Tag Archives: Sexual Assault

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Penn State Settlements Covered 1971 Sandusky Abuse Claim, via The New York Times:

Penn State’s legal settlements with Jerry Sandusky’s accusers cover alleged abuse dating to 1971, which was 40 years before his arrest, the university said Sunday, providing the first confirmation of the time frame of abuse claims that have led to big payouts.

The disclosure came as Penn State President Eric Barron decried newly revealed allegations that former football coach Joe Paterno was told in 1976 that Sandusky had sexually abused a child and that two assistant coaches witnessed either inappropriate or sexual contact in the late 1980s. Paterno, who died in 2012, had said the first time he had received a complaint against Sandusky was in 2001.

Barron said the accusations were unsubstantiated, and suggested that the university is being subjected unfairly to what he called rumor and innuendo.

Responding to questions about the president’s statement and claims against the school, university spokesman Lawrence Lokman told The Associated Press he could confirm that the earliest year of alleged abuse covered in Penn State’s settlements is 1971.

Sandusky graduated from Penn State in 1965 and returned as a full-time defensive coach in 1969.

The university has paid out more than $90 million to settle more than 30 civil claims involving Sandusky, now 72 and serving a lengthy prison sentence for the sexual abuse of 10 children. The trial involved only allegations dating as far back as the mid-1990s.

The settlements, including the one covering the 1971 allegation, were reached after Sandusky’s 2012 conviction. But few details have been provided on the payouts by either the school or lawyers for those who said Sandusky victimized them.

The allegations about Paterno and the assistant coaches were cited in a ruling last week by Philadelphia Judge Gary Glazer in litigation between an insurance company and Penn State over how much of the settlement costs the school must bear.

The insurers cited an allegation that a boy had told the longtime Penn State football coach in 1976 that he had been molested by Sandusky. The court document also cited statements, from those claiming they had been Sandusky’s victims, that two unidentified assistant coaches had said they witnessed inappropriate contact between Sandusky and children in the late 1980s.

Barron wrote the university community Sunday that he was “appalled by the rumor, innuendo and rush to judgment” following Glazer’s disclosure of some allegations made against Paterno and some of his assistants.

Barron said those allegations, and others raised in some news reports in recent days, are “unsubstantiated and unsupported by any evidence other than a claim by an alleged victim.”

“Coach Paterno is not alive to refute them. His family has denied them,” Barron said.

Some of the press reports, he said, “should be difficult for any reasonable person to believe.”

Barron said few crimes are as heinous as child sex assault, and the university is committed to prevention, treatment and education.

But he said he had “had enough of the continued trial of the institution in various media.”

Sue Paterno, who has defended her husband’s legacy and said the family had no knowledge of new claims, also called for an end to what she called “this endless process of character assassination by accusation.”

Lokman declined to answer questions about what steps the university took to verify abuse claims during the settlement process, or about what it had done to investigate the new allegations that Paterno and members of his coaching staff knew about Sandusky’s abuse decades before his 2011 arrest.

The university hired settlement experts Kenneth Feinberg and Michael Rozen to handle the claims. Feinberg declined comment. Rozen did not respond to an email from the AP.

In 2001, Paterno told high-ranking university officials one of his assistant coaches reported seeing Sandusky acting inappropriately with a child in a team shower. In 2011, Paterno told a grand jury he did not know of any other incidents involving Sandusky, who retired from Penn State in 1999.

Paterno was fired following Sandusky’s November 2011 arrest and died of lung cancer in January 2012. He was not charged with any crime, and his family is pursuing a lawsuit against the NCAA for commercial disparagement.

Three university officials, including former President Graham Spanier, await trial on criminal charges for their handling of the Sandusky scandal.

___

Associated Press writer Mark Scolforo contributed to this story.

18th annual March for Violence-Free Communities

Thank you to everyone who participated in our 18th annual March for Violence-Free Communities and Speak Out!

