Coping with Sexual Harassment and Assault (4)
By: Beth McHugh 2006
Jane was a victim of date rape. Sian was sexually assaulted by her boss. Both women suffered enormously from their ordeal, but the way in which they dealt with the event differed in one significant way. In this hypothetical account of two victims of sexual assault, we can learn how to deal with this ugly crime in such a way as to minimize long term negative effects.
Both Jane and Sian knew the men who assaulted them. Jane had been dating her perpetrator for two months; Sian had known her boss for four years. Neither woman suspected that these men were capable of such acts. In fact, Jane was deeply in love with her would-be perpetrator. Sian respected and liked her boss. The feelings that these women held towards their assaulters only served to make their journey of recovery harder, as bonds of trust, and in Jane’s case, love, had been brutally severed.
After Jane’s assault, she was dazed and stupefied. She sat alone in her apartment where the assault had taken place before stumbling back into bed and falling into a fitful sleep. She woke two hours later crying hysterically and called her mother. In the small hours of the morning she sobbed her heart out to her. Her father drove fifty miles during that night to be with his daughter while her mother continued to comfort her on the phone.
Her father was unsure of how to deal with the situation but he displayed his anger at the man who hurt his “little girl.” Jane begged him not to do anything about it. She needed time to think. She decided not to report the matter to the police; however her mother insisted that she receive counseling. Jane agreed. Despite the excellent assistance that Jane received from her parents; it was still a long road to recovery. For months, Jane experienced nightmares, fell into a depression for several weeks, and lost interest in her usual hobbies and activities. She returned briefly to her parents’ home and took sick leave from work. Gradually, between the help of a supportive therapist and her patient parents, Jane slowly healed. Although she will never forget the incident, and still is cautious with new men, the experience of her father’s love overrides any long-term problems with trusting men in general.
Sian’s experience with sexual assault took a different turn. She experienced the same disbelief, denial, guilt, and shame that Jane did. However, Sian had always considered herself a very capable person and she believed that she would get over this hiccup in her life in the same way she had dealt with many other difficulties. She threw herself back into work, while adopting a passive-aggressive stance with her boss. She subtly belittled him whenever she could and gained a sense of power over him by doing so. Burt most interestingly, she told no-one about the incident. She didn’t think there was any point, as she worked in a male-dominated area and she knew from prior experience that she would get little sympathy from her fellow workers.
Things went well for Sian for about two months until she began to feel strangely anxious. She found it increasingly difficult to concentrate on her work. The weekends were worse as she had time to think, even though she did not consciously think about the assault. Panic attacks were to follow until she finally broke down completely and sought help. Unfortunately, by this time she had repressed much of the incident so well that she could remember little of it. Therapy was long and drawn out. Sian has now been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Although both these cases are hypothetical, they illustrate the importance
of facing reality, accepting that an assault has occurred, telling significant
others, and seeking medical intervention, as would be readily accepted
after a physical assault.