5 Things a Rape Crisis Counselor Wants You to Know


Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

I am on shift as a volunteer rape crisis counselor. My shift is eight hours, 4 p.m. to midnight. The line will be quiet until around 7 p.m., when folks start coming home from work or school, have dinner and are alone with their thoughts.

When I went through my own sexual assault, my experience wasn’t real to the rest of the world. It was in a “grey area.” One thing that wasn’t a grey area was how I felt. I was experiencing severe guilt, humiliation and post-traumatic effects that left me bedridden. I said to myself, “Nobody will believe me, maybe this was my fault.”

It was at that point I decided if I can’t save myself, what can I do to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else? That’s when I found myself at a rape crisis center in my city, doing training to become a volunteer crisis line counselor. I’ve heard hundreds of stories from men and women on the line, and without compromising their confidentiality, I want to share five truths about “grey areas” that I think might offer comfort to survivors.

1. Your story is someone else’s story.

While survivors are going through their trauma, it can be extremely isolating. No matter how many twists and turns or “grey areas” are involved, it’s important to know that there are people who can relate to your pain.

2. “I know this is not going to make sense, but…”

Sexual assaults can be extremely complex, so it can take time to come to grips with what happened. You don’t have to make sense out of it for anyone or justify your trauma. You are the expert of your story. We want to give you validation. At the very least, we are in complete admiration of survivors who call the line because we know it’s not easy to pick up the phone and talk to a complete stranger about deeply personal things that you’re still sifting through.

3. Not saying “No,” doesn’t mean you said, “Yes.”

Too often I hear, “I didn’t exactly say, ‘No,’ or tell them to stop.” That does not mean a sexual assault did not occur. It could be for many reasons, usually fear or confusion. Sometimes, this leaves the survivor feeling guilty and humiliated, wondering, “Was I just assaulted?” When survivors call the line, they are searching for validation that they have just been violated. Remember, silence is not consent.

4. Don’t be ashamed of your body’s natural response.

Just because our bodies respond to sexual stimulation doesn’t mean consent was given. This is where a lot of guilt and confusion comes from. Even when consent is not given, biologically, our bodies can respond. This is not something you can control or feel ashamed about.

5. There’s no timeline for “getting over it.”

Many callers are in the mid 40s, 50s and even 60s who still grapple with the trauma they experienced as a child or young adult. The reason I mention this is to state the fact that trauma is not something you “get over.” Trauma can change us on a cellular level. It’s OK to take your time, it’s OK to take a break from people, it’s OK to sit with your emotions and feel it all.

These points are in black and white, but often get mixed up in the notion of a “grey area.” What I learned is grey areas don’t actually exist and the assault is never our fault. We know this because trauma cannot exist without a mental, emotional and/or physical assault. To suggest that a survivor’s trauma is not “official” based on society’s skewed perception of sexual assault is irresponsible and adds insult to injury.

Inspired by callers on the crisis line, I started working on a creative project called “Grey Area Book Project.” Survivors can share their stories to help expand the scope of sexual assault awareness, the impact it has on us and the ripple effect it creates throughout the world. I hope together we can change the way sex crimes are approached, perceived and prosecuted.

GettyImages via jacoblund


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