Rape only happens in dark alleys in dangerous
areas of town to people who have asked for it. Wrong! Rape's
main victims are adult women. Wrong again!
Estimatesbased on current statistics on
sexual violenceare that one in three girls as well as
one in seven boys will be assaulted before they reach their
18th birthday. Sexual assault includes, but is not limited to,
Why is Youth Update considering this issue?
The U.S. bishops have urged young people to confront the "culture
of violence." Sexual assault is one form such violence can take.
Rape is not about love gone awry, but about power gone astray.
We need skills to be powerful in a positive way, so that we
can prevent violence of every kind.
If, sadly, violence enters our lives or the lives
of our friends, we need skills to survive and recover. We also
need the strength of our faith to remind us of our priceless
value as human persons, individuals held dear by God.
Who Is a Victim?
Some crimes seem easy to define: murder, bank
robbery, kidnapping. But victims of sexual assault are often
unsure if what they've experienced should be characterized as
assault. One reason for this is that 84 percent of the time
the perpetrator or attacker is an acquaintance if not a relative
Janet was 12 when a 16-year-old friend of the
family began assaulting her. "I didn't know what was happening
was abusive," remembers Janet. "Oh sure, I knew Mom and Dad
wouldn't like it. I knew it had to be kept secret, but it's
not like I was tied up or held down when it happened."
Janet was repeatedly fondled by this family friend
from age 12 to 14. She says, "It felt wrong, but I wasn't sure
why. He was always so nice to me. I hated it, but I was scared."
Janet kept quiet about her assault because she was confused.
You don't have to share in her confusion.
Sexual assault does not mean only rape. It also
includes any unwanted sexual act that is attempted or completed
against you. Janet worried that she had not resisted enough.
The power used against her was the power of age, of strength,
of secrecy. It was wrong.
Shame, Guilt, Fear
Linda, only 13 when she was assaulted, was also
confused about what had happened to her. "I didn't know what
people would think of me," says Linda. "I felt dirty, sinful
and like I was changed....Like I could keep it a secret, but
I would never be whole again. Anyway, I was too ashamed to do
anything but just try to forget the whole thing."
Linda's experience of shame is not uncommon. Rev.
Bill Nicholson (a neuropsychologist in Bay City, Michigan) helps
us to understand these feelings. He says, "Our bodies are sacred.
Our souls are sacred. When we are violated in any way, that
sacred feeling [feels as though it] is destroyed. We feel dirty
and unclean. What was done was more than a physical violation.
It was a violation of our very selves. That is why the pain
is so deep and the shame is so great."
Feelings of shame are often accompanied by feelings
of responsibility for the assault, as well as guilt, fear and
anger. Colleen Sproul, M.S.W., is the sexual assault program
supervisor for Child and Family Services in Saginaw, Michigan.
She believes, "Sexual assault is the only crime where the victim
may be treated as the guilty party. These feelings may be very
strong, especially if you know who your assailant is. You may
feel guilt because you were not able to stop or predict the
Janet remembers, "I felt like I was really as
much to blame for the whole thing as he was. I mean, I didn't
do anything to stop it. I told him I thought it was wrong, that
he shouldn't be touching me in those places, but I didn't stop
him. I didn't like it. It was horrible, but I still didn't stop
Linda says, "It took me a long time to tell my
parents what happened to me....If I had gone to the police right
away maybe something could have been done....By the time I went
to my parents it was too late and they told me to just keep
quiet about the whole thing. I think their response made me
feel the most ashamed."
Just as people have different personalities, likes
and dislikes, each person deals with trauma in a different manner.
Sproul says, "Following a sexual assault, you may find your
life-style disrupted....You may have difficulty concentrating.
You may not want to return to school or be with old friends.
You may experience a change in your appetite, become depressed
or have nightmares."
Nicholson says, "None of us can say that we know
just how you feel, because none of us are you. Only you can
know what this event has done to you. But those of us who care
about you care a great deal, and want you to know that our caring
for you hasn't changed. Even though this terrible thing has
happened...you haven't changed in our eyes."
What Are the Health Risks?
Survivors of assault don't want further invasion,
and suspect that medical care will be just that. "I couldn't
imagine going to a cold, sterile hospital to be poked and prodded
after what happened to me," says Linda. "I just wanted to take
a long, hot shower and hide in bed all day." It can be
difficult to seek the necessary medical attention. It is, nonetheless,
Judy Huett-Harris, a registered nurse, cautions,
"There are actually four health risks that should be addressed
following a sexual assault: sexually transmitted diseases (including
HIV), possible pregnancy, physical trauma and psychological
trauma. The emergency room (ER) or clinic may make arrangements
for a counselor to speak with the victim." Three of these issues
require a medical exam. If you've been assaulted or are helping
a friend who has been, you should not shower or even change
clothes. After an assault, Huett-Harris says, "You should immediately
go to an ER. After you have been examined, the ER will likely
call the police for you."
If you are assaulted in any way, don't let fear
stop you from seeking help. Huett-Harris adds, "I would encourage
a young girl to go to a female professional who would be a good
listener and still be able to meet the person's medical needs."
