Sexual Assault: Coping Mechanisms

Survivors of sexual assault, childhood sexual assault, and domestic violence often will incorporate any number of coping mechanisms to deal with the pain, anger, sadness, and confusion. Coping mechanisms serve to protect the individual from the overwhelming emotions, which naturally occur after being hurt in this way. Here is a list of some of these coping mechanisms:

  • Minimizing
  • Rationalizing
  • Denying
  • Forgetting
  • Splitting
  • Dissociation (leaving the body)
  • Chaos
  • Spacing out
  • Hyper-vigilance
  • Humor
  • Busyness
  • Self-destructive behaviors
  • Addiction
  • Isolation
  • Eating disorders
  • Lying
  • Stealing
  • Gambling
  • Avoiding intimacy
  • Sexual compulsion or avoidance
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(Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence) Survival Strategies of Children and Teenagers

Survival Strategies of Children & Teenagers

from http://www.lfcc.on.ca/HCT_SWASM_18.html

When faced with a difficult situation, children “cope” by coming to an understanding (possibly distorted) about what is happening and dealing with the flood of hurtful emotions. Their strategies can involve feelings (emotional), thoughts (cognitive), or actions (behavioural).

Some strategies are helpful

  • examples are seeking peers or supportive adults to talk about the feelings
  • young children cannot easily engage in healthy strategies and need adults to buffer them from the harmful consequences of family adversities such as violence

Some strategies are helpful but costly

  • strategies may be helpful during a crisis but not healthy in the long run, such as emotional numbing, self-injury, substance use, having a baby to escape the family, or being an emotional caretaker for a parent
  • these strategies can be a response to a variety of family adversities, including violence and maltreatment
  • an objectively helpful strategy may not “work” while some objectively unhealthy strategies did do
  • they help a child get through a time of stress or crisis, such as when there is violence in the home
  • however, if used after the crisis is over, or in other circumstances, these strategies may create problems
  • the longer a strategy is used, or the more effective it is in shielding a youth from overwhelming emotions and hurt, the harder it may be to extinguish

Once the family is safe, gradually extinguishing strategies with negative effects and replacing them with healthier strategies may be the key to helping children who have lived with family adversities such as violence.


These are some coping strategies commonly observed in children and teenagers who have lived with violence and maltreatment. Remember that coping styles vary with age.

Mental Blocking or Disconnecting Emotionally

  • numbing emotions or blocking thoughts
  • tuning out the noise, learning not to hear it, being oblivious
  • concentrating hard to believe they are somewhere else
  • drinking alcohol or using drugs

Making it Better Through Fantasy

  • planning revenge on abuser, fantasizing about killing him
  • fantasizing about a happier life, living with a different family
  • fantasizing about life after a divorce or after the abuser leaves
  • fantasizing about abuser being “hit by a bus”
  • hoping to be rescued, by super heroes or police or “Prince Charming”

Physical Avoidance

  • going into another room, leaving the house during a violent episode
  • finding excuses to avoid going home
  • running away from home

Looking for Love (and Acceptance) in all the Wrong Places

  • falling in with bad friends
  • having sex for the intimacy and closeness
  • trying to have a baby as a teenager or getting pregnant as a teen to have someone to love you

Taking Charge Through Caretaking

  • protecting brothers and sisters from danger
  • nurturing brothers and Sisters like a surrogate mother / taking the “parent” role
  • nurturing his or her mother

Reaching out for Help

  • telling a teacher, neighbour, or friend’s mother
  • calling the police
  • talking to siblings, friends, or supportive adults

Crying out for Help

  • suicidal gestures
  • self-injury
  • lashing out in anger / being aggressive with others / getting into fights

Re-Directing Emotions into Positive Activities

  • sports, running, fitness
  • writing, journalling, drawing, acting, being creative
  • excelling academically

Trying to Predict, Explain, Prevent or Control the Behaviour of an Abuser

  • thinking “Mommy has been bad” or “I have been bad” or “Daddy is under stress at work”
  • thinking “I can stop the violence by changing my behaviour” or “I can predict the violence”
  • trying to be the perfect child
  • lying to cover up bad things (e.g., a bad grade) to avoid criticism and worse

Handout for Women

How my Child or Teen Copes (pdf link to off-site page)

Help women use this sheet to identify coping strategies of each of her children (this exercise will not be helpful for babies, toddlers, or most pre-schoolers). Distinguish between those used in response to violence in the past and those still used today. The group can brainstorm specific ways to encourage healthy strategies.

