The term “sexual violence" is an all-encompassing term that refers to sexual assault, rape, and sexual abuse. While the full scope of sexual violence on college campuses is difficult to measure, recent research indicates that 13% of all students experience nonconsensual sexual contact by physical force or inability to consent. Among undergraduate students, 26.4% of females and 6.8% of males experience sexual assault, and 23.1% of TGQN (transgender, genderqueer, nonconforming) college students have been sexually assaulted. For more statistics and information about sexual violence on college campuses, please visit, www.rainn.org/statistics/campus-sexual-violence.
EMOTIONAL CONSEQUENCES OF SEXUAL ASSAULT
The following emotional consequences of sexual violence are common, and are expected reactions to a traumatic event:
- Shock or Numbness: Common reactions to sexual violence include shock, numbness, feeling emotionally detached, feeling confused, and in a state of disbelief. A person may feel that something very wrong has happened but does not yet know how to understand or make sense of what occurred. It is also common to experience difficulty keeping track of time, making it to class and keeping appointments.
- Fear and Anxiety- Feelings of fear and anxiety typically occur after a sexual assault. The person may fear encountering the assailant and may experience intense distress at reminders of the assault. General fears may emerge as well, such as fear of being alone or leaving one’s room. It is also common to feel keyed up and nervous, to experience panic attacks, or to be unable to sit through class or interact with others.
- Anger- Anger may be directed toward the assailant, the assault itself, the way others reacted, or the systems in place that failed to protect them. Anger may also generalize to daily irritate and irritability.
- Reliving the Memory of What Happened- Reliving or re-experiencing the event in some way is very common. An individual who was sexually assaulted may experience nightmares or “flashbacks,” or have unexpected, intrusive thoughts, images, or sensations associated with the assault.
- Minimizing or Not Believing What Happened- An individual may try to forget the assault and may avoid thinking about it. They may be reluctant to label the experience as an assault or rape. Abuse of alcohol or drugs may result from trying to forget. Many victims who have been sexually assaulted fear not being believed, and they may therefore avoid reporting the assault to authorities or sharing the experience with friends and family who could provide support.
- Self-Blame and Guilt- Many individuals feel that they are to blame for what happened. Self-reproach about incidents leading up to the assault, or not doing enough to prevent it is common. It is important to recognize that freezing or emotionally shutting down during a sexual assault is a common way that the mind deals with a serious threat. It is important to remember that a victim is not responsible for being assaulted.
- Shame- Many individuals experience a sense of shame. This shame contributes to feeling isolated from others and may translate into a sense of feeling “dirty”, damaged, or undesirable. Many individuals want to shower or bathe immediately after the assault, and there may be an ongoing concern with cleanliness.
- Depression and Sleep Difficulties- Symptoms of depression are common, including sleep problems, fatigue and difficulty concentrating. Sleeplessness at night or an increased need for sleep, depression, anxiety, and withdrawal can lead to academic crises.
- Loss of Trust and Relationship Difficulties- One may lose the ability to trust and rely on others. Isolation, withdrawal and interpersonal conflicts in friendships and family relationships are also common after sexual assault. Fearing dating situations as well as sexual difficulties are also common.
- A Sense of Loss of Control- The individual may feel powerless and helpless as a result of the assault.
- Physical Problems- Emotional consequences of the violence may emerge as physical symptoms, such as stomach distress, headaches, or muscle tension.
HELPING A FRIEND WHO HAS BEEN SEXUALLY ASSAULTED
- Provide empathy, comfort, and support.
- Validate their emotions and assure them that the victim is NOT responsible for an assault.
- Offer help connecting the individual to medical help and/or crisis resources on campus, such as The Student Health Center or the Sexual Assault Resource Coordinator, both of which are available 24/7. (see more details at https://www1.villanova.edu/university/sexual-misconduct/support.html)
- Suggest that seeking help from a mental health professional can aid in the healing process. The University Counseling Center offers free confidential resources.
 Rainn.org ( Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network RAINN)
David Cantor, Bonnie Fisher, Susan Chibnall, Reanna Townsend, et. al. Association of American Universities (AAU), Report on the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct (January 17, 2020). ("Victim services agency” is defined in this study as a “public or privately funded organization that provides victims with support and services to aid their recovery, offer protection, guide them through the criminal justice process, and assist with obtaining restitution.” RAINN presents this data for educational purposes only, and strongly recommends using the citations to review any and all sources for more information and detail.)