U provides services for sexual assault victims

Hayley Odom

During his college career, communications studies junior Dan Frank became a victim of sexual violence. He was not a University student at the time, but said the crime occurred at a college party.

Frank chose not to seek outside help, and the crime has caused him to be more cautious about going to parties with few people he knows and to not drink as much as he did before the assault.

Sexual assault survivors, such as Frank, have several options when dealing with the psychological and physical effects of a sexual assault, said the Aurora Center for Advocacy and Education’s Associate Director Roberta Gibbons.

Talking with friends or using resources such as the University’s Aurora Center – which provides crisis intervention and advocacy services to victims of sexual assault, relationship violence and stalking – is important, Frank said.

“If I were a student at the time, (the Aurora Center) would have been a good resource,” he said.

Survivors of sexual assault have many options after the violation occurs, Gibbons said. Victims can choose to do nothing, file a police report or decide to only receive health care, which includes pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection tests.

They can also seek the center’s advocacy services to change their current student housing, if the assault happened there, she said. They can also have the center contact professors for academic extensions or administrative drops in courses, she said.

The healing process

After an assault, several physical and psychological effects can occur with a victim, said University Counseling and Consulting Services Director Harriett Copher Haynes.

Depression, vulnerability, a lack of control, anxiousness, loss of self esteem, feeling sick and withdrawing from others are some of the effects survivors will experience, she said.

Someone who does not know about the assault might wonder why the survivor isn’t attending class, doesn’t want to go out or sleeps a lot, Haynes said.

“I think that it’s extremely important that the victim of the assault feels supported,” she said. “It’s very important that they feel like they’re heard or listened to.”

Haynes said that if the person does not feel supported, his or her negative reactions to the assault might amplify and the person could lose trust with people close to him or her.

Besides seeking assistance from places such as the Aurora Center, Gibbons said, survivors might choose to recover with the help of support groups already established in their lives. Others might seek exercise, journaling and other healthy behaviors to gain control of their lives and heal, she said.

“It takes a while to recover -it’s not a linear process,” she said. “It’s two steps forward, one step back.”

Gibbons said it is impossible for victims to return to the person they were before the assault, because something has been taken away from them. The person has changed, she said, but sometimes people find solace in the strength gained from dealing with the assault.

Myths and trends

Many myths exist about sexual violence, Gibbons said. One idea includes the belief that people can bring on an assault by dressing a certain way or drinking too much. Another includes the idea that men should always be sexually active and that “no” means “yes,” she said.

“There’s nothing a person can do to invite a rape,” Gibbons said. “Research bears that out. The perpetrator makes the decision, not the victim.”

Instances of strangers jumping out of bushes to sexually assault people are rare, said Aurora Center Executive Assistant Kelly Coughlan.

“That’s not how the majority of sexual assault happens,” she said. “It’s hard for victims to think that someone they love or trust would do this. It’s hard for society in general.”

Academic institutions are responding to the issue, Coughlan said.

She said more universities are creating sexual-assault programs on campuses and are recognizing the need for such services.

After an advertising campaign in the bathrooms of Coffman Union, the center saw the need for its services jump approximately 25 percent from last September and October, Gibbons said.