If You Are a Survivor
If you have been sexually assaulted, know that you are not alone, and that there are people who can help. Remember - the assault was not your fault.
If You Have Just Been Sexually Assaulted
- Get to a safe place. If you are in danger, or want to report the incident, call for immediate police assistance at 911.
Contact someone to help you - a friend, the police, a Sexual Assault Center Program advocate. A Sexual Assault Center advocate is available to talk with you about safety and any other concerns. They will also accompany you to the hospital and police station, if you choose to report the assault. To speak with an advocate contact the Alexandria Sexual Assault Hotline at 703.683-7273.
- Get medical attention right away. You have the right to choose whether or not to report this to the Alexandria Police Department. Regardless of that decision, you can have a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE nurse) collect evidence through the use of a Physical Evidence Recovery Kit (PERK). The evidence collection will be done along with a medical exam that will address your medical needs. A medical exam is very important for your health-keep in mind that you may have injuries of which you are unaware. Medical personnel can talk with you about your options for the prevention or pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.
- If possible, do not shower, drink or eat, douche, or change your clothes. These activities destroy physical evidence that can be used if you choose to report the assault to the police. It is also important to avoid moving or changing anything at the scene, if appropriate. If you choose to press charges, the police will need to examine the scene for evidence. A Sexual Assault Center advocate is available to accompany you at the hospital 24/7-all it takes is a call to the hotline (703.683.7273).
Following a Sexual Assault
- Long after the assailant leaves, the effects of the assault may still be with you. The crime has medical, legal and emotional aftereffects which may take weeks, months or years to resolve. During the months following an assault, survivors may continue to experience a wide range of emotions such as fear, distrust, anger, shame, humiliation, and guilt. Some may also believe that there is something wrong with them because they are continuing to have difficulties long after the assault. Remember that there is no typical "time line" for survivors to heal.
- The reality is that everyone recovers at a pace and in a manner that is unique and appropriate to them. Recovery from sexual assault occurs in stages and is very subjective; what one person considers recovered another might not. After several months you may find that acute symptoms, such as nightmares or flashbacks, have lessened or dissapeared, while other symptoms, such as higher levels of anxiety and fear, may persist for some time. Survivors may find that certain times and/or events - particularly the anniversary day of the assault - trigger some of these feelings. While it may be frustrating to be experiencing these symptoms of trauma long after the assault, gradually they will decrease in frequency and change in character.
- The ways that survivors handle feelings and reactions will vary. Some try to block intense emotions by becoming very busy while others deal with these feelings by talking about the assault frequently. Some are afraid of crowded situations and prefer to keep to themselves, while others are afraid to be alone. It is important to not become isolated, but the manner and pace in which you deal with these feelings and reactions should be one that is comfortable for you.
- Talking about the assault and developing a network of support can be a very important part of the healing process. Sometimes, or for some people, talking with friends and family is most helpful. Or, you may prefer speaking with a trained counselor. A counselor can also help you to build a support network and consider the ways in which the people in your life can be helpful. Some people think that asking for help is a sign of weakness. Others see it as making use of available resources and expertise, recognizing that most people are not naturally prepared to handle a sexual assault.
- Many have found support and understanding in talking with other survivors through a support group. Group members discover that they are not alone - that others have felt the same way they do. It is also a chance to share ideas of what has been helpful for recovery. In addition, some have found it helpful to take a self-defense class and/or learn about risk reduction and ways to increase their sense of safety.
- Recovery takes time;
- It was not your fault;
- Being vulnerable or intoxicated is not an excuse for someone to assault you;
- Rape or sexual assault is not an act of sex or lust - it is about aggression, power, humiliation;
- Complying and cooperation is not the same as consent.
- Sometimes cooperating or complying is the safest thing to do;
- Take care of yourself physically and emotionally. This includes proper eating, rest and relaxation, doing nice things for yourself, and asking for help.
About the Alexandria Sexual Assault Center
In August of 1975, the Alexandria Commission on the Status of Women established the Rape Victim Companion Program, which later became the Sexual Assault Response and Awareness Program, then in 2011, the Alexandria Sexual Assault Center. The program offers support to victims of sexual assault and their families and friends.
Trained volunteers and staff are available 24 hours a day to provide:
- crisis intervention and emotional support
- advocacy with medical, police, and court systems
- short-term individual and group counseling
- information and referrals
In addition to services for individuals, the staff is also available to provide trainings, information, and presentations to local schools and organizations.
The Sexual Assault Center offers services for:
- sexual assault (i.e. rape, attempted rape, fondling, indecent exposure, etc.) survivors and their family and friends
- sexual harassment and stalking victims
- women and men of any age, race, ethnicity, immigration status, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical ability, etc.
Many services are offered in both English and Spanish. Staff and volunteers use a confidential translation service to support survivors who speak many more languages.
About Sexual Assault
Sexual assault is an act of sexual violence and aggression which occurs when a person is forced, threatened, or coerced into sexual contact without his/her consent. Sexual assault is committed primarily out of anger and/or a need to feel powerful by controlling, dominating, or humiliating the victim. Examples of sexual assault include: rape, sodomy, fondling, indecent exposure, peeping Toms, obscene phone calls, childhood sexual abuse, and sexual harassment.
- People of any age can be victims of a sexual assault.
- Sexual assault happens to women, men, and children.
- Approximately 80% of all sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, such as a friend, spouse, family member, date, coworker, or neighbor.
- One in four females, and one in six males, will be sexually assaulted before age 18.
Survivors of sexual assault may experience a variety of after-effects in unique and individual ways. A survivor may feel:
- Loss of control of her/his life.