Want to know more?

Alison Cunningham & Linda Baker (2004). What About Me! Seeking to Understand the Child’s View of Violence in the Family. London ON: Centre for Children & Families in the Justice System.

What you might be feeling after sexual assault

What You May Be Feeling
Survivors of sexual assault experience a wide range of reactions. Some have said that after the assault their emotions go up and down from one extreme to another. It is important for you to know that what you are feeling and thinking right now is okay. Your reactions are your own way of coping with the crime that has been committed against you. There is no standard response to sexual assault. You may experience a few, none or all of the following emotions.

SHOCK AND NUMBNESS: Feelings of spaciness, confusion, being easily overwhelmed, not knowing how to feel or what to do. You may react in a way that is similar to your reactions during other crises in your life, for example, with tears, irritability, nervous laughter or withdrawing.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Be aware that these are normal reactions to trauma. Each person handles crisis differently, so think of things that helped you get through crises in the past. Get help to sort out what you would like to do and how you may want to organize you time, thoughts and decisions. Be compassionate toward yourself; give yourself time to heal.

LOSS OF CONTROL: Feeling like your whole life has been turned upside down and that you will never have control of your life again. Your thoughts and feelings seem out of control.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Try to get as much control over your life as soon as you possibly can, even on small things. Ask for information that may help you sort out your thoughts and feelings. Use outside resources, such as counselors and legal professionals. Ask how other people have handled similar situations. Try to make as many of your own decisions as possible. This may gradually help you regain a sense of control over your own life.

FEAR: Fear that you assailant may return; fear for your general physical safety; fear of being alone; fear of other people or situations that may remind you of the assault.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: If you want company, do not hesitate to ask people who you trust to be with you day and night. You may want to make your physical environment feel more safe such as moving, making your home more secure or getting to know your neighbors better.

GUILT AND SELF-BLAME: Feeling like you could have or should have done something to avoid or prevent the assault; doubts regarding your ability to make judgments.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: No matter what the situation was, you did not ask to be hurt or violated. Blaming yourself is sometimes another way to feel control over the situation, thinking that if you avoid similar circumstances, it will not happen to you again.

ISOLATION: Feeling that this experience has set you apart from other people; feeling that other people can tell you have been sexually assaulted just by looking at you; or not wanting to burden other people with your experience.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Recovering from an assault can be a very lonely experience. However, you are not alone in what you are feeling. You may find it reassuring to talk to others who have been assaulted, or to a counselor at you local Rape Crisis Center who has worked with other sexual assault survivors.

VULNERABILITY, DISTRUST: Feeling that you are at the mercy of your own emotions or the actions of others; not knowing who to trust or how to trust yourself; or feelings of suspicion and caution.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Trust your instincts about who you want to talk with about what happened with you. Try to talk with people whom you have found to be the most dependable in the past; select those who have been good listeners or are non-judgmental. Feelings of general suspicion may subside as you begin to find people you can trust.

SEXUAL FEARS: Feeling that you do not want to have sexual relations; wondering whether you will ever want or enjoy sexual relationships again; fears that being sexually intimate may remind you of the assault.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Try to tell your partner what your limits are. Let your partner know if the situation reminds you of the assault and may bring up painful memories. Let your partner know that is the situation — not him/her — that is bringing up the painful memories. You may feel more comfortable with gentle physical affection. Let your partner know what level of intimacy feels comfortable for you.

