Not silent, not blamed
For many women who are victims and survivors of sexual assault, the ways in which serious allegations against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange are being discussed in the media is causing considerable pain and distress. This particular case is expected to go before Swedish courts in early 2011 and we won’t know the facts until we hear them in court.
How are cases of violence against women discussed?
As with many public discussions around specific cases of violence against women, however, a destructive and familiar game is being played out to discredit and silence the people involved. Survivors of sexual assault may feel, yet again, that they and other victims are being silenced and blamed.
Trust: a core belief of sexual assault work
It is a core belief in sexual assault support work that women who speak of their experiences are believed and validated. It is recognised that it takes extraordinary courage to go to the police or to contact the Centre Against Sexual Assault (CASA) to tell your story of what happened. (Call 1800 806 292 for your nearest CASA centre.)
The effects of sexual assault
As the CASA website says,
The crime of sexual assault is one of the most violating experiences anyone can endure. It can have immediate, short and long term effects on physical and emotional wellbeing.
From CASA's observations of the experiences of many victim/survivors who have been sexually assaulted as children or as adults, the effects include:
Shock and denial
A sense of
Has this really happened to me? Why me?
and an inability to accept that it has really occurred.
- of the perpetrator
- of men in general
- of being alone
- of having to deal with the medical, legal or social consequences of the crime.
Inability to speak about the assault, to describe what it means or feels like; afraid of being judged.
Inability to relax or to feel safe, feeling unsure of yourself.
Low mood, low motivation, internal pain and grief.
Guilt and blame
A sense of
Why did I go there ... allow it ... not fight back?
Low self esteem
Feeling unworthy, not confident or deserving.
Wanting to be alone, closed off from family and friends; a need to hide within herself.
Nightmares and flashbacks
Images and memories of the assault intruding on daily life and sleep.
Going from anger and rage to tears and despair.
Loss of confidence
In work, in study, in social and intimate relationships.
Loss of trust
Within social, family or intimate relationships.
If you need support...
In Victoria, there are 15 Centres Against Sexual Assault (CASAs)and the Victorian Sexual Assault Crisis Line. They have the same phone number (24 hours) 1800 806 292.
Emergency or crisis care
A free confidential 24 hour emergency or crisis care service is available (call 1800 806 292) for victim/survivors who have recently been sexually assaulted. This includes crisis counselling support and may include access to medical care and legal processes.
Information and advocacy
Information about sexual assault is available in verbal and written form and CASAs provide advocacy in relation to legal choices, physical health concerns and safe accommodation.
Counselling and support
Free and confidential short to medium term individual counselling to:
- child and adult victim/survivors of sexual assault
- their non offending family members/carers, and
- significant others.
There's also group work, telephone counselling and referrals to other relevant services.
Their approach to sexual assault support
CASAs respond to every victim/survivor with belief, respect, sensitivity and recognition of their struggle and ability to survive. Centres Against Sexual Assault are safe places to talk about your feelings in your own way and own time. They will inform you of your fundamental rights to medical, legal and support options. Within their counselling and group work services, they present a feminist framework to acknowledge and re-frame some of the internalised myths a victim/survivor may carry as a result of the sexual assault. Centres Against Sexual Assault:
- seek to empower each victim/survivor through recognition and articulation
- believe that the means of integrating the impact of the assault into their present and future life are within their control.
- accept and validate decisions, and
- provide advocacy at every relevant point within a strict code of confidentiality.
Image from Flickr by Thomas Weidenhaupt