How Does Someone React After a Sexual Assault?
Sexual assault is a traumatic experience and survivors will have reactions similar
to those who have been through other types of trauma. While there are similarities
in how different people may respond, each person will react to the incident in their
There is no normal way to respond to sexual assault. A survivor may feel in shock,
act like nothing has happened, or feel numb. While some people experience an overwhelming
amount of emotions immediately after an assault, others find that days, months, or
even years may pass before feelings surface.
Minimize the Risk of Sexual Assault
Sexual assault can happen to anyone at any time. Perpetrators, not survivors, are
responsible for sexual assaults. Only a perpetrator can prevent a sexual assault,
but we can all take steps to reduce the risk.
When helping a friend please keep the following in mind:
When someone has been sexually assaulted, chances are that they will turn to a friend
for help first. You are an important person to the survivor; this is why the survivor
shared this experience with you. This page offers guidance on how to best support
your friend. There are also resources available to you, because when you get support
for yourself you will be better able to support your friend.
Make sure that you read the "What to do if I have been assaulted" section above. This
section describes the common reactions that survivors experience. One of the most
important things to keep in mind is that your friend has had his/her power taken away
by the perpetrator. Please keep in mind as you are helping your friend that they need
to maintain control over what happens next. You may offer information, but let your
friend make their own decisions, including who they talk to, what services they access
and what actions they decide to take or not take. Even if you disagree with your friend,
supporting them in making their decisions will help them feel more in control. When
they are in control, they will be better able to regain a sense of strength, power
Other important points to help you be a good helper include:
- Don't take on responsibility for your friend
- Be willing to listen
- Don't over-extend yourself
- Take care of your own needs
- Allow your friend to maintain control of what happens next
- Respect your friend's wishes
- Know the resources on campus
- Avoid judgment/blame
What if the sexual assault happened in the past few days?
There are some time sensitive decision your friend may have to make. If your friend
is female, she can prevent pregnancy by taking emergency contraception within 120
hours (5 days) of the assault. Emergency contraception is most effective when taken
as soon as possible. Collecting physical evidence must occur within 96 hours (4 days).
medications to prevent the development of some sexually transmitted infections can
be provided by Health Services. HIV prophylaxis treatment needs to be started within 72 hours. Screening for date
rape drugs may be done up to 72 hours after the incident, but is optimally done within
12 hours. Since many of these drugs clear the system quickly, a negative test result
does not necessarily mean that no drug was involved. It is helpful to inform your
friend of this information, provide the options, and then let them decide to do or
not to do next.
Should my friend report the sexual assault to the police?
Your friend may consider reporting the assault to the police and/or University officials.
Reporting the incident is a very personal, difficult decision. This decision can only
be made by the person who has been assaulted. It is best to avoid pressuring your
friend to report the incident. For some survivors, reporting the crime can help regain
a sense of personal power and control; bur for others, engaging with the criminal
justice system may be a difficult and painful experience. See the WCU Police website for information about reporting a rape or sex offense crime and information
about the criminal justice system.
Sexual assault and men
Gender stereotypes about men and boys make it particularly difficult for men to seek
support. If your male friend has shared with you that he has been sexually assaulted
it's important that you believe him, avoid reinforcing gender stereotypes about men
and boys, and understand how he may react to the incident. Many people believe that
only women are victims of sexual assault. The fact is that 1 out of every 10 is sexually
assaulted. Although most perpetrators of sexual assault against men are male, women
are perpetrators as well. A male assaulted by another male may question his sexuality
and struggle with internalized homophobia. Research has consistently found that male
and female victims experience similar effects: fear, anger, shame, isolation, substance
abuse, low self-esteem, depression and issues with sexuality. Men may be more likely
to outwardly express their anger and use substances to cope with difficult emotions;
but like all survivors, individual reactions will vary and can depend on many things
such as personal history and support from family and friends.
The university has two primary means through which incidents of sexual misconduct
or violence can be addressed or investigated - the University Police Department and
the Code of Student Conduct. Students may pursue a sexual misconduct or violence incident
involving another student through the Code of Student Conduct regardless of the location
of the incident. For your safety and protection, the university abides by the following
policies and procedures:
NC STate Statute
NC General Statute 14-27.1 - 14.27.10
North Carolina General Statute 14 (Criminal Law) Article 27 (Rape and Other Sex Offenses)
is the state law by which all sex offenses are determined and prosecuted. Please note
that incidents of sexual misconduct or violence that occur off-campus will be referred
to Jackson County law enforcement agencies due to jurisdictional limitations.
WCU code of conduct
This Western Carolina University Code of Student Conduct exercises the duty of the Chancellor to regulate matters of student conduct in the
university community. All WCU students are expected to be familiar with the Code and
to conduct themselves in accord with these requirements.
wcu policy 53
WCU Policy 53. Sexual Harassment and Other Forms of Unlawful Harassment
The University is committed to equal opportunity in educational programs and employment
for all persons regardless of race, color, creed, religion, gender, age, national
origin, disability, military veteran status, political affiliation or sexual orientation.
The University reaffirms its commitment to academic freedom in this Policy, but recognizes
that academic freedom does not allow sexual harassment. The discussion of sexual ideas,
taboos, behavior or language which is an intrinsic part of course content shall in
no event constitute sexual harassment. It is recognized that an essential function
of education is a probing of opinions and an exploration of ideas that may cause some
students discomfort. It is further recognized that academic freedom ensures the faculty's
right to teach and the student's right to learn.
wcu policy 116
WCU Policy 116. Clery Act Compliance
The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Crime Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics
Act of 1998 ("Clery Act") requires colleges and universities receiving federal financial
assistance to gather and make public information about certain crimes on or near their
campuses and publish policy statements concerning campus safety and security. It is
the policy of Western Carolina University (the "University") to comply with all requirements
of the Clery Act. This policy sets forth guidelines and procedures intended to ensure
that the University continues to comply with the Clery Act's reporting disclosure
obligation as required by policy and law.
wcu annual safety report
WCU Annual Safety Report
This report is prepared in compliance with the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security
Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, formerly known as the Student Right to Know
and Campus Security Act.