What is sexual trauma & abuse?
Sexual trauma can be many things and we use this as an umbrella term to describe any sexual act that is imposed on another person without their consent. Oftentimes the word “abuse” is used to indicate that the violence was long-term. This can be a one-time event or an ongoing experience and does not have to be physically violent.
Everyone reacts to sexual trauma in their own way and everyone’s response afterwards is different, too. Examples of sexual trauma and abuse could be sexual assault, rape, sexual abuse, stalking, sexual harassment, street harassment, childhood sexual abuse, incest, sex trafficking, online sexual violence, and intimate partner sexual violence.
Was I raped or abused?
Trying to figure out what happened or how you feel about what happened can be very difficult, but this is a question that only a victim-survivor can answer for themselves. Here are two things to consider:
Legal Definitions: Each state has different statutes, laws, and terminology related to sexual assault, rape, and abuse. Sex crimes have very precise legal definitions.
Personal Definitions: Each person’s experience with sexual trauma or abuse is unique and very personal. The way we define our experiences can look very different from person to person. We live in a society that blames victims and survivors for their assaults and it’s common for us to second guess ourselves or doubt ourselves. If you believe you were sexually assaulted, raped, abused or whatever words you use to describe your experience – that is what happened and The Care Center believes and supports you.
What is consent?
Consent is a freely-given, informed, ongoing, and clearly communicated agreement. Consent is crucial for our personal and sexual relationships.
Consent is an ongoing conversation among everyone involved. It’s not a one-time question with a one-time “yes” or “no” answer. Consent given on a Tuesday does not mean consent is given on a Thursday. It’s important that each person checks in before moving on to the next thing to maintain open and honest lines of communication.
Some examples of what it looks like to ask for consent could be something as simple as, “Do you want to do ____?” or “Is it okay if I ____?” or “You said you were interested in ____ but it looks like maybe you changed your mind. Do you want to talk?”
If someone has said “I’m not sure” or “Maybe later” or if they are silent, this is NOT consent. It’s important to listen and respect the other person’s decisions.
Coercive consent is where someone is pressured to say “yes” out of fear of violence or humiliation or because they believe it is expected of them. It’s not actually consent because it doesn’t allow the person to make their own choices.
What is an advocate?
The Care Center advocates are specially trained staff and volunteers who are here to listen and support people affected by sexual trauma and abuse. The role of an advocate is to believe victims and survivors. Advocates do not tell anyone what to do, but they can help someone explore options, make sure they are informed about services, and support whatever decisions the victim or survivor believes is best for them.
What are normal emotions or reactions to sexual trauma or abuse?
There isn’t one way that victims or survivors feel after experiencing sexual trauma or abuse. Every emotion is valid and real. Here are some examples of emotions or reactions that a victim or survivor might have.
Anxiety, fear, depression
Physical health symptoms
Flashbacks, intrusive and distressing memories of the violence
Disorientation and difficulty concentrating
Self-blame, guilt, and shame
“Shutting down”, avoidance, or emotional numbing
Coping responses: Everyone responds differently to trauma. Survivors may use a variety of coping mechanisms including: alcohol/drug use, social isolation, anger and aggressive behavior toward others, avoidance, cutting, disordered eating, high-risk sexual behaviors, etc.
It’s okay for a survivor to have happy experiences! Everyone reacts differently and it’s okay for survivors of trauma to still experience joy and happiness. This might be seen as avoidance by others, but every emotion the survivor experiences is real and valid.
What happened to me wasn’t rape, can I still get services?
Yes. Sexual trauma and abuse is a broad definition and everyone has their own words they use to describe their experiences. We work with people of all ages and genders who have experienced sexual assault, rape, sexual abuse, stalking, sexual harassment, street harassment, childhood sexual abuse, incest, sex trafficking, online sexual violence, and intimate partner sexual violence.
Additionally, all of our services are also available to family, friends, and loved ones of people who have experienced sexual trauma and abuse.
Do you serve lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender/gender non-conforming survivors?
Yes. None of our services are gender specific and our advocates are specially trained to make our services accessible and safe for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Please feel free to visit our Handouts & Downloads page where we have specific materials for LGBTQ+ victim-survivors of sexual trauma and abuse.
What if I was drinking (or they were drinking) during the assault?
Alcohol or drugs do not cause sexual assault. If you were under the influence and experienced a sexual assault, it was not your fault. They are used as tools by perpetrators to facilitate assault. Additionally, alcohol or drugs do not excuse a perpetrator’s behavior. People have a right to be under the influence and not be sexually assaulted. If you are under the drinking age or were using drugs, do not let that stop you from getting the support you need. Call The Care Center advocates to learn more and explore your options at 785-843-8985.
