Let’s talk about what sexual assault is to begin with.
It could be somebody touching you inappropriately, it could be somebody groping you, it could be somebody grabbing you from behind, or it may be someone who rapes you vaginally, anally or forces their penis or vagina into your mouth.
This kind of assault can take place at any age. It is against your will or you feel you had no choice but to partake in the sexual act because you were under extreme pressure or threat.
It is a myth that only men sexually assault people, as women can also be the initiator and/or perpetrator of sexual assault. It may also involve an adult having sex with a minor.
Depending on the country that you are in, the laws of those countries frame whether what you experienced was legally sexual assault or not. Even if the law may not protect, it does not mean you have not experienced sexual assault.
Sexual assault is serious. It involves sexual advances towards you without your permission and may even involve verbal or behaviour-based sexual harassment, even though no one else has ever physically touched you.
It can be very traumatising. It is beyond sexual play or flirtation.
You may feel you can get help straight away. Some people, however, do not share with others what has happened to them for fear of stigmatisation, retribution by the perpetrator, adverse legal action against you the victim, the belief no one will believe you or sheer embarrassment.
You may even bury the memory of that experience deep in your mind and try not to pay attention to those memories.
Sometimes those memories may begin to re-emerge many years later and cause you great distress, triggering post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety or suicidal feelings. You may start to break down in public, burst into tears, experience anxiety and panic attacks or be afraid to go out in public.
If you have experienced sexual assault, don’t keep it to yourself. Seek help and some counselling if those experiences are seeming traumatic for you and you are unable to cope.
Seek help with some sexual assault counselling. Go to your GP, a sexologist, psychotherapist or counsellor in a private clinic to get help. People are trained to help you get past those traumatic experiences.
You do not have to suffer alone. In seeking out a health professional, they are generally obliged to keep what you tell them confidential. That is important to you when discussing such delicate personal issues and experiences.
Be sure that the help you choose will keep your information private – ask them outright if that is the case.
If you decide to prosecute the perpetrator of the assault, try and surround yourself with supportive people who can help you.
Not everyone is comfortable with getting involved with the law and that is ok too. You must choose what is right for you.
Do not suffer alone. Reach out and ring a sexual assault helpline or get professional help to get you on your road to recovery.
I have many years’ experience in helping victims of sexual assault as a therapist and sexologist. What I can tell you is that getting help from an empathic practitioner can help you go forward in life and live your life well.
Dr Tracie O’Keefe DCH, BHSc, ND, Clinical Hypnotherapist, Psychotherapist. Counsellor, PACFA registered Mental Health Professional and Naturopath In Sydney. You can get help by booking an appointment with her at Australian Health & Education Centre.