20160425_173719“FARMINGTON – About 30 people, some carrying signs  against violence, marched south on Main Street in the 18th annual March for Violence-Free Communities.

The annual event is organized by the local Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services is to raise awareness of sexual assault, sexual abuse and other forms of violence.

The march was followed by a speak-out at the Old South Church, which offered a chance for those participating to talk about their thoughts on issues of violence.

University of Maine at Farmington students, local residents and law enforcement officers joined in on the march.”

(Source: The Daily Bulldog)

How faculty can use syllabi to reduce the campus sexual assault epidemic, via The Huffington Post:

As university presidents, deans, lawyers and counselors are called to task for their missteps in handling the rash of campus sex abuse scandals, the one group that has the most interaction with students is largely left out to sea–their professors. Faculty are rarely informed of individual cases, and are told little about personal issues which lead to students suddenly failing or withdrawing. This occurs despite studies which show that more than with any other group, interaction with their professors provides vital support and strengthens not only students’ academic but also personal outcomes.

While they deal with students primarily in the classroom, faculty are not insensitive to their students’ larger struggles. Is there anything professors can do to complement the work done by counseling centers? There is — and it involves adding only one paragraph to a syllabus.

The campus sexual-assault bill this past summer, plus the many media exposés about the campus rape crisis, have raised awareness of Title IX. Title IX mandates that colleges receiving federal funding provide gender equity, not just in sports, but in all areas of campus life, meaning that all students should be able to study in an atmosphere free of harassment, sexual violence, and gender discrimination.

By taking the simple measures of incorporating Title IX language into syllabi and giving students the names and numbers of the primary campus resources, educators can do their part to provide support for victims and help end the epidemic of campus sexual violence.

Consider the example of Laura Dunn.

Dunn was just a freshman at the University of Wisconsin when her life changed forever. The dedicated student-athlete was out drinking with new friends from her crew team when two of her male team members offered to take her to another party. Instead, she says, they drove her to their place and took turns sexually assaulting her as she drifted in and out of consciousness, begging them to stop.

Laura’s story is not unusual. Sexual violence has been labeled by the Centers for Disease Control as a major public-health problem, affecting approximately one-fifth of American women. The percentages are staggering for younger women; it is estimated that between 20 to 25 percent will be the victims of a completed or attempted rape during their college careers alone. College men are not immune either; 6 percent will be victims of some form of sexual assault during their college tenure. That said, sexual violence remains a gendered crime, with most victims women and most perpetrators men.

According to a 2007 report, first-year students like Laura are especially susceptible, particularly during the first three months of their freshman year. Not wanting to accept the fact that she had been raped and not knowing that she had the right to report, Dunn, like so many survivors, stayed silent. For over a year she told no one, while she fought to focus on her schoolwork. Her grades dropped, she lost weight, she struggled with nightmares, and she broke up with her boyfriend, whom she never told about her attack.

But then things changed. During a summer philosophy class she was finally given the tools to take back control over her life. While discussing how rape is used as a weapon of war, the professor stopped the class to mention that sexual assault is also prevalent on college campuses, and that the dean of students was required by Title IX to handle assault cases. As soon as class was over, Laura went to the dean of students and reported, launching a two-year process that would prove stressful but would lead to her decade of work in survivor advocacy.

Laura Dunn’s case reveals the value of faculty involvement. Professors are not substitutes for trained counselors, but because of their daily interactions with students, they constitute the most obvious source for early intervention. This process can begin by simply incorporating into the syllabus relevant language, such as:

Title IX makes it clear that violence and harassment based on sex and gender are Civil Rights offenses subject to the same kinds of accountability and the same kinds of support applied to offenses against other protected categories such as race, national origin, etc. If you or someone you know has been harassed or assaulted, you can find the appropriate resources here …

These resources should include the Title IX coordinator, counseling services, a rape crisis center, and campus police. Confidentiality is of the essence. The Campus Sexual Assault Study indicated that when students know they can talk confidentially, they are more likely to report. Furthermore, since many universities and colleges have poor resources for students and are even under federal investigation, it is suggested that other resources besides campus authorities be included. A few good organizations areKnow Your IX, End Rape On Campus, SurvJustice, the Clery Center for Security On Campus, and Not Alone.