I didn’t resist or fight back, can I still call it rape or assault?
People react to traumatic situations in a lot of different ways. Some people fight back, some people flee. More often than “fight or flight” is what’s called the “freeze” response where the body’s instinct is to protect itself from further violence. Other responses could include “dissociation” (where the brain “checks out” from what is happening to the body as a survival mechanism) or “please or appease” (where the person participates or initiates contact as a way to control the violence they are experiencing.)
The ways our bodies react are normal responses to trauma and everyone is different. Just because someone doesn’t resist or fight back (or if they do so unsuccessfully) does not mean their experience isn’t as real or valid.
I don’t really remember what happened. What are my options?
Trauma often has a big impact on our memory and it’s normal to not remember anything or have gaps in your memory. Sometimes we know that something happened even if we can’t remember the details. It’s also not uncommon for someone’s recollection of events change over time. Even if you don’t remember everything, but you’re interested in going to the hospital or making a report you can still do so. All of The Care Center services like counseling, support groups, and advocacy are available to you as well.
I'm under 18. Can I still get help?
All of our services and our anonymous 24/7 support line are available to people of all ages. It is important to note that while our volunteer and staff advocates are not mandated reporters, there are certain circumstances in which we may feel the need to make a report. This is always communicated before a report of any kind is made however.
I was a kid when I was abused, what options are available to me?
Even if your experience was a long time ago and legal options may be limited, it’s never too late to get the help you need. All of our services are available to any who has experienced or been affected by sexual violence no matter when the violence occurred. Contact The Care Center Advocates at 785-843-8985 to learn more about your options.
Do I have to make a police report?
No, that choice is completely up to you. People have lots of good reasons to want to make a report, just like people who choose not to report. You are the expert on your life and what is best for you. To learn more about the different types of reporting, visit our Reporting & Protection Orders page which also contains information about mandated reporting for children or vulnerable adults.
My child told me they experienced abuse. What are my options?
If your child disclosed abuse to you, it’s very important to listen and believe them. There are three main options for reporting child abuse: hospital, police, and Department of Children & Families (DCF). At The Care Center, we have a Youth Advocate on staff that can help you navigate these options. It is important to note that while our volunteer and staff advocates are not mandated reporters, there are certain circumstances in which we may feel the need to make a report. This is always communicated before a report of any kind is made.
DCF’s website has information about making a report of child abuse which be viewed here. The Care Center Advocates are available to help you make a report if you need support during that process.
Can I do a forensic exam and then wait to make a report?
Yes. Since the evidence is time sensitive, some people want to make sure they do the exam as soon as possible, but want more time to decide if they want to file a police report. The Kansas Bureau of Investigations (KBI) holds kits for up to 5 years and it stays anonymous unless you decide to file a report and a case is opened. To learn more about forensic exams, visit our Going to the Hospital page.
What can counseling or support groups offer me?
Counseling and support groups can help in a variety of ways. It can help to reduce shame and guilt by understanding that the assault or abuse was not your fault. Our counselors can help process your feelings of confusion or anxiety. Counseling and support groups also offer education on how trauma affects the brain and the body. You can learn about your symptoms and gain coping skills for managing them. Many people find a benefit in having a dedicated, private place to talk to someone about their experiences that is separate from their workplace or home life.
Someone I know just told me they experienced sexual trauma or abuse. What can I do to help?
It can be really difficult when someone talks to us about their experiences, especially if we’re not sure how to help. The most important thing you can do to support a victim or survivor of sexual trauma or abuse is to believe them. It is not your role to question whether rape or abuse occurred. False rape reports are no more or less common than false reports for other violent crimes. Victim-survivors are the experts on their lives.
Never blame them for being assaulted or abused. No one ever deserves to be assaulted. Questions like “Why didn’t you tell anyone?” or “Why were you drinking?” are placing the blame on the victim. Avoid “count your blessings” statements that may be heard as judgmental and possibly trivialize what happened such as “it could have been worse” or “you’re lucky you weren’t hurt badly”, etc. Let them know, “It wasn’t your fault.”
Don’t take charge of the situation and pressure them to do what you think they should. Encourage the person to get the help they feel they need. The Care Center advocates are trained to help explain and understand options. There is no “right” or “wrong” way for a survivor to respond after experiencing abuse or assault.
Listen to them. It is crucial to let the survivor know that they can talk when they are ready. Some may not wish to speak with you immediately. But at some point during their process, they might come to you for support. When that happens, don’t interrupt or interject your feelings. Just listen. Your caring but silent attention will be invaluable.
Take care of your own emotional needs. The Care Center services are available to friends and family as well. Sexual trauma and abuse affects us all and you deserve support, too.