You Need Help: After Sexual Assault

Welcome to You Need Help! Where you seek advice and we try our very best to give it.   has traditionally been done by way of individual Formspring accounts, Autostraddle’s Tumblr and a Formspring Friday column, which has all been very fun and insightful. But, because Formspring has turned off its tumblr feed functionality and we’re wildly optimistic w/r/t our time-management skills, we thought we’d go one further and let you use our ASS private messaging to share advice-related feelings, too.

Today’s “You Need Help” is a question about coping with sexual assault that was sent to Riese, who passed it on to Kate because she thought Kate would be better at answering it. Because we’re all one big family here, helping each other.


Q: 

Two nights ago I was sexually assaulted literally yards away from my university campus. I reported it to campus security and to the city police the next day. Because the nature of the attack wasn’t rape (“only” forced penetration with fingers and groping) they didn’t see the need for a sexual assault kit. I gave them the clothes I was wearing that and agreed to photographs of my injuries.

My problem is the way it was handled and my the reactions of my friends. There was a lot of victim blaming language coming from the female campus officer who interviewed me (You shouldn’t walk alone, pay attention to your surroundings, did you scream?, did you try and fight? And so on.)

I also felt like they were minimizing the assault. I know they mean well but hearing “at least he didn’t rape you” makes me feel that much worse. I already feel guilty enough that it wasn’t an assault that allowed there to be physical evidence so the chance of catching him are very slim.

I am blaming myself and I’m not sure who to turn to for support. I am fighting off self-injury urges and trying not to do something drastic with my appearance as a way to cope.

How do I deal with an assault that wasn’t rape? How can I keep from feeling like my assault is being minimized? How can I get support for what happened to me (survive being a survivor), while acknowledging worse has happened to others?

I don’t know where else to turn and this place has always felt safe to me.

A:

Dear Friend,

I’m so sorry for everything you’ve just been through. I’m also incredibly proud of your strength in retelling your story here with the wounds so fresh. That was something I was not able to do, and something so many of us aren’t able to do for any number of reasons, and it’s so important when some of us are able to report what happened so that it is communicated to the police, society, the world, that we are here and we have survived, like a little S.O.S. signal at sea.

I’m glad you recognized victim-blaming for what it is, as survivors are fed such lines like sustenance and it’s so difficult to disconnect from that version of reality. That recognition means that rationally you can further recognize that kind of bullshit and realize that you can discount it entirely. Please, please know that this was not your fault, not in any way. Recognize that when you blame yourself, your thoughts are just as irrational as the victim-blamers around you. And I know, it can be impossible to not blame yourself, to not give in to the pressures of all those people saying all those shitty things around you, but please, please, please try to find your strength and fight it. Maybe your strength is your rationality. Use that rationality to realize how irrational it is to blame yourself. Maybe your strength is something else. Find it and know it’ll arm you against a lot of the instances of self-blame and the feelings of self-harm.

There are so many different ways to be assaulted and traumatized, but what matters is that they all end in trauma and the survivors left behind are all equally important. Your needs, your pain, your journey to recovering and moving on and whatever comes next for you, is just as important as every other survivor. It is not your job to feel like you are not entitled to your pain because others have been assaulted in more horrific ways. Those survivors are all dealing in their own way, and you need to deal in yours. Your experience is completely valid, and your current mental state is completely justified. No survivor community will ever oust you our for not having “suffered enough” (which you have, honey, you have!) and your journey to recovery does not require you to acknowledge any kind of privilege or account for others who have been through worse. Surviving is as highly personal as anything else, and while we are all here for you and love you and believe in you and are here if you need us, survival also means surviving on your own path, and that’s the most important thing you can do. Right now you need to put yourself first.

