Recovery from sexual assault and/or dating violence involves survivors regaining and maintaining power and control over their safety, their story, and their choices. There are profound disincentives that prevent campus survivors from reporting or filing complaints against perpetrators:
Feeling ashamed to have been assaulted
Fearing that peers or others will victim-blame or side with the perpetrator
Fear of retaliation from the perpetrator, or fear that partner violence will escalate
Not identifying their experiences as violence or sexual assault
Not seeing themselves as crime victims with the right to report
Blaming themselves for the assault
Feeling betrayed by someone they trusted, so not trusting potential helpers
Feeling unworthy of receiving help because of lowered self-esteem
Not wanting the perpetrator to get into trouble
Loving the perpetrator of dating violence despite knowing it’s abuse
Unclear memories of details of assault because shock, date rape drugs or intoxication
Not wanting to disappoint, alarm, or be judged by parents
Fear of campus safety or administrative officers (fear of unfriendly response, or just don’t know what to expect)
Knowing that campus or court proceedings often fail to bring justice to survivors
Fear of the enormity of becoming involved in criminal justice proceedings
Fear of discipline for violations of campus substance use policies
Not reporting may be a symptom of PTSD (avoidance or numbing of memories of the event, or simply being too traumatized to be able to take any action)
Sexual assault and dating violence are acts in which the perpetrator violates consent and takes control over the body and person of the victim. Loss of control is a dehumanizing, destabilizing, and frightening experience. Violent assault robs survivors of their autonomy. If your child has reported to you, they are likely signaling that they consider you a safe confidant. In order to support your child, we suggest you resist telling your child what they should do. Parents may feel strongly compelled to act, to take charge, to produce a certain outcome, to rescue. But this might cause the survivor to feel a further loss of control. Parents can support by: making suggestions, finding resources, giving encouragement, giving guidance when asked, and actively listening to survivor’s needs. Don’t take any action without the survivor’s explicit consent. Survivor’s wishes and choices should remain at the center of any response.For high school students, survivor autonomy must be balanced with consideration of the child’s age, maturity and decision making ability, and safety of the school / social environment.
It is important for parents to assess and address their survivor’s emotional and/or physical safety. Each survivor’s reaction is unique - some have minimal outward struggles; some have distress which impacts daily life; some may be so traumatized that they become unable to care for their own basic needs. A rape crisis center in your area can offer guidance on your childs specific needs.
Survivors of sexual assault and dating violence have their own unique process for coping with the aftermath of their assaults. There are multiple methods to heal, there is no right or wrong way to heal, and there is no clear timeline for healing. Survivors may experience any of the following symptoms, including but not limited to: PTSD, anxiety, stress, insomnia, appetite disturbance, anger, irritability, confusion, lack of focus or concentration, fear of being attacked again, guilt, shame, flashbacks, nightmares, depression, social withdrawal, emotional numbing, or being flooded with emotions. Survivors may also experience symptoms of sexual dysfunction. Though intense, these symptoms are all normal human reactions to trauma. Many survivors must also heal from physical injuries sustained during the assaults. Survivors often use denial as a coping mechanism, suppressing memories of the assaults, trying not to think about it or minimizing the significance of the assault. Survivors of dating violence may enter quickly into a new relationship, in an attempt to reclaim the power they lost to their abuser. Denial in all its forms is a normal, self-protective attempt to maintain the ability to continue functioning as usual. To get through the initial reactions to assault, emotional and physical safety is a prerequisite. Survivors need a ‘safe anchor’ in the storm – people who believe them, validate their experiences, and support them unconditionally and nonjudgmentally. Survivors may or may not seek outside help for healing, including psychotherapy, psychiatric medication, or participation in peer support or group counseling. Often, survivors choose outside help at the point when symptoms of distress produce an overwhelming awareness of the assault, making it difficult to ‘go it alone’. With safety, support, help, and the passage of time, survivors can follow a path of active healing that involves struggling through emotional turmoil towards reclaiming a life that is not overwhelmed by trauma. Survivors can and do recover. Recovery means the trauma is integrated into the survivor’s life story. Healing can bring a survivor to a place where the trauma may resurface with reminders of pain, but the work of healing has brought the survivor insight, wisdom and strength.