Helping you get through tough times

Sexual assault and rape

Sexual assault and rape are crimes that affect women, men and children. The trauma of an attack can have many short and long-term effects on the survivor’s life.

girl cryingAfter a sexual attack, a survivor can feel isolated by their trauma.

If you have experienced sexual assault, don’t try to deal with the pain alone.

It can be hard to deal with it, or to discuss it with others.

Talking to an experienced counsellor or support group to acknowledge your experience will help you stop feeling so alone.

This helps you to understand how the assault has affected you.

For information on counselling services and support groups, contact the Rape Crisis Help site for 24-hour advice and nationwide support.

What is sexual assault?

Rape

Any degree of sexual penetration, however slight, without consent.

Sexual assault

Any unwanted sexual contact. It’s not just about physical violence.

Using fear or threats to make someone do things they don’t want to do is assault.

Aggravated sexual assault

Sexual assault involving serious violence or the serious threat of violence.

Rape offences and aggravated sexual assault both carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Why do people commit sexual assault?

People who commit sexual assault don’t do it for physical pleasure, but to assert control over someone else.

Some offenders have been abused themselves in the past, but this isn’t always the case.

There’s no evidence that being a survivor of a sexual assault means you’re more likely to become a perpetrator.

Sexual assault is a crime and is never justified.

It is never the fault of the victim.

Reporting the crime

Many survivors of a sexual assault or rape have been attacked by a family member or an acquaintance, so it can be difficult for them to tell the authorities.

If you are raped, you must remember at all times you’re not to blame.

You haven’t committed any crime. The rapist has. Report the crime so that the offender can be prevented from attacking anyone else.

In the case of a rape or sexual assault that has just happened, here are some points to remember:

Contact the Rape Crisis Help site or their 24-hour, national, confidential helpline on 1800 778888 to talk with an experienced counsellor. They will help you decide what happens next and support you in what you decide to do.

You can also call this number to arrange face-to-face counselling.

They will also be able to give you information about your nearest specialist Sexual Assault Treatment Unit (SATU) and closest Rape Crisis Centre.

If you’re thinking about reporting the attack, don’t wash until after you’ve had a medical examination because important forensic evidence may be washed away.

Don’t wash or discard underwear or clothes you were wearing during the attack. These will be needed for forensic examination.

What comes after?

In the aftermath of a sexual assault, everyone reacts differently. There are a range of immediate, short-term, and long-term effects on a survivor’s physical and emotional wellbeing:

Shock and denial

Men and women who have been raped or sexually assaulted may not be able to deal with their feelings right away, so they may not seem visibly upset. This is probably because the situation doesn’t feel real to them yet.

They may be in denial. The mind’s way of protecting itself from shock. As time passes, and perhaps with the help of a counsellor, they’ll begin to come to acknowledge the reality of what they’ve been through.

Fear and anxiety

They may develop a fear or being alone, a fear of men or even fear of retaliation by the offender. They might also fear their friends and family will think less of them because of what’s happened.

Feeling unable to talk about it

Talking about it might make it seem more real and they mightn’t be ready for that. Also they could feel like they’ll be judged or rejected for what they say.

Depression

Survivors of a sexual assault may sink into a depression. They may feel as if life will never be the same again.

Guilt

They may blame themselves for what happened, feeling they put themselves in harm’s way or they “asked for it”, by walking alone at night. A counsellor will help them realise the attack wasn’t their fault. They were the victim of a crime.

Insecurity

They may feel unworthy of the love of their friends and family. Their experience may leave them feeling ashamed. They may prefer to be alone with their pain than accept the comfort of loved ones.

Nightmares and flashbacks

Images and memories of the assault may intrude on daily life and appear in their dreams.

Mood swings

Feelings of intense anger against their attacker or themselves might give way to sadness and despair that things will never be the same again.

Fear of intimacy

Someone who has been raped or sexually assaulted may find it hard to be intimate with their partner. They may associate sex with the trauma they’ve experienced and be unable to enjoy it for some time afterwards as a result.

It can be difficult to trust someone when your boundaries have been violated.

Male survivors

In the past, rape and sexual assault were viewed mainly as attacks against women and girls. We now know that’s not true. The Rape Crisis Network of Ireland reporting that 15 % of its calls come from men, but male sexual assault is still something that’s not often talked about.

Adult men can be sexually assaulted by both male and female perpetrators, and often find it hard to report the crime because of a sense of shame.

The shame might come from old-fashioned stereotypes that “real men” aren’t victims of sexual assault, that a “real man” should be able to defend himself. However, the fear and shock of an assault can render even the strongest of men unable to fight back.

Outdated attitudes make it harder for men to talk about their trauma, for fear of being thought less of a man. In addition, when a man is sexually assaulted, he may become aroused as an involuntary physical response to what’s happening.

This can lead to more feelings of shame, and confusion about sexual identity, all of which should be talked about with a counsellor.

The counsellors at the National Sexual Violence Helpline, 1800 778888, can often arrange for male counsellors to meet with male survivors of sexual assault.

Talking to someone can help.

Getting help

Recovering from a sexual assault or rape can take a long time. While a survivor won’t be able to forget what they’ve been through, counselling can help bring them to a place where the event no longer overshadows their daily life.

With a counsellor, survivors can voice their pain openly, in a way they may not feel comfortable doing with their close friends and family. No matter how much those people may want to help.

Counselling is also available to the partner and family of a survivor, who may be experiencing considerable shock, as well as feelings of helplessness in the face of the other person’s trauma.

The aftermath of a sexual assault is too hard to deal with on your own.

No matter how upsetting it will be to talk about what happened, it’s the best way to come to terms with the pain. Contact the Rape Crisis Help site on their national helpline 1800 778888 to talk with an experienced counsellor.

Staying safe

Sexual assault can happen anywhere, at any time. The victims of rape often know the perpetrator, in which case it can be difficult to protect themselves.

These tips won’t guarantee your safety but are worth following as a general rule.

Remember, if you haven’t followed this advice, and are the victim of an assault, you are completely blameless. You are not responsible for what happened. The victim is never to blame.

  • Socialise at night in a group, not alone.
  • Only drink alcohol with people you feel safe with. Look out for your friends and help them stay safe. Check out drink spiking for more.
  • Always let someone know (parents, brother/sister, housemate) where you’re going, when you’ll be home and if your plans have changed.
  • Don’t drink so much that you feel out of control. It’s easier for someone to draw you away from your friends if you’re not in control. Check out low-risk drinking for more.
  • Avoid being alone and isolated with someone you don’t know well. If you start feeling uncomfortable with someone, follow your instincts and get to a safe place as soon as possible.
  • For emergency situations that require immediate and urgent assistance call 999.

This article was last reviewed on 03 May 2017

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