A statement in a syllabus might also send a message of accountability to potential perpetrators. In a now-classic study, the authors found that the perceived threat of formal sanctions (being dismissed from the university or arrested) had a significant deterrent effect on potential perpetrators of sexual assault. In a 2002 study that utilized self-reporting, the majority of undetected rapists were found to be repeat rapists, and the results of this study were replicated in a subsequent 2009 study of Navy personnel. These studies suggest that many perpetrators continue to offend because they have not been caught and do not think they will ever be caught, or if caught, sanctioned. Depriving them of the culture of silence may limit their actions by increasing their fear of the consequences.

Thus, a statement in a syllabus could send a multipronged message: Survivors have the information needed, and the campus community as a whole is watching and will hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.

Many departments now mandate that syllabi include the university’s religious-holiday policy, the code of academic integrity, and contact information for disability support services. Since a quarter of female students are or will be survivors of sexual violence, a statement on Title IX is just as important. One simple paragraph could provide students with the tools they need to come forward and report the violence they have suffered. The more we normalize the conversation, the easier it becomes.

Karen Dawisha is a professor of Political Science at Miami University – Ohio

Note: A version of this article appeared in The Chronicle Of Higher Education.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-656-HOPE for the National Sexual Assault Hotline.

We need to stop rapists, not change who gets raped, by Jessica Valenti, via The Guardian:

What if rape reduction programs are actually just redirecting assault? A new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that an anti-sexual assault program directed at first year female students in three Canadian colleges lowered women’s risk of being raped by half. For the women who took this course, that kind of reduction is amazing. But what about those who didn’t?

Jaclyn Friedman, former Impact self defense instructor and author of What You Really, Really Want, noted that the chances of permanently deterring a rapist is very low.

“Rapes are perpetrated by a tiny percentage of men who know what they’re doing and who rape again and again – they’re just going to find another target” she told me.

Friedman, who also co-edited an anthology on ending rape with me in 2008, said: “So just because these girls [who took the training] are less likely to be picked, it doesn’t mean there’s less rape on campus … This isn’t rape prevention, it’s rape protection.”

Certainly, the more women who receive trainings that have been proven to reduce their rape risk, the better – so it’s great to give money to programs like these and implement them where we can. But as Friedman noted: “unless the vast majority of women are getting this training, I don’t see how it makes a dent.”

The training program for freshman women not only included elements of self defense and risk-assessment, but a session on relationships, setting sexual boundaries and ways to “overcome emotional barriers to resisting the unwanted sexual behaviors of men who were known to them.” The students were contacted a year after their completed the program, and researchers found that their risk of rape was 5%; women who simply given brochures and a less comprehensive education had a rate of 10%.

This impressive reduction is reason to celebrate. But there is no easy answer to ending rape, and there’s a real danger in believing the solution to sexual assault is on the shoulders of women who might be attacked.

As Kathleen Basile from the Centers for Disease Control said in an editorial accompanying the study in the New England Journal of Medicine, as a sole solution this program “places the onus for prevention on potential victims, possibly obscuring the responsibility of perpetrators and others”. And in a world where rape victims are routinely blamed for the violence perpetrated against them, sending the message that stopping rape is women’s work is a slippery slope.

There are multiple ways to stop sexual assault among young people – and other programs that focus more on community responsibility have had just as much success. The Green Dot project, for example – which focuses on bystander intervention – showed a 50% reduction of sexual assault in 26 Kentucky high schools that participated in the program. Programs like this also have the added benefit of making ending rape all of our responsibility, not just women’s.