ANGER: Feeling angry at the assailant. You may find yourself thinking about retaliation. You may be angry at the world since you no longer feel safe. You may be angry that your faith did not prevent this.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Although these are common reactions, they can be quite disturbing. Take things very slowly. Some people find it helpful to keep a notebook at hand to write down feelings, thoughts, ideas, or details of the assault; keeping the thoughts and feelings in one place makes them feel more manageable.

 

An excerpt this information from the publication, “A Handbook For Survivors Of Sexual Assault.”

Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Assault

Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Assault

CAVEAT: The following descriptions are meant to serve as a general guideline for how a victim of sexual assault might react in a time of pain or crisis. It is important to recognize, however, that each victim of sexual assault will have his or her own life experiences and personality that will influence how he or she react to the assault.

Reactions

There are many reactions that survivors of rape and sexual assault can have. But for adult survivors of childhood abuse there are reactions that may either be different or stronger than for other survivors. These include:

Setting Limits/Boundaries
  • Because your personal boundaries were invaded when you were young by someone you trusted and depended on, you may have trouble understanding that you have the right to control what happens to you.
Memories/Flashbacks
  • Like many survivors, you may experience flashbacks.
Anger
  • This is often the most difficult emotion for an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse to get in touch with.
  • As a child your anger was powerless and had little to no effect on the actions of your abuser. For this reason you may not feel confident that you anger will be useful or helpful.
Grieving/Mourning
  • Being abused as a child means the loss of many things- childhood experiences, trust, innocence, normal relationship with family members (especially if the abuser was a family member).
    • You must be allowed to name those losses, grieve them, and then bury them.
Guilt, Shame, and Blame
  • You may carry a lot of guilt because you may have experienced pleasure or because you did not try to stop the abuse.
  • There may have been silence surrounding the abuse that led to feelings of shame.
  • It is important for you to understand that it was the adult who abused his/her position of authority and should be held accountable, not you.
Trust
  • Learning to trust again may be very difficult for you.
  • You may find that you go from one extreme to the other, not trusting at all to trusting too much.
Coping Skills
  • You have undoubtedly developed skills in order to cope with the trauma.
    • Some of these are healthy (possibly separating yourself from family members, seeking out counseling, etc.)
    • Some are not (drinking or drug abuse, promiscuous sexual activity, etc.)
Self-esteem/Isolation
  • Low self-esteem is a result of all of the negative messages you received and internalized from your abusers.
  • Because entering into an intimate relationship involves trust, respect, love, and the ability to share, you may flee from intimacy or hold on too tightly for fear of losing the relationship.
Sexuality
  • You likely have to deal with the fact that your first initiation into sex came as a result of sexual abuse.
  • You may experience the return of body memories while engaging in a sexual activity with another person. Such memories may interfere in your ability to engage in sexual relationships which may leave you feeling frightened, frustrated, or ashamed.

Reference
This section was adapted from materials provided by the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.

SEXUAL ASSAULT OF ADOLESCENTS AND TEENS

SEXUAL ASSAULT OF ADOLESCENTS AND TEENS
Sexual assault is a crime committed overwhelmingly against young girls and adolescent women. High
school and college aged women are the most vulnerable for date or acquaintance rape.

Teens and adolescents, especially adolescent women, are at greater risk for sexual assault than any
other age group.

• Between 1/3 and 2/3 of sexual assault victims are age 15 and younger. (Population Reports: Ending
Violence Against Women. 2000)

• Approximately one in five female high school students reports being physically or sexually abused by a
dating partner. (Dating Violence Against Adolescent Girls and Associated Substance Use, Unhealthy
Weight Control, Sexual Risk Behavior, Pregnancy, and Suicidality. Journal of the American Medical
Association, Vol. 286, No. 5)

• The National Violence Against Women Survey found that of the women who reported being raped at
some time in their lives, 21.6% were under the age of 12 years old, 32.4% were 12-17 years old, and 29%
were 18-24 years old when they were first raped. This translates to 54% of women victims who were
under 18 at the time of the first rape. (Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against
Women. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs. November 1998.)

