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Being raped is one of the most traumatic things that can happen to us. Yet being raped in what we may consider our safe place, i.e. our university or college campus, exacerbates the trauma. Most often the person is someone we know and may even like or have dated. As a result, we might feel incredible confusion about the experience, doubting ourselves and our own memory.
Regardless, no means no, and stop means stop.
Specific Concerns of Campus Rape
Seeing the rapist on campus every day and seeing others talking to him as if nothing has happened is further traumatizing. The fear of reporting the rapist increases; because he is someone’s roommate, fraternity brother, or a friend of other students, we might have a harder time speaking up.
The person himself may behave as if nothing has happened, and seeing this behavior on a regular basis is devastating. It can often prompt questions to ourselves like: “am I crazy?”, “did it not really happen?”, “did I imagine it?”.
Although these are sometimes common thoughts for those who have been raped under different circumstances, the casualness and the frequent sightings of the attacker heightens this even more.
If we share with friends or roommates what happened, sometimes they are supportive and understanding, and this can help us to work through the emotional trauma, however if our friends are skeptical or say that “they can’t imagine that Johnny would do such a thing” or “he must have been drunk”, then it further maximizes the trauma and minimizes our emotions.
Fears of Reporting
There might be a question whether to report the rape to the school – this is often a dilemma for many women who have been raped. Often we just want to forget about what happened and move on, yet we know that there is no forgetting. Also, the fear that we will not be believed or the fear that the person will not be reprimanded in any fashion is a scary prospect.
Sometimes it’s too traumatizing to imagine going through the campus trial process. We often fear that if we report the incident, then our own motives might be questioned, and our own sexual history examined and brought into the light.
For instance, if we were drinking that night, and then knowingly went home with the rapist, and might even have engaged in some level of sexual foreplay, it might be hard for us to then tell another (whether that be a counselor or a campus authority), that we THEN decided not to go further. Even though, the reality is at any stage no still means no.
The fear of not wanting our parents, our friends, and our communities to know that we might have possibly willingly participated in at least some level of sexual play preceding the rape, whether that be kissing or fondling, may be enough to keep a woman from speaking up.
We might feel that unless we are one hundred percent “innocent” in the encounter, then we don’t deserve to speak up for ourselves – as if the only legitimate type of rape is one in which a masked stranger jumps out at us from the bushes.
But in reality, over 80% of rapes are “acquaintance rapes”, one in which the woman knows her attacker. And, even though the rape may not have been as violent in nature as the ones commonly depicted on television, it is still as emotionally damaging and is still rape.
Reporting the Rape
Reporting a rape is not necessary to fully recover from the emotional trauma of rape, however women who do make this choice report that they feel relief and feel as if they are empowering themselves to do something about what occurred.
In addition, reporting the rape can give us a sense of justice, and allow other women to feel as if there is recourse. This can further give us a sense that what we are doing by speaking out is important.
For some, it is hard to imagine not reporting it, and for others they feel that they cannot report it all. There is a whole spectrum and wherever one finds one’s self, it is normal and fully acceptable.
There is no right answer to report or not to report; each woman needs to process that decision in terms of what is going to be best for her healing. Indeed, sometimes it may be hard to tell others about what happened for fear that they will push us towards a certain course of action, despite what we want.
Many Different Paths to Recovery
There is no right or wrong way to recover from the trauma of a rape. We may be angry or depressed, we may feel numb or scared, and sometimes all of these within the span of a single day. Regardless of what we are feeling, though, with time and care, healing is possible.
Advice from Tonya G. J. Prince, a rape survivor and speaker, reminds us to celebrate the small moments in life every day, those that tell us that life is not all about one negative experience, but also about the smaller pleasures that still bring us joy.
In addition, we can allow ourselves to feel our entire range of emotions, and to accept and experience each one without censorship or denial. It is okay to feel angry, upset, sad, a sense of loss or hurt, and to give ourselves permission to experience each emotion in a safe and supportive place.
Seeking Help For Rape Trauma
As with any type of trauma, speaking with a trusted and experienced professional psychotherapist can be a large part of the healing process.
At Nassau Guidance & Counseling, we have worked with many survivors of campus rapes, helping each to heal the trauma, and once again find joy in life. We open our hearts to you and hope that you will reach out to find the help you need.