Those who participate learn what sexual assault looks like, the actions a potential perpetrator might take, and how to stop them. It means that a school full of people trained to know what a rapist acts like is much more likely to be able to remove rapists’ social license to operate, and take away their ability to rape within a community.

We need more than just one study and more than just one training to stop rape, not just on college campuses, but everywhere. Small, short-term solutions that work for some women are terrific and I hope we fund a lot of them. But what we need more are lasting solutions for all of us – solutions that don’t just change statistics, but the culture.

• This article was amended on 15 June 2015. An earlier version attributed a quote to Charlene Senn, the lead author of the study into the efficacy of an anti-sexual assault program in three Canadian colleges. In fact the quote was from Kathleen Basile of the Centers for Disease Control, who was writing in an editorial accompanying the study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Lady Gaga joins campaign to tackle sexual assaults on US campuses, via The Guardian:

Lady Gaga has penned an open letter alongside the New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, to support a new law to protect university students from the “epidemic of sexual violence” on campuses.

“Every fall, young men and women head off to colleges across the country, dreaming of bright futures and the experience of a lifetime,” the piece, published on Billboard reads. “They’ve worked hard for the chance to become a part of their new campuses, and they set out full of hope and excitement.”

Unfortunately, for thousands of these students, that dream turns into a nightmare because of the unacceptable epidemic of sexual violence that is currently plaguing colleges and universities. It is a shocking reality that many in academia, government, and society in general still refuse to acknowledge.

On 17 June, New York lawmakers will decide whether to pass Cuomo’s Enough is Enough policy, which aims to combat sexual assault at all universities and private institutions in the state.

Lady Gaga, who told Howard Stern in 2014 that she had been sexually assaulted when she was 19 by a producer 20 years her senior, has backed the legislation. In the run up to the decision, Cuomo has been screening the documentary Hunting Ground, about sexual assault on college campuses. It features a new Lady Gaga song, Till It Happens to You.

The extract concludes:

“Thankfully, New York has an opportunity to stand up for its students, and take the critical steps toward facing this crisis head on. The bill currently beforeNew York state legislature will address the issue of sexual violence on college campuses, giving the state the nation’s strongest laws to target campus sexual assault. This is a campaign that will protect students, and it’s exactly what we need.

“By passing legislation such as the bill currently before the New York state legislature, we can turn the tide on this issue so that students can realise their dreams on campuses that are safe spaces. That’s why we are joining together to take a stand against sexual assault on college campuses. Quite simply, enough is enough.”

Non-consensual pornography increasingly an issue that must be addressed, via the SunJournal:

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(Article 3 of 4 for Sexual Assault Awareness Month)

In this world, our private information is less private than ever. With the click of a button, private images can be posted for millions of people to see. In an era of digital communication, Maine’s sexual assault support centers are seeing that non-consensual pornography is increasingly an issue for the clients we serve.

A bill before the Maine Legislature — LD 679 —  would criminalize non-consensual pornography, commonly known as revenge porn. The bill, which has dozens of co-sponsors, would make the intentional distribution of explicit material without permission illegal if the subject is identifiable. The bill would make such distribution a Class D crime, a misdemeanor punishable by a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

To some, that may seem like a small price for offenders who have sought to ruin the lives of their victims.

It is difficult to quantify the impact of non-consensual pornography. However, we know that victims of this behavior face significant and specific harm, including harm to relationships with friends, family, and co-workers; and harm to future educational and professional prospects.

Sexual assault advocates across the state work with victims of revenge porn each year. After her name and intimate photos of her were posted on several websites by an ex-boyfriend, one Maine victim has moved out of the community where she has lived all of her life, is in the process of changing her name, has developed severe anxiety and agoraphobia, feels humiliated and ashamed, and has told the advocate she is working with, “I will never be in a relationship ever again.”