• According to the U.S. Department of Justice, young women between the ages of 16 and 24 are the most
vulnerable to intimate partner violence. The average rate of intimate partner violence against all women
was 6 assaults per 1,000 in 1999. That same year for women age 16-24, the average was 16 victimizations
per 1,000 women. (Intimate Partner Violence and Age of Victim, 1993-99. U.S. Department of Justice,
Bureau of Justice Statistics. October 2001.)

Teenage girls and adolescent women are often assaulted by someone they know.

• 13.3% of college women indicated that they had been forced to have sex in a dating situation. (Johnson,
I., Sigler, R., “Forced Sexual Intercourse Among Intimates,” Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 15(1).
2000.)

• In a study of college women, more than 70% of rape or sexual assault victims knew their attackers,
compared to about half of all violent crime victims. (Fisher, Bonnie S.; Cullen, Francis T.; and Turner,
Michael G. The Sexual Victimization of College Women. U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of
Justice. December 2000.)

Many teens and adolescent women do not identify forcible sex as sexual assault.

• Almost half (48.8%) of college-aged women who were victims of attacks that met the study’s definition
of rape did not consider what happened to them a sexual assault. (Fisher, Bonnie S.; Cullen, Francis T.;
and Turner, Michael G. The Sexual Victimization of College Women. U.S. Department of Justice,
National Institute of Justice. December 2000.)

• In one study over 50% of high school boys and 42% of high school girls believe that there are times when
it is “acceptable for a male to hold a female down and physically force her to engage in intercourse.”
(Warshaw, R. (1994). I Never Called it Rape. New York: Harper Perennial.)

The violence that teenage girls and adolescent women experience is strongly associated with such
health problems as substance abuse, unhealthy weight control, risky sexual behavior, pregnancy and
attempts to commit suicide.

• 18% of adolescent female sexual abuse or sexual assault survivors binge and purge more than once a
week compared to 6% of non-survivors. (The Commonwealth Fund Survey of the Health of Adolescent
Girls. The Commonwealth Fund. New York. 1997.)

• In one study, 30% of female adolescent sexual abuse or rape survivors used illegal drugs in the past
month compared to 13% of non-survivors and 22% of female teen survivors drink at least once a month
or once a week compared to 12% of non-survivors. (The Commonwealth Fund Survey of the Health of
Adolescent Girls. The Commonwealth Fund. New York. 1997.)

Sexual harassment in schools and colleges is widespread.

• Four in 5 students (81%) say they have experienced some form of sexual harassment during their school
lives: 85% of girls and 76% of boys. (Hostile Hallways: The AAUW Survey on Sexual Harassment in
America’s Schools. The American Association of University Women Education Foundation. Washington
DC. 1993.)

• In a study of college women, 6% of female students had been shown pornographic pictures, almost 5%
had someone expose their sexual organs to them, and 2.4% were observed naked without their consent.
About half the respondents were subjected to sexist remarks and to catcalls and whistles with sexual
overtones. One of 5 female students received an obscene telephone call and was asked intrusive
questions about her sex life. One in 10 students had false rumors spread about her sex life. (Fisher,
Bonnie S.; Cullen, Francis T.; and Turner, Michael G. The Sexual Victimization of College Women. U.S.
Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice. December 2000.)

Michigan Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence

3893 Okemos Road, Suite B2 Okemos, MI 48864

Phone: (517) 347-7000 Fax: (517) 347-1377 TTY: (517) 381-8470

http://www.mcadsv.org

The Michigan Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence wishes to thank the Michigan
Domestic Violence Prevention and Treatment Board for their financial support of this project.
Updated 03/2002

SEXUAL ASSAULT—KNOW THE FACTS

SEXUAL ASSAULT—KNOW THE FACTS

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Sexual assault is pervasive in Michigan and in the United
States. Recent studies provide compelling evidence to indicate the scope of the problem. The National
Violence Against Women Survey found that 1 of 6 U.S. women and 1 of 33 U.S. men has experienced
an attempted or completed rape as a child and/or an adult. (Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences
of Violence Against Women. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs. November 1998.)
Statistics indicate that sexual assault is a significant problem.

