Learning LIST-Learning

Recent sexual assault

Although it is rarely discussed, rape and sexual assault can and does happen to adult men as well as to boys. The below information is designed to support men who have been sexually assaulted, within the last few days, weeks or months.

Medical treatment

You may need medical attention. You are entitled to have a support person with you if you need to attend hospital. You can also choose whether or not you want a forensic medical examination, where the doctor will collect medical evidence that might be able to be used to prosecute the offender(s). After the assault occurs, there is a time limit within which forensic medical evidence needs to be taken. If you are not sure, you can talk to a counsellor/advocate from a sexual assault support service

Legal options

You have the right to make a statement to the police, but no-one should force you to do so. A police statement usually involves giving a lot of detailed information, so it can be distressing and re-traumatising. Having a counsellor or advocate from a sexual assault support service can be a valuable support through this process, whether you decide to make a statement shortly after the assault, at a later time, or never. Different states have different legislation, including the timeframe after the assault when you can make a statement to police.

Coping with trauma

Extremely traumatic events can leave you feeling as if your world has been turned upside down. You have been in a dangerous or life threatening situation that was beyond your power to control.

Sexual assault can produce physical and emotional responses or unwelcome thoughts from “out of the blue”. You may feel and experience emotions and physiological sensations that you have never felt before.

You might feel severe pain, shock, tremors of arms and legs, stomach problems, nausea or vomiting, loss of appetite, constipation, diarrhoea, nightmares and/or sleeplessness, headaches and dizziness.

You may find yourself spacing-out as a way of coping. Some people have flashbacks, when memories of the rape intrude at different times.

These responses to trauma are often called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The three main signs of PTSD are 1- re-experiencing the trauma (though flashbacks, nightmares, etc); 2- actively avoiding reminders (triggers) of the trauma (which can result in isolating yourself from others or cutting off from your own feelings); and 3- increased physiological arousal (feeling irritable, hyper-alert, sleeping problems, etc).

To be diagnosed with PTSD, there are specific criteria that have to be met, and the diagnosis can only be formally given by a clinical psychologist or a suitably qualified medical practitioner, including psychiatrists. The word ‘disorder’ may be a little misleading. As strange as it may seem at first, this is your body and mind coping the best way they can; they are normal reactions to out-of-the-ordinary events (although not everyone has any or all of these responses). The experience differs for everyone.

Remembering this can help keep at bay thoughts that you’re ‘going crazy’ or becoming ‘mentally ill’.

Looking after yourself after sexual assault

Try to restore some normality and control while the world may previously have felt like a reasonably safe place, it might now seem dangerous and leave you feeling insecure. It can be helpful to try and get some parts of your life back to normal. This can help to get back some sense of control and choice in your life. It will probably take some time to get any sense of routine back. It can help to try small things such as taking a walk, breathing exercises or making a favourite meal.

As you manage to take these steps, take time out to recognize that you are taking back control of your life – it is an achievement worth noticing.

Seek support

You might feel like shutting yourself away from the world. This is a normal response. However, if you can let someone know what’s going on, it can help you to feel less isolated. It can also be good to know that there is someone to make sure you are looking after yourself in practical ways, like eating.

Go easy on yourself; it might take some time to get back to a routine. This isn’t because you’re doing something wrong, it is because people naturally need time to recover from the overwhelming, frightening and confusing reality of sexual assault.

Tips for regaining control

Take things slowly and don’t pressure yourself with unrealistic expectations. It usually takes some time to restore some sense of normality. Remember that all the feelings and physical sensations listed above are common responses to a traumatic event. They are not a sign that you are ‘going crazy’; you are processing an extremely distressing violation of your personal integrity.

Some people find the following things helpful:

• Exercising
• Studying
• Reading
• Working
• Drawing or painting
• Listening to music
• Playing sport
• Writing (writing can be particularly useful for getting stuff out of your head and organising your thoughts)

Others find counselling, meditation or spiritual practice and prayer to be sources of strength.

This is the end of the section dealing specifically with recent assault. However, the information in the rest of the App is still relevant whether the assault(s) was recent or in the past.