SO far this year Newcastle Sexual Assault Service has responded to 100 crisis presentations, many resulting in forensic medical examinations, and provided 431 psychosocial interventions for children, young people, adults and significant others. These figures are consistent with the recent BOSCAR statistics indicating a 33 per cent rise in reported sexual assault crimes in the Hunter Region in the past few years.

For many of our clients the social, emotional, psychological and health impacts can be significant post sexual assault. A lot of victims suffer in silence. Silence due to the nature of sexual assault, silence from a sense of shame and silence from an inferred community perception around the behaviour and responsibility of victims of this crime. This silencing often means victims do not receive the care, compassion and support they require to heal. There are many myths around sexual assault and these myths often pose barriers for victims coming forward and reporting these crimes.

Sexual assault is usually premeditated and planned by someone who knows the victim. It is a decision made by perpetrators. The best way I heard a client describe this crime was it was a theft. It attempts to rob another person of choice, of safety, of respect and dignity. It is an attempt to diminish, disregard and override another’s wishes. It says what I want is more important than what you want and I will take what I want. Tactics of perpetrators can include ‘grooming’, portraying they are someone they are not, befriending, coercing, manipulating, threats, intimidation, physical force, exploitation and blackmailing. Some perpetrator tactics are much more subtle, covert and far less obvious.

Sexual assault is an attack on a person’s body, senses, emotions and whole self. Common traumatic responses to sexual assault include both short and long term impacts including; shock, disbelief, shame and embarrassment, loss of control, helplessness, fear of people, places, or being alone, irritability, anger, depression, anxiety, loss of concentration. Physical symptoms can include fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, sleep disturbance, nightmares, flashbacks, low self-esteem and social anxiety and this can impact on relationships with self and others.

The best way I heard a client describe this crime was it was a theft. It attempts to rob another person of choice, of safety, of respect and dignity.

If victims do not receive any support and care, many of these trauma symptoms go unidentified, unrecognised and untreated. Research by Judith Herman in her book Trauma and Recovery states that the core experiences of psychological trauma is disempowerment and disconnection. It stands to reason then that the basis of recovery and healing is the antithesis of the sexual assault which is a crime of power. Healing is empowerment through choice and the creation of new connections. The key is building safe, supportive relationships and this is not possible in isolation and silence.

If victims can receive care and support soon after the assault this can significantly disrupt the trajectory of poor outcomes. Sexual assault counselling can restore a victim’s dignity, bear witness to the lived experience of the victim, provide clear messages of belief and that what has happened to the victim is not their fault.

Sexual assault counselling can help victims understand their reactions and provide strategies in helping to cope with triggers, intrusive memories, nightmares, sleep issues, flashbacks and intimacy in relationships. Counselling can be a place of safety. It is a confidential space to restore trust, hope, resilience and empowerment for victims. Most importantly sexual assault counselling places the responsibility of this crime with the perpetrator.

Newcastle Sexual Assault Service can assist in navigating the journey that sits around sexual assault including medical, health, legal and social services systems. This crisis and counselling service provides trauma informed care, information, support, client-centred counselling, psychoeducation on the impact of trauma, medical services and legal information.  Our clients show us every day their courage in the face of adversity and the bravery to not let the crime of another define who they are.

If you require support, reach out. You don’t have to do this alone. Referral services include: Newcastle Sexual Assault Service 4924 6333, NSW Rape Crisis Centre telephone counselling 1800 424 017, National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service for Men and Women 1800 RESPECT/1800 737 732, Victims Services 1800 633 063, Lifeline 13 11 14, Staying Home Leaving Violence 4926 3577, Men’s Line 1300 789 978, Kids Helpline 1800 551 800, Mental Health Line 1800 011 511, Awabakal Medical Centre 4907 8555.

Robyn Jones is the clinical coordinator, violence prevention and care, Hunter, Hunter New England Local Health District

https://www.theherald.com.au/whats-on/theatre-and-arts/5618894/smashing-silence-around-sexual-assault-helps-victims-to-recover/

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