Tracy Faust, MA, -, Master, of, Arts, LPC, SAC, -, Licensed, Professional, Counselor, with, Substance, Abuse, Specialty, Authorization
Why Failure to Resist Does NOT Mean Consent
Without awareness and education, attitudes and misinformation can make difficult to recognize sexual assault when it occurs. Some people mistakenly fault the victim who does not appear to say no to what is happening. We need to know that victims may freeze with terror that is triggered when someone violates their sense of safety — this is especially true for survivors of prior traumas.
Most of us understand the “fight, flight, or freeze” response to fear. Once triggered, our neurobiology takes over, and it is very hard to shut off. When a sense of danger overwhelms the nervous system, it is not uncommon for sexual assault victims to freeze.
As a primal reflex, freezing can increase the odds of survival. After all, if your victim isn’t fighting, why not ease up the attack and save your energy? Unfortunately, freezing rarely enables escape from a person who is intent on forcing sexual activity on someone else.
When a person feels violated, especially for a person with a trauma history, paralyzing fear is common. It’s a misunderstanding that victims do nothing to resist assault. What they do is freeze to survive the overwhelming trauma happening in that moment.
It is never right to blame the victim for what happened, no matter what they are wearing or where they happen to be, or whether they failed to stop it.
How to Reduce Your Risk
Basic personal safety is key to prevention.
It is important to remember that the vast majority of sexual assaults happen in a setting with people you know. Tips for staying safe include:
- Make sure you go to social events with people you know are safe.
- Plan ahead of time to look out for each other. Have plans to check in with each other and make sure each of you is okay.
- If you are going to be drinking, watch your drink and don’t accept open drinks from others.
- Agree to go with a designated non-drinker who knowingly takes the role of watching that the situation stays safe.
- Know your limits when it comes to drinking. Think about how to remain aware enough to make safe choices and follow your gut when something doesn’t feel right.
Helping Others Reduce Their Risk
As one person, you may feel too insignificant to matter. Please know that the difference you can make is huge. Because so many acts of assault begin in social settings, a bystander can interrupt in safe and helpful ways to help prevent an assault.
Follow your gut. If a situation does not look right, and it feels safe to interrupt, say something:
- Hey, I’ve been looking for you — we need to talk…
- How’s it going? Is that okay with you?
- Sorry, but we have to leave.
If a situation looks unsafe, you can get the attention of someone in charge, such as a security guard or someone working at the venue to help intervene, or call 911.
For bystanders, RAINN provides the helpful cue CARE: Create a distraction, Ask Directly, Refer to an authority, or Enlist others. RAINN provides more resources for safety planning, campus safety, and how bystanders can help.
Recovering from Sexual Assault
If you have experienced sexual assault, it is not your fault — even though you may be feeling guilty, ashamed, even devastated and worthless after what happened. Know that it is possible for you to take care of yourself and heal, and it is not too late to begin.
The important thing to do is tell someone you can trust about what happened. If you do not know someone you can trust, there are local and national resources you can call to talk to someone who is trained to listen, and guide you responsibly to the help you need. See More Resources below.
Signs of Change in the Media, On Campus and in the Legal System
Fortunately, thanks to the hard work of victims, doctors, therapists and advocates, more people are starting to recognize sexual assault for what it is — a trauma and a crime that needs greater awareness and prevention.
The Washington Post quoted 50 verbatim accounts of sexual assault from its poll of over 1,000 college students, empowering victims to speak out to a public audience. More colleges are holding surveys of students to learn the extent of unwanted sexual behavior to see what is happening and put better safeguards in place. Celebrities including Lady Gaga and Mary J. Blige are using their music as a powerful way to reach survivors and challenge the bias of blame.
Lawmakers are beginning to help better protect the rights of rape victims. State Department official and rape survivor Amanda Nguyen has been a forceful advocate for a bill now introduced to Congress: the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act, which aims to protect victims’ rights to their evidence, whether or not they decide to press charges.
Your Voice Matters
If you think your voice is too small to matter, please know it does matter. If you think you alone can’t make a difference, that is not true: you can make a huge difference. Each of us can learn something to help prevent the next incident, and empower another victim to get help.
Sexual assault happens too often and devastates too many lives for us to accept without greater awareness. It is so important for all of us to educate ourselves about what we can do.
Where These Numbers Came From
- Statistics About Sexual Violence, National Sexual Violence Resource Center
- Statistics, Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN)
Education and Support for Victims of Sexual Assault:
- No More, a campaign for public awareness and to help engage bystanders in ending domestic violence and sexual assault
- RISE (to support passage of the Sexual Assault Survivor’s Bill of Rights)