Note: this post addresses the nature of sexual assault. There are no pictures or graphics included.
Sexual assault and sexual harassment are in focus as national news of the Kavanaugh-Ford hearing and supreme court nomination delay hit Friday September 28 2018.
In the week leading up to the emotional testimony of both parties and the initial conclusions of the senators present, the number of calls to the National Sexual Assault hotline spiked somewhere between 147% and 201%. Two women were captured on video cameras confronting Senator Jeff Flake, sharing their own stories of sexual assault, as he made his way back to the hearing room.
As a mental health counselor who sees clients who frequently report sexual assault, abuse, and harassment during their therapy sessions, let me emphatically underline this statement. My treatment process for victims of sexual assault are a non-partisan, non-political process. Sexual assault happens to men, women, and children globally, not just in America; it’s is a human rights issue without national boundary. However, it’s unconscionable to say nothing out of fear it will be misinterpreted as national political bias.
I have written this short post without links to any news media in order to make my point clearer. This is a post about sexual assault, not about opinion or politics.
Sexual assault is a human problem, not just a politicized one. However, to respond humanely to the problem, action must travel through our political system, and currently, the American political system is a wretched mess.
Sexual assault is also complex to define in legal terms and interpretations, and it’s that complexity that has many people arguing at what it is and isn’t, even in court. At bare minimum, sexual assault involves sexual contact or behavior that occurs without affirmative consent. While that may sound cut-and-dry to some, others find that baffling enough to ask whether a particular incident constitutes sexual assault.
The following story and details have been changed to provide anonymity. I remember talking to a friend on the phone as she made her way down a busy street. All of sudden she screamed, and I found myself shouting, “Are you alright? Do you need me to call the police? What’s happening?” She promptly told me she was OK, and that a man had walked up to her and violently touched her body and then ran away. When I urged her to call the police to report it, she laughed me off and assured me that she didn’t want to take any action, saying that this kind of behavior happened to her all her life.
Based on what happened to this friend, she had, by definition, been sexually assaulted in broad daylight. Her choice to interpret what happened as something to brush off because it happened so frequently without any consequences reminds me that there are millions of people who have been victims of sexual assault and violence, many of whom never come forward even in the case of rape and other forms of bodily harm. Many think that they won’t be believed, or that they will be harmed and ridiculed for coming forward.
In my day-to-day practice, it isn’t my process to talk about politics. Clients may bring up a political subject at their own discretion, but as a therapist, I do not lead with any subject of my own. It is, however, part of my practice to welcome and invite anyone who wishes to talk about sexual assault, harassment, and abuse, to listen empathetically, to believe the victim, and to discuss pathways for action, for healing, and for hope.
If you or a loved one has been the victim of sexual assault or think you have been the victim of sexual assault and are not sure, I urge you to seek help.
Available 24 hours everyday
This is a free and confidential service.
2. Seek follow up therapy.
You can find a qualified therapist in your area to talk to about what happened and what you can do in the wake of a sexual assault, or about a past incident of sexual assault.
3. Talk to a trusted friend who will listen.
A trusted friend can help support you and provide needed care in the wake of an assault. A friend can also accompany you if/when you seek medical treatment and contact the police for your statement. In the midst of fear and trauma, having a friend to rely on is essential.
4. You don’t have to struggle alone.
Due in part to the #metoo movement and other emerging stories of sexual harassment, there are more options available to gather with others who have experienced similar events. Whether sexual assault and abuse happened to you as a choir boy in the church or in privacy of a consensual moment that turned into a non-consensual one, there are organizations that host groups for the victims of sexual assault and sexual abuse who meet in nearly every city across America.
Post-Script: I could write an entire chapter or two on the topic of shame and its place in stifling memory, confession, and heightening or diminishing emotional display, but then I digress.
At Seattle Direct Counseling, we have a simple motto: we’re here to help.