Unfortunately for some victims, the impact does not end there. Due to the public nature of non-consensual pornography, victims often receive threats of additional sexual violence, stalking and harassment. This is especially significant, given that a recent study of victims demonstrates that, along with distributed images, 59 percent had their full name posted, 26 percent had their email address posted, 16 percent had their physical home address posted, and 14 percent had their work address posted.

Sometimes, in addition to the images, further information is shared, including the names of siblings and parents, bank account information, passwords and links to social media accounts.

In another Maine case, the link to the website where a victim’s photos were posted (without her consent) was sent to organizations where she was applying for internships — all from her email account, which had been hacked.

People who choose to take photos of themselves often do so with the understanding and firm belief that the photos will never be shared outside of their consensual relationship. Sometimes, those relationships change and the photos are then distributed, or a threat to distribute them is made. In other circumstances, the photos are taken under duress or via coercion.

And yet, victims are often blamed for an offender’s actions. Instead of asking, “What would make someone do that to someone else?” victims are generally asked, “Why did you send him that photo in the first place? What were you thinking?”

However, blaming the victim means we refuse to hold the real party responsible — the offender. Just like other forms of sexual violence, preventing revenge porn includes holding offenders accountable. Criminalizing revenge porn will help mitigate its consequences.

With all types of sexual activity, consent must be free, willing and ongoing. The same standard must be applied with regard to the disclosure of private images. The law recognizes that a customer’s consent to giving his credit card to a waiter to run a tab is not consent for that waiter to use the information on a personal shopping spree.

Permitting someone use of information in one context does not — and should not — mean consent in other contexts.

Cara Courchesne, a Lewiston native, is the communications director at the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

Consent4ME

April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Local Events Coming up, via The Daily Bulldog:

**Please Note: Since this article has been published, some changes have been made to the movie/discussion nights. The showing of “The Mask You Live In” on April 17th has been canceled due to scheduling conflicts, and will be show instead of “Misrepresentation” on April 22nd, at 5:30 PM in Thomas Auditorium at UMF**

National Sexual Assault Awareness Month happens across the country, every year, to educate the public and raise awareness around issues of sexual violence. These efforts can include informational presentations, community events, and social media campaigns, to name a few. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, the sexual assault awareness movement began in the 1970s, but it wasn’t until the end of the 1990s that the entire month of April was designated to the cause.

For April 2015, the slogan for SAAM in Maine is: “Consent looks different to each of us. All you have to do is ask.” Consent does look different to each of us, because we all communicate and express ourselves in different ways. For some people that expression may be verbal, and for others it may be non-verbal. It is important to know how to ask for consent, and to know how to respond when someone gives or does not give consent. Consent is the essential component in any sexual interaction, and if it is not freely given, it is assault. This is why good communication is a key aspect of healthy sexuality.
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Healthy sexuality is having the knowledge, and a sense of empowerment to express one’s sexuality. This knowledge and empowerment not only contributes positively to one’s self-esteem, but also to their relationships with others.

Both consent and healthy sexuality contribute to sexual violence prevention, and they also support sexual assault survivors. Healthy sexuality supports survivors by acknowledging that their body is their own, that they control their sexuality, and that they have the right to expect their sexual partners to be respectful of their boundaries.

The more we talk about healthy ways to engage with one another, the closer we get to a culture that is free of sexual violence.

• Each year, 13,000 Mainers will experience sexual violence
• Approximately 7.7 percent of Maine high school students report that they have been physically forced to have sexual intercourse
• A recent study found that nearly one in five adult Maine residents reports that they have been the victim of rape or attempted rape during their lifetime (Source: www.mecasa.org)

At Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services (SAPARS), we work towards preventing and eliminating sexual violence in Franklin, Androscoggin, and Oxford counties. Please join us at our upcoming events that are free, and open to the public in Franklin County.

On the following Wednesdays in April, we will be having movie and discussion nights at the University of Maine at Farmington: “The Mask You Live In” on April 15, and “Misrepresentation” on April 22. All films will be shown at 7 p.m. in Lincoln Auditorium, which is located in the Roberts Learning Center building.

