survivor. This is common and happens for many reasons.

  • The partner may feel taxed or burnt out emotionally because the need for understanding and patience seems unending.
  • The partner may feel that "she/he should put it behind him/her now and move on with life."
  • Anger toward the survivor for what the partner may feel "allowed the incident to occur" as in an acquaintance sexual assault.

To deal with this anger:

  • Continue to do positive activities with your partner—things you both enjoyed before the assault.
  • Be around positive people who will help you to stay "up."
  • Watch your urge to act out your anger with violence or drugs, alcohol, or work.
  • Communicate your feelings to the survivor and others you trust when appropriate.
  • Issues around sexual activity are very common after sexual assault. The survivor may experience fear, flashbacks, or difficulties with her/his own sexual response.

To help the survivor and your relationship:

  • Give her/him the opportunity to make sexual decisions. This will help him/her to feel more comfortable and empowered sexually.
  • She/he may need a period of abstinence. Give that to him/her and express your intimacy with nurturing and loving contact, such as hugs.
  • Be patient. Sexual difficulties are quite normal and may be temporary if the survivor feels loved and unconditionally accepted.
If the survivor is a child, relative, or friend
  • Reassure the survivor of her/his sexual rights and that he/she is not "tarnished." She/he may have significant fears about sexual intimacy, particularly if the assault was her/his first sexual experience. Reassure him/her future experiences will not be the same.
  • Assure him/her that she/he was in no way responsible for the crime.
  • Make yourself available to speak with him/her and answer her/his questions.
  • Encourage him/her to maintain a normal lifestyle. Let her/him make her/his own decisions about social activities and dating.
  • Do not blame yourself for the sexual assault for failing to protect him/her. It is virtually impossible to "protect" her/him. Focus on helping her/him to recover.

Date rape/acquaintance sexual assault

Acquaintance sexual assault (also called date rape) presents new issues to its survivors. In addition to the trauma experienced in stranger assaults, self-doubt, self-blame, betrayal of trust, and lack of confidence in her/his own ability to make judgments and good decisions all complicate the recovery process.

Acquaintance sexual assault is very common and highly underreported. It is important to be aware that this type of assault can happen to anyone.

For the partner, acquaintance assault creates additional issues. Often the partner will know the assailant and there may be mutual friends involved. The assailant may have a different version of the incident, and the partner may have feelings of anger, rage or of doubt in the survivor's story. Those feelings are very normal, but it is important to remember that the relationship between the survivor and his/her partner needs to be accepting and supportive. No one can control what others will say about the incident or the people involved. What's important is that the partner believes in and supports the survivor.

Sexual assault

Web resources

These are third-party resources and links will open a new browser window. As these are third-party resources, Women's Web claims no responsibility for the accuracy or completeness of the information provided.

Men Can Stop Rape
Men Can Stop rape mobilizes male youth to prevent men's violence against women. It does this by building males' capacity to challenge harmful aspects of traditional masculinity, to value alternative visions of male strength, and to embrace their vital role as allies with women and girls in fostering healthy relationships and gender equity.

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