I know how hard it is to have friends who question, even victim blame. It’s the absolute worst, and yes, it can fuck up friendships. Acknowledge that this is a situation I doubt they have much experience in, and whatever you need to hear right now, it’s very unlikely you’re not going to hear it from another survivor. There’s very few ways to communicate the kind of experience you’re going through, and very few ways to properly deal with it, so if you need to create distance from those who are saying things that could hurt you, know it is necessary and justified and okay. Sometimes we feel a need to stay close to those who are saying unintentionally hurtful things because they don’t really mean it and we feel we owe them something. Well, if they’re damaging your recovery, they need distance. Know that the people you have to push away are being replaced by other people around the world who love you, care about you, want to see you through this.

You will get through this, I promise. We all do. We’re survivors, it’s in our job descriptions. If you need anything, feel free to send me a direct message and I can either talk it out with you or point you in the right direction.

Best,

Kate

Full-time writer, part-time lover, freelancing in fancy cheese and cider.

Kate has written 131 articles for us.

31 Comments

  1. This is so timely… I unfortunately got roofied and taken advantage of, at a party where I was practicing all preemptive safety measures (not that prevention is the victim’s responsibility). This happened on Saturday, the 1st.

    Who knew you could put rohypnol in cigarettes?

    I feel lucky that the guy who took advantage of me didn’t get very far, but… It’s still so shitty. Worst part? People saw this happening, and didn’t stop it, until my friend heard that I looked like I was “having a good time.” I’m not sure how a strange man pawing a passed out girl looks like fun, but… Moral of the story: so thankful for best friends, and renewed passion for bystander intervention training!

  2. Thanks for this. You’re very brave to post it, and I’m sorry you were not taken seriously.

    I experienced an assault that didn’t fit the legal definition of rape because there was no penetration at all. A friend (or so I thought) pinned me down and nakedly humped me without penetration. He was much stronger than me and I was in a position where I could not push him off. Plus, I was under the influence of marijuana (by choice) and was having a hard time processing what was happening because I was so confused. I ended up repressing it for a few years and remained friends with the guy, but if I had remembered and told anyone at the time, I can’t imagine they would have understood how. “At least you weren’t penetrated,” people say. But it was still a violation and a betrayal and quite traumatic (traumatic enough to repress).

    It’s scary how many people have been victims of such things, and that’s only the ones we hear about.

  3. this is coming at the most perfect time for me, thank you so so much, my heart goes out to this person, and all of you in the comments talking about it. We have to talk about, we have to take it’s power away.

  4. This is very timely for me as well. To start, I think its really wonderful that we have all been brave enough to speak up about our personal stories. Your bravery in telling your own has emboldened me to tell mine for the first time. Thank you. All of you are so amazing and strong and it has helped me immensely to know I am in good company as a survivor.

    I am in a strange position because my assault happened before my brain was formed enough to make specific visual memories (younger than 4). My whole life I have had panic attacks where I relive the assault and feel somebody is hovering over my bed touching me. Because of my amazing therapist, and a family member who came forward about their own experiences as a child with my abuser, I have just recently sorted out these panic attacks and realized what had happened to me. When my therapist suggested that I might have been sexual abused, the shoe fit so well I almost felt relieved. My whole life I had guilted myself for being mentally unwell, for never feeling like a virgin, for even suggesting to myself in private that I might have been abused. Because my abuser has been dead for ten years there can be no justice for me. All I can hope is that conversations like this one can continue. We are all in the struggle to heal with you. Much love.

  5. I hate how there are ‘standards of’ rape.

    If someone does something most people would consider sexual and/or that they themselves get off on (even if that’s unusual) to someone who isn’t willing/able to consent (age counts as something that stops someone being able to consent, even w hormonal teenagers as the teenage brain isn’t fully developed/mature) that = rape.

    It can be hard for victims/survivors to admit this, fair enough. And victims/survivors ought to deal in their own way however that is. But bystanders ought to quit putting all these stipulations into what is/isn’t rape. If its non consensual then it’s wrong/violence. Non consensual & sexual = rape.

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