If you have been sexually assaulted
If you have experienced an event that you think may be sexual assault, don't worry about defining your experience at this moment. It is important to care for yourself, and to seek help from others who can care for you. There are a wide array of emergency and long-term resources to support you.
Emergency information: what to do immediately following a sexual assault
Immediate Safety and Support
- Go to a safe place—your own room, a friend’s room, a CRA's apartment, or anywhere you will feel safe.
- Call someone you trust. No matter how late it is, you should not be alone. Call a close friend, your roommate, your residential life staff or CRA, or the WomenSafe Hotline (1-800-388-4205). WomenSafe offers trained volunteers who can meet with you in person to provide immediate support and information at any time. WomenSafe provides care and support for individuals of all gender identities and sexual orientations.
- You can also contact a counselor. Counselors are a confidential resources who can help you sort through your immediate needs, provide emotional support, and help you to connect with other emergency resources. All members of the counseling staff have training and experience with individuals in crisis. There is always a counselor on call through Public Safety, ext. 5911. You don't need to disclose the nature of your emergency to Public Safety; you just need to provide a phone number at which you can be reached. If you already have a relationship with a member of Middlebury's counseling staff, an effort will be made to connect you with that individual if possible. If that person is not available, or you have not worked with one of Middlebury's counselors before, you will be connected with a counselor from the Counseling Service of Addison County, which partners with the College for after-hours care. You do not need to commit to a long-term therapeutic relationship with a counselor in order to access this kind of confidential support at any time.
- Please seek immediate medical care. If you may be injured, and/or if you would like to collect possible evidence of an assault, please seek medical care as soon as possible. Even if you do not feel physical pain, you may have internal injuries that cannot be immediately seen or felt. Men who have been sexually assaulted may be more likely to sustain injuries when assaulted by another man, so you are particularly urged to seek care in these instances. We encourage you to get medical attention even if you do not want to have evidence collected. Confidential pregnancy testing, emergency contraception, and/or testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted illnesses for both men and women are services available at Parton Health Center and Porter Medical Center.
- SANE exam. We encourage you to have a sexual trauma exam (or "Rape Kit") done immediately following an experience of sexual trauma, as certain kinds of evidence collection, including rape drug testing, is time sensitive. A sexual trauma exam is conducted by a SANE, or Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, who is a professional with special training in working with individuals who may have experienced sexual trauma. She can care for injuries, test for sexually transmitted infections and/or pregnancy, and collect evidence (if requested). You do not have to be certain that you were sexually assaulted to request a SANE exam or any other kind of medical or emotional care.
- Considering a SANE exam. Even if you are not sure about reporting your experience or pressing charges, it makes sense to preserve the option of reporting later by having evidence collected. Evidence will be held for six months at the Vermont State Forensics Lab while you decide whether to press charges on campus or with local authorities. If you decide later than 24 hours to report the incident, it will generally not be possible to collect sexual assault exam evidence at that time (although some evidence, such as visible bruising, may still be possible to record). SANE exams are free of charge.
- Arranging to meet with a SANE. If you need to meet with a SANE while Parton Health and Counseling Center is open, please call Parton at 802-443-5135, and the staff will arrange to connect you with the SANE as soon as possible. If you need to meet with a SANE after hours, the SANE is generally on call and may be able to meet you at the Health Center. Call the Counseling Center of Addison County (CSAC) hotline at 802-388-7641 and ask to be connected with the SANE on call. When talking with the CSAC operator, you will need to leave a phone number where you can be reached. It is not necessary to give your name or to discuss the nature of your emergency in detail. If Middlebury's SANE is not available, you will be referred directly to Porter Medical Center's emergency services. It is recommended that you call the emergency room in advance and ask for them to arrange to have a SANE available (802-388-4736). A SANE may not be immediately available, and if you prefer not to wait, members of the emergency room medical staff can also provide you with care and services. Middlebury's Public Safety staff can transport you to Porter and will not require you to disclose the reason you're seeking care.
- Before a medical exam, try to preserve the evidence. Resist the urge to cleanse yourself before you seek treatment. It may be difficult to keep from washing yourself, but if you do you may destroy evidence that could be useful should you decide to report the experience. Do not wash, change clothes, eat, drink, smoke, brush your teeth, go to the bathroom, or brush your hair. Bring a change of clothing with you to the exam, since your clothes may be collected as evidence.