In Michigan, 40% of women have experienced some form of sexual violence, ranging from unwanted
touching to forcible rape, since the age of 16. (Survey of Violence in the Lives of Michigan Women.
Michigan Department of Community Health, Community Public Health Agency, 1996.)

Almost 5000 rapes and attempted rapes were reported to Michigan law enforcement agencies in 2000.
(Michigan Uniform Crime Report. Michigan State Police, 2001.)

Sexual assault is a crime committed primarily against girls and women under the age of 25.

The National Violence Against Women Survey found that of the women who reported being raped at some
time in their lives, 21.6% were under the age of 12 years old, 32.4% were 12-17 years old, 29% were 18-24
years old, and 16.6% were over 25 years old when they were first raped. This means 54% of women
victims were under 18 at the time of the first rape and 83% of women victims were under the age of 25.
(Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women. U.S. Department of Justice, Office
of Justice Programs. November 1998.)

Most sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, not a stranger.

About 6 in 10 rape or sexual assault victims knew their assailant. Approximately 43% of victims are raped
by a friend or acquaintance; 34% by a stranger; 17% by an intimate; and 2% by another relative. (National
Crime Victimization Survey. Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice. 2000.)

More than 70% of rape or sexual assault victims knew their attackers, compared to about half of all violent
crime victims. (Sexual Victimization of College Women. Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of
Justice. 2001.)

Men and boys are also victims of sexual assault.
In one study, 5% of boys in grades 9-12 and 3% of boys in grades 5-8 reported that they had been sexually
abused. (The Commonwealth Fund Survey of the Health of Adolescent Girls. New York: The
Commonwealth Fund. 1997.)

About three percent of American men—a total of 2.78 million men—have experienced an attempted or
completed rape in their lifetime. (Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women.
U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs. November 1998.)

Sexual assault victims do not lie about the assaults, in fact sexual assault is a vastly underreported
crime.

Rape or sexual assault is the violent crime least often reported to law enforcement. In 1999, only 28% of
victims reported the assault to police. (Criminal Victimization 2000: Changes 1999-2000 with Trends
1993-2000. Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice. June 2001.)

The rate of “false reports” or false allegations of rape is 2% to 3%, no different than that for other crimes.
(Schafran, L. H. 1993. Writing and reading about rape: A Primer. St. John’s Law Review, 66, 979-1045.)
Assailants use many forms of coercion, threats and manipulation to rape including alcohol and
drugs. Alcohol, Rohypnol, and other drugs are often used to incapacitate victims.

Men who have committed sexual assault also frequently report getting their female companion drunk as a
way of making it easier to talk or force her into having sex. (Abbey, A., McAuslan, P. & Ross, L. Sexual
Assault Perpetration by College Men: The Role of Alcohol, Misperception of Sexual Intent, and Sexual
Beliefs and Experiences. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 17, 167-195. 1998.)

Although the media has labeled drugs such as Rohypnol and GHB as the date-rape drugs of the present,
these are only two of the many drugs used to incapacitate a victim. Of the 22 substances used in drugfacilitated
rapes, alcohol is the most common. (LeBeau, M., et al., Recommendations for Toxicological
Investigations of Drug Facilitated Sexual Assaults, Journal of Forensic Sciences. 1999.)

Michigan Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence
3893 Okemos Road, Suite B2 Okemos, MI 48864
Phone: (517) 347-7000 Fax: (517) 347-1377 TTY: (517) 381-8470
http://www.mcadsv.org

MICR- Michigan Incident Crime Reporting for Criminal Sexual Conduct, 2007 (Genesee County)

MICRMichigan Incident Crime Reporting 2007 (Genesee County)

First Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct involves penetration. According to Michigan law, penetration includes vaginal, anal, or oral intercourse or putting a finger or other object into another person’s anal or genital opening. Emission of semen is not required.