On Wednesday, April 29 we will be holding the 17th annual March for Violence-Free Communities. Participants will gather outside of the UMF Student Center on South Street at 5:30 p.m. The march will be followed by a Speak Out that will take place in the North Dining Hall, which is located inside of the UMF Student Center. Light refreshments will be served.

For more information about Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services (SAPARS) or our services, please visit our website at www.sapars.org or call us at 778-9522. The statewide, toll free, 24-hour sexual assault crisis and support helpline is 1-800-871-7741.

– Submitted by FCDV Task Force Member Agency: Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Services

The Franklin County Domestic Violence Task Force is a coalition of agencies and concerned citizens with a mission to lead and empower local people to end domestic violence. For more information about the FCDVTF, please contact Kelley Glidden at (207)795-6744 or email kglidden@safevoices.org.

An Effective College Response to Sexual Assault Provides Additional Recourse for Survivors, by Marty McIntyre, via The SunJournal: 

[Article 1 of 4 during April for Sexual Assault Awareness Month]

For the past few years, increased attention has focused on the issue of sexual assault on college campuses. The statistics are horrifying. The federal government has established new regulations to guide colleges in effectively preventing and responding to sexual assault.

One frequently debated issue is whether colleges should have their own judicial proceedings regarding sexual assault, or whether sexual assaults should only be adjudicated through the criminal justice system.

As an advocate for survivors of sexual violence, I believe that having a campus reporting option available to students is important and serves as a strong addition to the option of a criminal justice report.

Not all adults who are sexually assaulted report the crime to the police. While there are many reasons for not reporting, for college students the decision may be more complex. If they live elsewhere, reporting the crime ties them to a criminal justice process in the college community that may take a year or more to resolve and could require them to return for some proceedings during times that they might not otherwise be on campus. And, during the time they are on campus, the survivor could be in proximity to the person who assaulted them, possibly running into them regularly in the course of their daily campus life.

Colleges obviously cannot do a criminal adjudication on sexual assault or any other behavior that is against the law. That is the purview of our criminal justice system. It is the responsibility of colleges, however, to determine if a student has violated the school’s established code of conduct.

In the case of an alleged sexual assault, the college would determine if the accused student violated the code of conduct which prohibits sexual assault. If the determination is yes, the college can impose sanctions on that student, including expulsion from the college. Because of the seriousness of the charge and the possible penalties, colleges have an obligation to implement systems that are informed, objective and fair to all involved.

Colleges have come a long way in the strategies employed to investigate these assaults. Many colleges used to have a student conduct board made up of various combinations of faculty, staff and students. Colleges typically provided training to those boards to understand and evaluate the different issues they might see during the year, but these boards were often made up of people who had familiarity or relationships with the accuser or the accused (potentially causing bias) and/or who were not fully prepared to evaluate the complex issues they would review.

Many colleges have now changed their approach when addressing charges of sexual assault. Many employ an independent investigator who has special training in assessing these cases and who has no bias toward the case. The investigators present their findings and their recommendations to some sort of hearing board within the college. While accusers and the accused would be interviewed by the investigator, they may not ever have to testify before the hearing board. This process has ensured more effective, specialized assessment, less chance for bias, and less trauma for the people involved.

The benefit for sexual assault victims can be enormous.

First, they can choose to report the crime to the police AND report the assault through the campus system, giving them twice the options of a sexual assault survivor living in the community.

When a sexual assault survivor reports the assault through their college, they can often arrange for accommodations such as being excused from classes for a period of time or measures taken to ensure the safety and protection of the survivor. The campus response process generally happens more quickly than the criminal justice process, giving the survivor a more timely resolution. And, if the accused is found to have violated the student conduct code and is expelled from the college due to the seriousness of the violation, the sexual assault survivor is able to proceed with their college career without fear of that person influencing their experience.

