TRIGGER WARNING: sexual assault
Sexual assault refers to any sexual behaviour without consent that makes a person feel uncomfortable, threatened or scared. This also encompasses coercion and sexual advances after consent is withdrawn.
According to Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) Sexual Assault Care Centre, sexual assault includes:
- Any penetration without consent (eg. vaginal, oral or anal), using any part of the body (penis, fingers) or object.
- Any unwanted sexual touching, stroking, kissing, groping, etc.
- Unwanted sexual requests, messages or gestures, including electronically, in the workplace or elsewhere.
- Being made to view pornography against your will.
- Unwanted taking and/or sharing of nude or intimate photographs or videos, eg. upskirting.
Most importantly, if you are a victim of sexual assault, know that you are not at fault. No one has the right to violate you no matter what you wore, how you were behaving, how much you have had to drink, or your sexual history.
What to do after the assault:
After a sexual assault incident, try your best to recall everything that happened ⎯ when and where did it happen, and the facial features and clothing of the offender. It is strongly advised that you lodge a police report and if need be, seek medical attention. Nevertheless, these steps may be extremely daunting and cause distress; it is completely understandable if you do not wish to.
You may be experiencing intense emotions of disgust and shame. Although it may be uncomfortable, you should not avoid experiencing them. Acceptance towards these emotions is critical for recovery. Accepting your emotions and the assault does not mean blaming yourself for what happened. Rather, it is about being able to accept that what happened was out of your control.
Reaction to the assault:
It also common for sexual assault victims to experience traumatic flashbacks. Being more aware of some potential triggers (eg. location of the assault) can help you make sense of why you feel that way and enable you to better cope. If you experience a panic attack, attempt breathing and grounding (ie. tapping your arms, naming things around you) exercises to help calm you down. These exercises can help you differentiate the flashback from reality.
It is okay if you do not feel ready to share or talk to someone about what has happened. However, bottling up your experience may be very suffocating. We recommend that you speak to a loved one, join a closed support group or even share your story online anonymously. You may not want to talk about sexual assault specifically, but you can still stay connect with people around you; it is important not to isolate yourself from others.
When should you seek professional help?
Experiences of sexual assault is associated with mental disorders such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety disorders. If you feel that the repercussions of the incident are debilitating and taking over your life, seek help from a mental health professional.
How can I support someone who has been sexually assaulted?
- Be a listening ear
- Focus less on “fixing” the person, but rather just listen to what they are willing to share
- Avoid blaming the victim, minimising the situation or saying things like:
- “Cheer up”
- “Don’t cry”
- “At least you weren’t…”
- “Why did you do that?”
- Instead, use phrases like:
- “Thank you for sharing.”
- “You are not to blame for what happened to you.”
- “You didn’t deserve what happened to you.”
- “What do you need the most right now? How can I help?”
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