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Sexual contact that occurs without the explicit
consent of the recipient of the behavior. Such contact can take the form
- Forcing a person to pose for sexual pictures
- Unwanted sexual touching or penetration with any
In the most extreme cases, sexual assault may involve
force which may include but is not limited to:
- Use or display of a weapon
- Physical battering
- Immobilization of the victim
More often, however, sexual assault involves
psychological coercion and taking advantage of an individual who is under duress
or incapacitated and, therefore, incapable of making a decision on his/her own
(including under the influence of alcohol, drugs and/or prescription
Sexual assault is a crime motivated by a need to
control, humiliate and harm. Perpetrators use sexual assault as a weapon to hurt
and dominate others.
Common Reactions to Sexual Assault
- Loss of control
- Sense of vulnerability
- Self-blame/guilt for "allowing" the crime to happen
- Feeling that these reactions are a sign of weakness
Rape Trauma Syndrome
Rape Trauma Syndrome is a common reaction to a rape
or sexual assault. It is the human reaction to an unnatural or extreme event.
There are three phases to Rape Trauma
- Acute Phase: This phase occurs immediately after the
assault and usually lasts a few days to several weeks. In this phase individuals
can have many reactions but they typically fall into three categories of
- Expressed- This is when the survivor is openly
emotional. He or she may appear agitated or hysterical, he or she may suffer
from crying spells or anxiety attacks.
- Controlled- This is when the survivor appears to be
without emotion and acts as if “nothing happened” and “everything is fine.” This
appearance of calm may be shock.
- Shocked Disbelief- This is when the survivor reacts
with a strong sense of disorientation. He or she may have difficulty
concentrating, making decisions, or doing everyday tasks. He or she may also
have poor recall of the assault.
- The Outward Adjustment Phase: During this phase the
individual resumes what appears to be his or her “normal” life but inside is
suffering from considerable turmoil. In this phase there are five primary coping
- Minimization- Pretends that “everything is fine” or
that “it could have been worse.”
- Dramatization- Cannot stop talking about the assault
and it is what dominates their life and identity.
- Suppression- Refuses to discuss, acts as if it did
- Explanation- Analyzes what happened- what the
individual did, what the rapist was thinking/feeling.
- Flight- Tries to escape the pain (moving, changing
jobs, changing appearance, changing relationships, etc.).
There are many symptoms or behaviors that appear
during this phase including:
- Continuing anxiety
- Severe mood swings
- Sense of helplessness
- Persistent fear or phobia
- Difficulty sleeping (nightmares, insomnia, etc.)
- Eating difficulties (nausea, vomiting, compulsive
- Withdrawal from friends, family, activities
- Reluctance to leave house and/or go places that
remind the individual of the assault
- Sexual problems
- Difficulty concentrating
All of these symptoms and behaviors may make the
individual more willing to seek counseling and/or to discuss the
- The Resolution Phase: During this phase the assault
is no longer the central focus of the individual’s life. While he or she may
recognize that he or she will never forget the assault; the pain and negative
outcomes lessen over time. Often the individual will begin to accept the rape as
part of his or her life and chooses to move on.
This model assumes that individuals will take steps forward and backwards in
their healing process and that while there are phases it is not a linear
progression and will be different for every person.