Linda remembers, "I was afraid the doctors would
be too cold and treat me like a thing, you know." Huett-Harris
responds, "Even though the ER seems like a harsh place, there
are people there who care about you and what has happened to
you. It is important to make sure you are all right first and
then, secondarily, document what has happened." Only by gathering
physical evidence against the assailant can he or she be stopped
from hurting someone else. That evidence is affected, sometimes
lost, by your delay, by your taking time to clean yourself up
and calm down.
Can a Guy Be Sexually Assaulted?
When most people think of sexual assault, they
think of a female victim and a male assailant. The belief that
sexual assault happens only to females, however, is a misconception.
When he was walking home, Jon, 14, was attacked
by three other students from his school. He was ambushed behind
an abandoned building, repeatedly raped and also violated with
the wooden handle of a snow scraper. Jon's physical injuries
were extensive, but his emotional injuries were even more profound.
When a young man is assaulted, there are some
special issues to consider. A male victim may be afraid to tell
others out of fear that he will be ridiculed for being unable
to defend himself. Some may fear that their sexual orientation
will be questioned. Sproul says, "Many people wrongly believe
that assaults against men are committed only by, or primarily
by, homosexual men and that only homosexual men are raped. Both
of these are myths, not facts, but they may affect the way others
treat you and they may affect the way you feel about the assault
and about yourself."
If you have been assaulted, you may wish to request
a male counselor at a crisis center as well as a male nurse
at the hospital or clinic. There are also support groups available
especially for male survivors.
Sproul urges male victims to remember that "...strong
or weak, outgoing or withdrawn, homosexual or heterosexual,
young or old, you have done nothing that justifies this violent
attack. No matter what you said or did, no matter what you wore,
you did not ask for or deserve to be sexually assaulted. This
assault has nothing to do with your present or future sexual
orientation. Sexual assault is a crime of violence and power,
not lust or passion."
In the last few years, date rape has become more
publicized and recognized as a potential high-risk situation
for teens. Rachel was 18 when she went on a date with Peter,
whom she'd known for several years. "We knew each other from
the time we were kids," Rachel remembers. "Although we went
to different schools during our elementary years, I had classes
with him in high school. Anyway, I'd known him a long time.
I felt safe going out with him. But I guess I was wrong about
Rachel's first date with Peter was also her last.
The date went well until Peter returned to her house with her.
"I never suspected that I was in danger," says Rachel, "and
I wasn't especially worried once we pulled into my parents'
drivewaybut that's when he changed.
"He slid over on the car seat next to me and kissed
me. I had decided that he was a nice guy, but I wasn't attracted
to him, so when I didn't respond to his kiss he started to place
my hands on his shoulders and kissed me again. I said I thought
it was time to say goodnight, and that's when he reached over
and locked my door. I started to get nervous, but I was afraid
to say anythingI didn't want him to think I was a nut.
Besides, I just couldn't believe that I could be in danger from
someone I'd known so long.
"Anyway, I tried to get him talking, but it didn't
work. I started to panic when he held my wrists and started
to force me down on the seat....We were in my driveway and my
parents were home, but it didn't matter. When it was over and
he finally let me out, he acted like nothing happened and I
never told anybody."
Rachel turned to God following her experience
with Peter. "I prayed so hard that God would take the pain away....I
couldn't understand what I had ever done to deserve this." Like
Rachel, Linda and Janet also struggled with questions of why
this had happened to them. Jesus had a similar struggle with
evil when he was on earth.
Nicholson responds, "What happened to you was
terrible. It was not supposed to happen to you. It shouldn't
happen to anyone. I'm sure you never dreamed it would happen
to you, but it did. You cry out 'why' and I have no answer."
Linda says of her experience of assault, "No matter
why it happened to me, I felt like an outcastruined, dirty
and sinful. It was only after counseling that I found my way
back to myself, and it took equally as long for me to accept
the fact that God still loved me and was there for me."
As Nicholson guides the victims of sexual assault
through the healing process, he encourages them to remember
that God still cares for them, no matter what has happened in
their lives. If you have experienced sexual assault, Nicholson's
words have special power: "This terrible thing has hurt you
deeply, and you probably feel like something inside of you has
died, that you are no longer the same person, that the ugly
experience has made you ugly and no one will ever love and care
for you again. But we care. We cared for you before, we care
for you now in your pain, and we will care for you....You are
too precious and...we will not allow what has happened to you
to destroy you or destroy our feelings for you."
In summary, if you experience sexual assault or
physical violence of any kind, first seek medical attention
immediately. Don't allow anyone to talk you out of this!
Second, those who help you recover physically
will probably be sensitive to your need for reassurance, counseling
and support from your pastor, youth minister or school chaplain.
If not, express your need.
Third, identify more ways to act out of love in
your own life. Every positive action you take leaves that much
less room for anger, violence and abuse. Pray for those who
have been hurt through the violence of others and for those
who have injured them.
We should not accept the continuation of violencephysical
or emotionalin our world, but we need to believe in our
power to recover and continue to contribute to a world that
needs us very much.