Our local colleges welcome our college advocate onto their campuses to provide support and guidance to sexual assault survivors. The advocate can help sexual assault survivors to understand the options they have for reporting the assault to law enforcement and on their campus, and provide support for them through either or both of those processes.

Sexual assault is a horrendous experience wherever it happens. An effective college response system should not take the place of a criminal justice adjudication, but provide another, additional recourse for survivors.

Marty McIntyre is executive director of Sexual Assault Prevention and Responses Services, serving Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties.

5 Things to Consider After a Recent Sexual Assault, via Everyday Feminism:

(Trigger Warning: This article contains discussion of sexual violence.)

There’s no right or wrong way to respond to a sexual assault.

The way you respond is influenced by a number of social and individual forces, all of which are reasonable and appropriate.

But sometimes when someone experiences a sexual assault, it’s hard to decide what to do next. It can be difficult to know which move is the right one for you, which step feels like the right step to take.

Sometimes people feel disorganized or confused, making it hard to prioritize a list of needs and steps forward.

So, in order to help in that regard, here are five things to keep in mind as you navigate the future after a sexual assault.

1. Safety

Safety is key.

Healing cannot take place – and the trauma that you experienced cannot truly end – without feeling a sense of physical safety.

If you have been sexually assaulted recently, one of the most important initial considerations is your own physical safety.

Are you in a position where an assault is likely occur again? Of course, it’s not up to you to prevent your own assault – that is only the responsibility of the perpetrator. The relieving and critical peace of mind that comes along with a diminished risk is within your power, though!

For example, if the person who hurt you is a live-in partner, is there a friend or family member who would let you crash with them for a bit? Or if the perpetrator has a key to your apartment, is there a way for you to change the locks?

Safety should never be the responsibility of a survivor. We should live in a world where sexual violence does not exist and where everyone is safe because people who want to commit crimes have learned other ways to control those urges.

But unfortunately, we don’t.

I would never, ever suggest that someone change their behavior to prevent their own experience of violence – because that simply isn’t possible. But I do believe that it’s important for someone to take whichever steps they think are necessary in order to help them feel as safe as humanly possible.

That feeling of safety – of being out of immediate danger, of experiencing a sense of autonomous security – is key to healing from sexual assault.

2. Support

The reality is that healing from sexual violence must take place within the context of healing and emotionally safe relationships – whether platonic, familial, or romantic.

Holding the secret of survivorship doesn’t work. It’s lonely, it’s isolating, and it can even feel like your head is a toxic space, rather than the safe and loving mental space that we all deserve to inhabit.

The act of relating to another human can, in itself, be curative. The act of verbalizing the nature of the trauma to someone who you trust can be amazingly relieving. And the act of being heard, respected, and validated is nothing short of therapeutic.

Depending on your circumstances, there may be a person in your life with whom you can safely share the truth of your experience of sexual assault. This person may be a best friend, a partner, a community member, or someone in your family.

The choice of who (or if!) to tell is completely yours.

As you’re deciding who might be a trusted and safe person, here are some factors to keep in mind:

Will they judge you? Will they know, unequivocally, that it was not your fault? Will they know not to question any part of your experience?

Will they be able and willing to respect your privacy? Are they a trustworthy person who will respect your wishes around who (and under which circumstances) you would like to know about your assault?

Will they be willing and able to respect your autonomy? You have a lot of choices that you will be making in the upcoming days, weeks, and months after your assault. Many of these choices relate to reporting, seeking medical care, and talking to professionals. Will this person respect that your decisions are yours and yours alone? Will they honor whatever you choose?

Will they be on your side 100%? To choose neutrality is to choose the perpetrator – and that shit just can’t happen.

Remember that the decision to share your truth with another person is just that – your decision.But if it feels safe to do so, it might just be healing.

3. Self-Care

You have survived something awful. You experienced a trauma that no one should ever have to experience. And you came out alive.

