Recovery After Sexual Assault

Recovering from sexual violence is a process. Unlike healing a broken bone there is no linear path to recovery with specific treatments and a set healing period. Each person’s way of coping with trauma will differ. Each person will recover at their own pace and by their own means. Recovering from a sexual assault is difficult for everyone. There are many common reactions but there are no rules for how survivors will experience them. Some of the most common paths to recovery include counseling, survivor groups and support from friends and family.

Victims’ Rights

Victims of violence have the right to seek justice. Mason victims can seek justice through criminal, civil, campus judiciary avenues including Student Conduct and/or Title IX procedures. WAVES provides advocacy and support for victims as they navigate their rights and options. For more information about victims’ rights, and the laws and policies that protect them, click here.

Laws & Policies

Keep in mind that as our society focuses too much on legal definitions, many people experience forms of abuse that are not considered “illegal,” but are still harmful. Sexual violence is a continuum of sexual behaviors that are non-consensual, and/or exploitative and may cause emotional, physical and/or psychological harm. For more information about victims’ rights, and the laws and policies that protect them, click here.

Support

Free, Confidential Mason Resources

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) provides confidential short term counseling to GMU students who have been impacted by recent and past incidences of interpersonal violence. You can call 703-993-2380 to make an appointment. Click here for information about the benefits of counseling.

Student Health Services (SHS) provides free medical examinations as well as confidential support during the recovery period following interpersonal violence. SHS can also provide sexually transmitted infections (STI) screening, HIV screening, and/or emergency contraception.

Wellness, Alcohol and Violence Education and Services (WAVES) provides advocacy and support for survivors of interpersonal violence. You can walk in anytime 9-5pm or call our 24-Hour Crisis support line at 703-380-1434.

Free Confidential Local Resources

Alexandria: Sexual Assault and Response Center

Arlington: Department of Human Services Violence Intervention Program 

Fairfax: Office for Women & Domestic and Sexual Violence Services

Front Royal: Harmony Place

Leesburg: LAWS Sexual Assault Services

Prince William: Sexual Assault Victims Advocacy Services (Action in Community Through Service of Prince William, Inc. (ACTS))

The Benefits of Counseling for Sexual Assault Survivors

Defining an incident as sexual assault

Many victims of sexual assault are left feeling confused and unsure of what actually happened, especially if the perpetrator is an acquaintance or dating partner. Counseling offers an opportunity to review the incident in question and clarify whether it actually constituted a sexual assault.

Making decisions about legal and judicial options

Very often, the victim feels unsure about how to proceed in terms of reporting the assault to police, pressing criminal charges, or initiating campus judicial proceedings. The therapist and survivor can discuss various options and arrive at a decision which will be most likely to promote healing and resolution in the Survivor’s circumstance.

Enhancing academic and social functioning

Sexual assault is a traumatic experience that disrupts the victim’s life and may temporarily make it difficult to function at her or his usual level. Counseling can help the survivor develop effective coping strategies that make it more possible to pursue school, work, and social relationships during the period of recovery.

Minimizing negative effects of the assault

Victims of sexual assault typically experience a wide range of feelings, including anger, depression, guilt, and fear. In addition, there may be physical symptoms, difficulties with memory and concentration, nightmares or “flashbacks” of the assault, and disturbances in interpersonal relationships. Generally, counseling provides assistance with “working through” the trauma of sexual assault, with the goal of minimizing negative psychological and social effects so that the survivor can move on with her or his life.

Building social support

A major goal of counseling is to help the survivor build a support network of people. For many, a support group can be an instrumental part of the recovery process. Talking with others who have had the same experience can greatly decrease feelings of shame and isolation. Also, counseling can include one’s partner or family members, as they may need help understanding how to be supportive.

Protecting one’s self from further victimization

Although sexual assault is never the victim’s fault, some people are targeted by perpetrators as “good victims” because they lack assertiveness and have difficulty trusting their own self-protective instincts. Through counseling, the survivor can develop confidence and skills that may decrease the likelihood of being assaulted again.

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