Sexual Assault Awareness

Overview

Rape is not just a women’s issue. It does not exist only in deserted alleys or with strangers. Rape happens to women and men of all ages, races, sexual orientations, in all neighborhoods, and often in homes or residence halls with people the victim knows. About 90% of college or university women who are sexually assaulted, know their assailant (U.S. Department of Justice, 2000). You, your friend, girlfriend, roommate, or sister could be at risk or could have already been victimized. According to the U.S. Department of Justice (1998), 1 in 6 women experience a rape or attempted rape in her lifetime. Know your rights and protect yourself or someone you care about!

What is Rape?

Rape is a felony and is generally defined as forced sexual intercourse. Sexual assault is a broader term and can include non-consensual sexual contact such as: anal intercourse, rape by a foreign object, unwanted touching, and oral-genital contact.

Having sex without consent is considered rape. Consent is an active response. Alcohol use can increase the likelihood of assault because alcohol often contributes to poor communication about sexual intention and expectations. Some men wrongly assume that women who have been drinking are sexually “available” and automatically willing to have sex. Under Massachusetts state law, women or men who have been drinking or using drugs may be incapacitated to the extent that they are unable to give consent.

Common Reactions to Trauma

Women who experience rape or sexual assault typically experience symptoms of emotional trauma. Although each survivor’s response differs depending on the circumstances surrounding the assault, prior history, and coping styles, the following reactions are common and expected responses to a traumatic event.

  • Shock/Numbness
  • Helplessness, hopelessness
  • Grief
  • Fear and anxiety
  • Self-blame/Guilt
  • Flashbacks or nightmares
  • Denial
  • Shame
  • Difficulty trusting
  • Social withdrawal
  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Sense of losing control
  • Academic difficulty

What to Do If You Are Raped

  • Find a safe place
  • Call someone that you trust
  • Preserve the evidence – don’t shower, change your clothes, brush your teeth, eat, drink, use the bathroom, or douche
  • Seek medical attention – you may be injured, pregnant, or at risk for developing a sexually transmitted infection
  • Call the police to report the incident – the sooner, the better!
  • Consider counseling – it is available on campus, free, and confidential
  • Call a rape crisis hotline for support, information, legal assistance

How to Help a Friend Who Has Been Sexually Assaulted

  • Offer shelter – make sure that your friend is in a safe place and do not leave her alone until she is ready
  • Be supportive – don’t ask your friend for details about the assault, but rather communicate your willingness to listen; if you are uncomfortable, be sure that she has someone trustworthy to talk to
  • Encourage action – gently encourage your friend to get medical attention, file a report with the police, and seek counseling
  • Be reassuring – remind your friend that rape is never the survivor’s fault; it would be appropriate to say:
    • “I believe you.”
    • “This is not your fault.”
    • “You did the best you could given the circumstances.”
    • “What do you need? What can I do to help you?”
    • “This does not change how I feel about you.”
  • Get support for yourself!

Taking Precautions

  • Trust your instincts
  • Be aware of your surroundings and anticipate potentially dangerous situations
  • Avoid isolated places
  • Travel in groups, especially at night
  • Do not prop outside doors and keep your room door locked at all times
  • Do not walk or run with headphones on or while talking on a cell phone
  • Do not be alone with someone you’ve just met or don’t know very well
  • Never leave your drink unattended
  • Remember that using alcohol or drugs may interfere with your ability to think clearly, communicate effectively, and respond appropriately

Even when taking precautions, being assaulted is NEVER the survivor’s fault!

What Can Men Do to Help Prevent Sexual Assault?

  • Educate yourself about the issue and be a resource for the women in your life
  • If a friend boasts about exploiting a woman, express disapproval of his behavior
  • Don’t feel that as the male, you must always initiate a sexual encounter; don’t initiate if you don’t want to
  • Confront situations in which there is potential for violence against a woman; act immediately by yelling, physically intervening, or calling the police
  • Communicate clearly and honestly; express your needs and listen to your partner’s needs
  • Remember that rape affects both women and men. Men may feel the emotional effects of watching a loved one be victimized or may have experienced rape themselves. The U.S. Department of Justice reports that 1 in 33 men have been sexually assaulted (1998).

Resources

On Campus

Emergency x3111, (978) 665-3111 or 911
Fitchburg State Counseling Services (978) 665-3152
Fitchburg State Health Services x3216, (978) 665-3216

Off Campus

Emergency 911
Rape Crisis Center of Central Massachusetts 1-800-870-5905 (hotline)
National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
Health Alliance Hospital
60 Hospital Road, Leominster
(978) 466-2000
Worcester Medical Center*
20 Worcester Center Boulevard
(508) 363-5000
UMass Memorial Hospital*
119 Belmont Street, Worcester
(508) 334-1000

* Designated Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) hospital. Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners are specially trained to document the victim’s account of the assault, perform medical exams and testing, collect evidence, and if necessary, testify in court. SANEs are available by beeper and respond immediately only to designated hospitals to care for the victim. Community-based counselors are also called to provide crisis intervention in the emergency department as well as medical and legal follow-up through counseling and advocacy.