Managing Trauma Impact
Meaning Making

Question

How do I know if my experience counts as sexual assault?

Answer

When you go through a sexual experience that feels unwanted, it can often be difficult to label what just occurred. We might compare our experiences to the experiences we see on TV or read about online, causing us to question whether or not our experience “counts” as sexual trauma. First of all, you are not alone. According to a 2007 Department of Justice survey, 35 percent of sexual assault victims didn't report their assault because it was "unclear that it was a crime or that harm was intended." Only you can define your experience, but honor the feelings you are feeling. Sexual assault can take many different forms, but one thing remains the same: it’s never your fault. RAINN, the largest sexual violence organization in the US, defines sexual assault as "sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim." For the definition of rape, RAINN quotes the FBI: "Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim". While these are the official definitions, know that all of your feelings and experiences are valid. Trauma does not only consist of the event(s) that occurred, but it also involves how you experience those events as well as the overall effect the event has on you afterwards. Labeling your experience is up to you, but for many, putting a name to it allows them to more effectively deal with its aftermath. It is perfectly normal to have a delayed reaction: you just experienced something traumatic and it may take time to make sense of it. If you need help figuring out if what happened to you is sexual violence, call RAINN’s hotline at 800.656.HOPE.

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