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Recovering from sexual assault in a society of rape culture

Rape culture is a culture where sexual violence is considered normal. Contrary to popular opinion, sexual violence towards women (and men) does not always happen in an inherently violent setting. Many times, sexual violence (an umbrella term for rape, sexual assault, and sexual abuse) happens from someone the victim is close with, for example a friend or significant other. Rape culture encompasses a variety of circumstances, from disrespectful practices such as “cat calling”, to explicit violence like rape and battery.  

 

While it is considered a “taboo” topic, sexual violence is extremely prevalent on university campuses. Among graduate and undergraduate students, it has been reported that 11.2% of students have been sexually assaulted through physical violence, force, or incapacitation (rainn.org). Force is not necessarily physical pressure. It can be also be considered emotional coercion, psychological force, or manipulation. Something else to note is that while rape is considered a form of sexual assault, not all sexual assault is considered rape (rainn.org). Sexual assault is defined as sexual contact or behaviour that occurs without explicit consent of the victim (rainn.org).  

 

While I am not an expert on sexual violence, below are five steps that may be helpful when recovering from sexual assault.  

 

1. Remember it is not your fault 

If you wore a revealing outfit, it is not your fault. If you took a drink from somebody, it is not your fault. If you were walking home alone at night, it is not your fault. One thing causes sexual violence, sexual offenders. As well, try not to compare yourself to others. Just because your assault doesn’t seem “as bad” as others you know of, it does not delegitimize the situation.  

 

2. Try telling someone 

Someone you trust, whether it is a family member, close friend, etc. Although reliving the scenario is difficult, opening up to others can help you feel like a weight has been lifted. Of course, only do this is if you feel ready.  

 

3. Consider reporting your sexual assault 

This isn’t for everybody. The legal system has its flaws, and this can be seen in those who report sexual violence. Unfortunately, sexual assault is typically a “he said, she said” situation, and without physical proof, it is difficult to prove a case of sexual assault. On the other hand, it can be incredibly healing and even provide closure to have your perpetrator charged. And remember it is ok to choose not to report your sexual assault. It does not make you “weaker” than those who do choose to report. 

 

4. Consider counselling services 

Easier said than done, going to counselling services may be beneficial when recovering from trauma. Support groups are also available, which can provide a sense of community. In addition, if suffering from depression, anxiety, or PTSD following assault, it may help to visit your family doctor to discuss prescription options. 

 

5. Find your passion and enjoy the things you once did before your assault 

Self-care is always important, but especially following trauma. Although it is difficult, engaging in activities you enjoy and/or causes you are passionate about can improve mental health as a whole, aiding in recovery following sexual assault. Put yourself first and allow yourself to heal. As well, for many individuals, becoming an advocate for sexual violence following assault can be liberating. 

 

Recovering from sexual assault is a timely process that can take years. Remember you are not alone and that your sexual assault does not define you. In today’s culture, or more specifically rape culture, sexual assault is not always taken seriously. Thankfully though, at the University of Guelph there are a variety of options available to aid in recovery following sexual assault. Please visit https://www.uoguelph.ca/sexualviolence/resources for a full list of resources and services available for those affected by sexual violence. 

 

Sydney is a first-year graduate student at the University of Guelph. She has a strong interest in neuroscience, reproductive biology, and veterinary medicine. Her articles consist of a variety of topics, most notably feminism and sexual/domestic violence awareness.
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