Coping with Sexual Harassment and Assault (3)
By: Beth McHugh 2006
Last blog, we looked at many of the emotions that a person encounters after a sexual assault. Guilt, anger, denial, a feeling of contamination, anxiety, depression: all combine to make the post-assault period a very stressful time.
The importance of telling somebody that you trust about the assault cannot be emphasized enough. Many victims of sexual assault hide the event out of shame or fear of being thought that they brought the incident on by their own behaviors. In some cases, this is a legitimate fear. Although there is no shame in having been sexually assaulted (remember, the real shame lies with the perpetrator), it is realistic to think that some people may be less than supportive to a woman who claims an incident of sexual assault.
Sadly, this is just the way some people are, but it is important to remember that these same people will have closed minds about many issues that are uncomfortable to deal with. Contentious issues such as abortion, homosexuality, contraception, and the like, would all be regarded in a similar way, and to be rebuffed by such a person should not be taken personally. A person who reacts in a negative, accusatory way about sexual assault is displaying their own weakness, and their reactions are irrelevant to the reality of your assault.
So while there may be some reluctance to tell some people, which is both wise and healthy, it is important to tell the untellable to somebody. If the first person you tell is unsupportive, continue to seek out people who are supportive. They are out there.
Talking to a counselor who works in the area of sexual assault is recommended, as such people are trained to anticipate and deal with the bewildering array of feelings that arise after a trauma such as this. Because many victims believe they will be harshly judged by others, sometimes it is easier to speak to a stranger, such as a counselor, than a loved one. Gradually, through therapy, it becomes easier to talk about the incident, the way you feel about it, and eventually, to counteract any negative criticism that may come your way from people who simply can’t deal with the problem themselves.
The ramifications of keeping the incident buried are many and are avoidable
simply by seeking help as soon as possible. In the next blog on this
topic, we will look at two hypothetical cases of sexual assault and
how each woman chose to deal with it.