First Degree Sexual Criminal Conduct includes penetration and any one of the following circumstances:
1. Victim is under 13 years of age.
2. Victim is 13, 14, or 15 and assailant is any of the following:

a. Member of the household.
b. Related by blood or affinity.
c. In a position of authority over the victim.
d. A teacher, substitute teacher or an administrator of a school at which the victim is enrolled.

3. Another felony is committed during the assault.
4. Multiple assailants and either of the following:

a. Victim is mentally incapable, mentally incapacitated or physically helpless.
b. Force or coercion is used. Force of coercion includes violence, coercing victim to submit by threatening retaliation, overcoming victim through concealment or surprise, or assailant engages in medical treatment or examination of the victim.

5. Assailant is armed with a weapon or any object believed to be a weapon.
6. Assailant causes personal injury and force or coercion is used.

7. Assailant causes personal injury and victim is mentally incapable, mentally incapacitated or physically helpless.

8. Victim is mentally incapable, mentally incapacitated or physically helpless and the assailant is any of the following:

a. Related by blood or affinity.
b. In a position of authority over the victim.

CSC 1st is a felony punishable by up to life in prison and additional penalties and monitoring.

Sexual Penetration Penis/Vagina CSC 1st 117 reported
Sexual Penetration Oral/Anal CSC 1st- 62 reported
Sexual Penetration Object CSC 1st 29 reported

Second Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct involves contact. According to Michigan Law, sexual contact is defined as the intentional touching of the victim’s or actor’s intimate parts or the clothing covering those intimate parts for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification, done for sexual purpose or in a sexual manner.

Second Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct includes sexual conduct and any one of the following circumstances:
1. Victim is under 13 years of age.
2. Victim is 13, 14, 15 and assailant is any of the following:

a. Member of the household.
b. Related by blood or affinity.
c. In a position of authority over the victim.
d. A teacher, substitute teacher or an administrator of a school at which the victim is enrolled.

3. Another felony is committed during the assault.
4. Multiple assailants and either of the following:

a. Victim is mentally incapable, mentally incapacitated or physically helpless.
b. Force or coercion is used. Force of coercion includes violence, coercing victim to submit by threatening retaliation, overcoming victim through concealment or surprise, or assailant engages in medical treatment or examination of the victim.

5. Assailant is armed with a weapon or any object believed to be a weapon.

6. Assailant causes personal injury and force or coercion is used.

7. Assailant causes personal injury and victim is mentally incapable, mentally incapacitated or physically helpless.

8. Victim is mentally incapable, mentally incapacitated or physically helpless and the assailant is any of the following:

a. Related by blood or affinity.
b. In a position of authority over the victim.

CSC 2nd is a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Sexual Contact Forcible CSC 2- 118 reported

Third Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct includes penetration and any of the one following circumstances:

1. Victim is 13, 14, 15.

2. Force or Coercion is used.

3. Victim is mentally incapable, mentally incapacitated or physically helpless.

4. Assailant is related by blood or affinity.

5. The victim is at least 16 years of age, unmarried and not emancipated, and a student at a public or nonpublic school, and the assailant is a teacher, substitute teacher, or administrator of that school.

CSC 3 is a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Sexual penetration penis/vagina CSC 3rd- 46 reported
Sexual Penetration oralianal CSC 3rd – 19 reported
Sexual Penetration Object CSC 3rd 4 reported

Forth Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct includes sexual contact and any one of the following circumstances:

1. Victim is 13, 14, or 15 and assailant is 5 or more years older than victim.

2. Force or coercion is used to accomplish the contact.

3. Assailant knows or has reason to know that the victim is mentally incapable, mentally incapacitated or physically helpless.

4. Assailant is related by blood or affinity.

5. Assailant is a mental health professional and sexual contact occurs during or within 2 years after the period in which the victim was a client or patient.

6. Victim is a least 16 or 17 years of age and a student at a public or nonpublic school, and the assailant is a teacher, substitute teacher, or administrator of that school.

Criminal Sexual Conduct in the fourth degree is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 2 years in prison or a fine of up to $500 or both.

Sexual Contact Forcible CSC 4- 117 reported

Other Sexual Offenses- 111 reported