The effects of sexual assault

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 20 to 25 percent of women as well as 15 percent of men are victims of forced sex during their time in college. For Ashten Roy, this statistic has become a reality.

Roy, a former student at the university, decided to share her experience on being sexually assaulted.

Roy, who attended the University of New Orleans at the time of the incident, says her assault took place at a party during her second semester of college. She described the scenes at the party.

“Like most college students do, I went to a party and decided to stay sober to ensure my friends got home safely,” said Roy. “As most college parties go, it was loud, hot and crowded. To get away from the crowd and ease my anxiety, I stepped outside to take a breather. As I was outside, I savored the few moments of slight quiet and aloneness as I gathered my thoughts and tried to decide how to tell my friends I was ready to go. After a few moments of checking my phone and trying to ease my headache, I realized I wasn’t alone. A man, whom I have never met before, stood in front of me.”

Roy further described the assault.

 

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“As a cautious woman, I stepped away from him and tried to go inside when this stranger grabbed me,” said Roy. “I was then grabbed by my midsection and unable to move. This man would not let me go and dragged me through the house the party was hosted in to a bedroom and locked the door.”

As the assault took place, Roy explained that she was threatened and held at knifepoint while receiving three bruised ribs. She discussed the emotional abuse that accompanied the physical abuse.

“After the incident, I didn’t tell anyone for a while,” said Roy. “I sat in my room and cried. I attempted suicide and asked God why he would let such a cruel person take advantage of me. I was in a very dark place and chose to hold the weight of this burden completely on my shoulders instead of asking for help.”

Roy explained that she suffers from some mental illnesses and is guarded with people.

“This event happened over a year ago, and I still have trouble looking in the mirror,” said Roy. “I don’t like being touched unless I’m extremely close to the person. Before this event, I struggled with depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety, but these have gotten worse. Along with those mental illnesses, I’ve also been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. I have trouble sleeping. I have night terrors. It’s been rough.”

Roy believes there are not many resources for victims and that the only way to prevent it is by giving suspects their jail time.

“I don’t think rape or sexual assault is talked about enough, and I think the resources are extremely limited,” said Roy. “Sexual assault happens because some people are just monsters. Nothing irritates me more than people saying a survivor ‘was asking for it’ because people should be allowed to dress how they want without fear of being assaulted. The only thing that will prevent this from happening so much is to provide better information and make the assaulters face jail time instead of letting them walk free.”

Roy also shared her advice for people who are going through sexual abuse.

“There are so many people who choose to stay silent when they are sexually abused, and I understand that because I went through it,” said Roy. “I want survivors to know it’s OK to hurt, and it’s OK to be mad and ask why. It’s OK to scream at the world. You are stronger than your abuser. I wish I could tell you it’ll get better, but a lot of times the event will still stay fresh in your mind.”

Assistant Director and Mental Health Counselor at the University Counseling Center Emily Moïse-Fontenot explained how sexual abuse affects the victim.

Moïse-Fontenot said, “Sexual abuse affects nearly every aspect of your life including self-esteem and self-worth, boundaries issues, feeling responsible for things that are not your fault, whether you can assert yourself or feel comfortable using your voice, fear that others do not believe you or that you are not worth protecting, difficulty regulating emotions, feeling hyper-vigilant, having nightmares, increase of anxiety and worry, feeling threatened and trust issues to name a few.”

Moïse-Fontenot shared that many victims of sexual assault try to diminish the issue even though it is affecting them.

“When someone violates your boundaries with such acts, it is difficult to put the pieces together,” said Moïse-Fontenot. “Many of my clients report feeling ‘broken’ after such events. I think it is also important to note that some people minimize or deny the effects of sexual abuse by saying ‘It happened a long time ago,’ or ‘I liked it,’ or ‘It wasn’t that big of a deal,’ and yet they still suffer the effects on a subconscious level. Many individuals end up consciously or unconsciously enacting or reacting their trauma when it is left unresolved.”

Moïse-Fontenot discussed that there are many treatment approaches, but they are all meant to produce the same outcome.

 “Within the last 10 to 15 years, we have seen the birth of many effective trauma-focused therapies,” said Moïse-Fontenot. “Some of these include somatic experiencing, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, trauma-informed CBT and brainspotting. These approaches are different, but all aim to essentially rewire the brain and help clients perceive the trauma differently. I work closely with clients to regulate their bodies while exposing them to difficult thoughts, emotions and physical sensations. Over time this gets easier, and you learn to have mastery over an event that once left you feeling powerless and out of control. The UCC has two trained trauma therapists that use a variety of trauma-focused therapies including brainspotting and EMDR.”

When it comes to what resources would be beneficial to sexual assault victims on campus, Moïse-Fontenot discussed three options.

“On campus we have several resources that would be beneficial,” said Moïse-Fontenot. “The counseling center for one would be where students would seek psychotherapy and trauma-focused therapies. The Office of Student Advocacy and Accountability is where a student might file a report and could choose to have a hearing in order to remove a perpetrator from campus. If the assault happened on SLU campus, you could file a police report with University Police Department to pursue criminal charges.”

Moïse-Fontenot also explained the options for assaults that happen off campus.

“If off campus, you would have to file within the jurisdiction that the assault occurred,” said Moïse-Fontenot. “Southeastern will even assign you a sexual assault advocate or confidential advisor to walk you through any of these processes. It is important to note that the victim is not forced to press charges. We work to help the student decide what actions they would like to pursue. There is always the option to go to a local emergency room after an assault to obtain a rape kit, which could be beneficial if pursuing criminal charges. Lastly, there is a local hotline, which could help you make decisions in times of crisis.”

 

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