That is remarkable. You, dear human, are remarkable.

You deserve to take care of yourself in the best way you know how. You deserve to nurse all of the battle wounds you incurred during your assault.

There are parts of you that are going to feel confused and fearful and sad. You may also feel anger or joy or fraudulence or numbness – or a million different combinations of a million different emotions.

Every single emotion and every single combination of emotions is completely and totally normal. You are normal.

You deserve to treat yourself kindly in the midst of the complex emotional experience that you may be having right now.

What does self-care look like for you?

Does it mean a day at the spa, a yoga class, a night out or in with a friend? Does it mean cooking a nutritious dinner or ordering a pizza? Does self-care mean creating a ritual that allows you space to breathe? Or does it mean a one-time special treat for yourself?

Whatever self-care means to you, now is the time to practice it. You are going through a lot right now, and you deserve kindness from yourself.

4. Choices

After being sexually assaulted, you have a number of choices to make related to the types of services you would like to access.

You have the option of reporting the assault to the police, pursuing a court case, and/or seeking medical attention or undergoing a forensic exam for evidence collection. You also have the option of reaching out to an advocate or therapist for emotional support.

These choices are deeply personal and each individual will make a different decision based on any number of factors.

Issues of identity play a huge role in the way a sexual assault is perceived by law enforcement and medical professionals, unfortunately. And there is rarely justice for survivors of sexual assault, even when the survivor fits into what we deem “worthy” or “acceptable.” So justice happens even less frequently when the survivor is a man, is a person of color, is trans, is a sex worker – the list goes on.

Depending on your individual circumstances, reporting an assault may or may not be the right thing to do. And unfortunately, a lot of people will have an opinion on this that they will want you to know.

But stop.

Ask yourself: Do I want to report this crime or undergo a forensic exam or involve any professionals at all?

And listen to the answer that your heart provides. Everyone else can (and will) deal with your decisions.

If you do wish to report the assault and seek medical care, calling your local rape crisis centeris a good place to start. Likewise, if you are interested in seeking advocacy or therapy, your rape crisis center should have resources for you.

5. Accommodations

You deserve to take the time and space necessary to heal.

If you are in school or at work, I hope you will feel empowered and deserving of time off. You are entitled to a vacation, and you are entitled to an extension on that paper or exam.

It is strong and brave to ask for what you need and deserve. You deserve accommodations so that you can begin the work of healing. You deserve to prioritize your own wellness and elevate your emotional and physical health above all else.

It’s important to keep in mind that you do not owe anyone an explanation. You do not have to disclose your sexual assault to anyone, even when you are asking for accommodations.

Your request can be as simple as “I’ve had an unexpected personal matter arise, and I need time to attend to that.” Or you can tell the full story of your assault if it feels safe to do so. Just remember that you are not obligated to disclose.

That paper that’s due next week? While I’m certain that it’s important, I’m also certain that it’snot more important than your own need for sleep, healthful meals, exercise, and relationships – all things that may take additional energy or effort after an assault.

You will likely need to make choices about what you can feasibly do. And there is a lot of privilege inherent in these choices.

If it’s at all possible, I would gently encourage you to ask for the time and space you need to elevate your own healing. If you are fortunate enough to work a job that has paid vacation time, it may make sense to take a few of those days. If you don’t have paid time off, but can afford to miss a day or two of pay, remember that your own healing is worth the cost.

And if you aren’t able to take time off of work or school, allow yourself to take time off of other areas in your life. Maybe you won’t be able to attend Sunday night dinner with your family – and that’s okay. Maybe you won’t be able to drive a friend to the airport – and that’s okay.

Feel entitled to whatever accommodations you need in order to support your own healing. You deserve it.

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As you move forward in your healing journey, remember to treat yourself with the same loving kindness that I am certain you would dole out effortlessly to the people around you.

You deserve nothing less.