What to do within 24 hours of a sexual assault
- All of the options available under Emergency Information are still available to you (although some evidence may be more difficult to collect).
- Talk with someone who can share information and help you to figure out what you need. People and organizations that serve as resources can be found at Seeking care and seeking action. Choose whichever resources feel most useful to you. Remember that there is no "correct" path for responding or reacting to sexual trauma--whatever works best for you is a good option.
- Possible immediate needs may include:
- Enhancing your sense of safety: Temporary No Contact Orders restricting encounters and communication between you and the other individual(s) can be implemented by Public Safety and/or your Commons dean. If you are not comfortable sharing the details of your experience with either of these parties, a member of our counseling or medical staff, both of whom are confidential resources, can assist you. It is also possible to arrange for temporary or permanent room changes through the Commons office; again, a confidential resource can help you with this.
- Medical care: In addition to the Emergency Information page, see Seeking care and seeking action for more information.
- Academic extensions: Commons deans can provide dean's excuses for academic extensions or missed classes.
- Information about reporting your experience on campus or to local authorities. See Seeking care and seeking action for more information.
Self-care after a sexual assault
It is important to care for yourself after a sexual assault, and after any event you have experienced as sexually violating. Consider the following:
- Be patient with yourself. The healing process takes time and includes your physical, emotional and psychological health.
- Don’t neglect your physical health and well being. Getting adequate sleep, using exercise for stress relief, and eating well can advance your healing process. If you are having trouble sleeping, talk to a health professional; sleep is essential for self-care.
- Try not to let others make decisions for you, as it is important that you reestablish a sense of control over your choices.
- Seek support from a counselor, so that you may express your thoughts and feelings in a neutral setting where you do not feel that you have to protect the listener, worry about how the other person is feeling, or risk judgment.
- Don’t look for simple answers to explain what happened.
- Know your rights and how to get the support you need.
- Try to do things you enjoy, and give yourself permission to have positive experiences.
- Some people find it useful to keep a journal, to write stories or poems, or to express themselves through drawings. Use any outlet that feels helpful to explore your emotions.
Common survivor responses to sexual assault
Although each person is unique and there is no standard or correct response to sexual assault, there are some feelings and reactions that most sexual assault survivors experience. The emotional trauma caused by a sexual assault can be severe and long-lasting. They may occur immediately, or you may have a delayed reaction weeks or months later. Sometimes the feelings seem to go away for a while and then come back again. Certain situations, such as seeing the assailant or testifying in a hearing, may intensify the symptoms or cause them to reoccur after a period during which you had been feeling better.
Common natural responses to sexual assault may include the following:
- Fear and anxiety: feeling unsafe, nervous, fear of the situation or the place linked with the assault, compulsive behavior
- Shock and disbelief: numb, unemotional, surreal feelings
- Helplessness, depression: feeling powerless, overwhelmed, unable to make choices, self-hatred
- Anger: fury, desire to retaliate against assailant
- Shame and embarrassment: feeling “bad,” feeling that everyone will “know”
- Self-blame or guilt: feeling at fault, responsible for the attack
- Flashbacks: being preoccupied with the attack, remembering and reliving the assault
- Isolation:feeling alone or that no one else can relate to your experience.
- Physical responses: difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite, headaches, listlessness
Survivors sometimes also experience an impulse to protect their alleged assailant, which may influence their decisions to report the assault or to seek care for themselves. Survivors who are members of underrepresented identity groups may feel especially conflicted about reporting an assault when a member of their group is the alleged assailant; they may feel anxious about perceived group loyalty or compromising the reputation of that group. These normal responses can be lessened when you seek support from any of the resources listed under Seeking care and seeking action.
We are socialized to see sexual assault as a crime against women, not men. Because of this, many men have a hard time understanding that sexual assault is a crime that is motivated by the wish for power and control, and can happen to anyone, and by anyone, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.
Although many reactions to sexual assault are shared by survivors of all genders, there may be some additional responses that are different for survivors who identify as male. Men may experience concerns about what being sexually assaulted means to their sexuality or masculinity. There is a myth in our culture that only gay men rape other men, that men cannot be raped by women, or that only gay men are raped. This is not true: sexual assault has no boundaries. It is important to know that strong or weak, outgoing or shy, gay, straight, transgender or bisexual, you have done nothing that has caused or justified being assaulted. The responsibility lies with the assailant.