3 Ways College Campuses Can Support Sexual Assault Survivors

No matter the circumstances or where it may occur, sexual assault is extremely traumatic and offering supports to student victims is critical.

3 Ways College Campuses Can Support Sexual Assault Survivors

Photo: Carl, Adobe Stock

A 2020 survey from the Association of American Universities (AAU) found that among undergraduate students, 26.4% of females and 6.8% of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation. Research also suggests at least 50% of sexual assaults on college campuses occur when one or both parties have been drinking.

With the popularity of rideshare services such as Uber and Lyft being used as transportation for college students needing a sober and safe ride, although rare, reported cases of rideshare sexual assaults are now a consideration for colleges. While Uber and Lyft use a background screening process when hiring rideshare drivers, there is still a risk for any passenger to be a victim of nonconsensual sexual activity.

Rideshares have only been around for about 10 years but sexual assaults against college students have been an issue for decades. No matter the circumstances or where it may occur, sexual assault is extremely traumatic and offering supports to student victims is critical.

Below are three recommended ways campus safety and security professionals can show support for survivors of sexual assault.

Understanding the Trauma of Sexual Assault

Being a victim of sexual assault can cause significant trauma and have a long-lasting impact on survivors’ psychological well-being. In order to support survivors, it is important to understand some of the common physical and emotional impacts in the aftermath of sexual assault:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Many survivors of sexual assault develop PTSD, a mental health condition caused by difficulty recovering after experiencing a traumatic or life-threatening event. People suffering from PTSD have triggers that can cause flashbacks, nightmares, and other symptoms that interfere with daily life.
  • Fear and anxiety: Experiencing sexual assault can create a pervasive sense of fear and anxiety, as survivors may develop fears of encountering the abuser again or of similar situations that could trigger memories of the assault. Survivors may experience anxiety, including panic attacks, excessive worry, and a sense of being constantly on guard.
  • Depression: Sexual assault survivors may experience symptoms of depression, such as feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and a loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed. Those who have struggled with mental health and depression in the past may have deeper symptoms of depression after the event of a sexual assault.
  • Substance abuse: The use of alcohol or drugs to cope with the trauma and negative emotions associated with the assault is a common reaction that sexual assault survivors may experience.
  • Shame and self-blame: Survivors of sexual assault may feel shame and self-blame, even though they are not at fault or responsible for the assault. These feelings of guilt can have a lasting impact on self-esteem and self-worth.

It’s important to note that the impact of sexual assault can vary from person to person, and not all survivors will experience the same effects. Each survivor has a unique experience and emotional reaction. It’s crucial to provide individualized support and resources for survivors to help them cope with the trauma they have experienced.

Listen and Believe

Listening and believing the story of survivors is a crucial part of supporting those who have experienced sexual assault. When a sexual assault survivor discloses their experience, it can be extremely challenging and vulnerable to share. Believing them and acknowledging their story without judgment is an important way to show support and solidarity.

After experiencing sexual assault, survivors may experience a range of emotions when disclosing their experiences. Having to relive the memories of the experience when sharing their story can be difficult and bring feelings of shame, guilt, and fear. A way to show support is by validating their feelings, expressing empathy, and avoiding blaming or the use of shaming language. Actively listening and respecting the boundaries of survivors when they are sharing their experiences is an important way to show compassion and support.

Validate Their Feelings

Validating a sexual assault survivor’s feelings involves acknowledging and accepting the emotions they are experiencing as a result of their trauma. Some examples of statements that can show validating one’s feelings include:

  • “I believe you, and it’s understandable that you feel scared and vulnerable right now.”
  • “Your feelings of anger and frustration are valid. No one deserves to experience what you went through.”
  • “I can’t imagine what you’ve been through, but I’m here for you and I support you.”
  • “You have the right to feel whatever you’re feeling, and I’m here to support you in any way I can.”
  • “It takes a lot of courage to come forward and share your experience. I’m proud of you for speaking up.”

It is important to remember that because everyone experiences trauma differently, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to feel.

Offer Practical Support

Offering practical support for sexual assault survivors can help them feel empowered, validated, and cared for. Checking in with the survivor and asking what types of support would be most helpful is the best way to provide personalized support. Providing a safe space for the survivor to talk about their experiences, free from judgment or pressure, is a simple way to offer practical support. By offering words of encouragement and validation, it can show support and remind the survivor that they are not alone and they are not to blame for what happened.

Another example could be offering to accompany to appointments, give a ride, or bring food to someone coping with trauma after sexual assault which can show support and care. Helping them access resources such as connecting the survivor with legal resources and local support services such as therapy or medical care is another way to offer practical support. Ultimately, remember that offering practical support for sexual assault survivors involves being present, respectful, and empathetic. The most important thing you can do is to listen to the survivor’s needs and offer support in the ways that work best for them.

Amanda Chen is a content writer who works with experts in the legal industry to share safety tips and legal information. She aims to spread awareness on important legal issues and provide helpful resources for those seeking legal assistance.

If you are a victim of sexual assault, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at (800) 656-4673 or chat online at online.rainn.org for help. Additional resources for victims can be found here

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