- Guilt and self-blame - feeling responsible for the assault
- Some survivors find it hard to concentrate, have difficulty sleeping, and may experience mood swings and changed eating patterns.
Sexual harassment is unwanted and unwelcomed sexual behavior. Sexual harassment may result from words or conduct of a sexual nature that offend, stigmatize, demean, frighten, or threaten you because of your sex.
Sexual harassment is defined by the person being targeted. The target of sexual harassment and the perpetrator (the one doing the harassing) do not have to agree about what is happening.
Sexual harassment can happen once or many times. Being the target of sexual harassment may make it scary to go to work/school or hard to concentrate. Incidents of sexual harassment may cause the target to feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, or threatened.
Employers and school district officials are legally responsible to guarantee a safe environment which is free from sexual harassment and sex discrimination.
Some forms of sexual harassment are also crimes and should be reported to the police or district attorney so that the perpetrator(s) can be prosecuted.
What Can I Do?
Tips If You Feel You Are the Target of Sexual Harassment
- Let the harasser know you don't like the behavior or comments. If you feel safe and comfortable doing so, tell the harasser that his or her behavior bothers you and that you want it to stop.
- Tell someone and keep telling until you find someone who believes you. Find supporters and talk with them about what's happening. The point is to find someone you can trust, and someone who will take the kinds of actions you want.
- Do not blame yourself for sexual harassment. Harassment is unwanted and can make you feel trapped, confused, helpless, frustrated, embarrassed, and scared. You certainly did not ask for any of those feelings.
- Keep a written record of the incidents: what happened, when, where, who else was present, and how you reacted. Save any notes or pictures you receive from the harasser.
- Go to a supervisor or school staff member. If you feel uncomfortable, it is okay to bring a coworker, friend or parent with you to that meeting.
For Friends and Loved Ones
A friend or a loved one who has been sexually assaulted may confide in you five minutes or five years after the assault. As someone close to a survivor you can offer invaluable assistance, and can make a significant difference in her/his recovery.
Ways to Help
- Listen...then listen some more. Let them know you are available whenever they are ready - which may be weeks, months, or years later.
- Let them express their feelings. Focus on listening instead of offering advice or asking questions.
- Don't minimize feelings or concerns, or pretend that the assault wasn't serious.
- Believe her/him. This includes believing that their actions during the assault were correct.
- Let them make their own choices. You may help think about options, but let them make the decision.
- Reassure him/her it was not their fault.
- Be available, but be realistic. Let them know how much support you can give. You will be more helpful if you are realistic in your commitments.
- Respect their pace in healing, including sexual intimacy. Let them take the initiative.
- Learn about sexual assault.
- Respect her/his privacy. The survivor should be the one to decide who should know about the sexual assault and how they should be told. Do not tell anyone wthout the survivor's permission.
- Ask how you can help.
- Take care of yourself. Be aware that this may be a crisis for you too, and you may experience a variety of emotions. Not addressing your own feelings may make it difficult to offer strength and support to the survivor. The services of the Sexual Assault Center are available to the significant others of an assault survivor.
- Contact the Sexual Assault Center hotline at: 703.683.7273
Survivors of sexual assault or childhood sexual abuse sometimes find it helpful to talk about their feelings with others who have had similar experiences. All groups are time limited, and address a variety of issues related to sexual violence. Discussion topics may include: guilt, shame, fear, anger, trust, self-esteem and relationships with family and friends. Listed below are groups offered throughout the year by the Sexual Assault Center. The times and dates are subject to change, and this webpage will be updated accordingly. Unless otherwise noted, all groups will be held at the Sexual Assault Center at 421 King Street in Alexandria. See the flyer on support groups. Please call the Sexual Assault Hotline at 703.683.7273 for more information or to register for a group or class.
*Pre-registration is required for all groups and classes
Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Assault
This is a ten-week group for women who were sexual assaulted as children that will address the impact that the sexual abuse has had on survivors’ lives and explore methods that survivors may use to help them cope with and heal from the abuse. All group members must be receiving individual therapy or case management services while in the group. All members will meet with a Sexual Assault Center group facilitator before group begins. See the flyer for more information.
Adult Survivors of Sexual Assault
This is an eight-week group for women who have been sexually assaulted as adults. This group will explore the impact that sexual assault has had on survivors’ lives and will address topics connected to healing from the assault. All members must meet with a Sexual Assault Center group facilitator before group begins. See the flyer for more information.
Prevention and Bystander Intervention and Risk Reduction
The Sexual Assault Center is dedicated to building a safer community where no one has to be a victim. Our Prevention and Education Program is designed to change negative attitudes and behaviors that lead to sexual violence and build awareness within the Alexandria community. The Sexual Assault Center reaches out to schools, after school organizations as well as adult civic associations and organizations within Alexandria to provide free prevention presentations on an array of topics to include prevention, risk reduction and bystander intervention of sexual violence. Taking a stand against violent and oppressive behaviors is the first step towards preventing sexual assault. Respecting individuals, encouraging independent thought, and demanding justice are key to building a violence-free society. To schedule a free presentation for your organization please call the Sexual Assault Center at 703.746.3118.
Preventing sexual violence starts with building awareness in the community on the issues of sexual harassment, and sexual violence and focusing on those committing the act. Understanding and challenging the myths that blame the victim and protect the rapist is the first step in achieving a violence-free community. Presentations can be geared toward specific age groups and can focus on a variety of subject to include; sexual assault awareness, sexual harassment, building healthy relationships and self-esteem, and child sexual abuse prevention.
Bystander intervention addresses the behaviors of others- for example: the friends, families, teachers, clergy, coaches and witnesses that surround any act or pattern of abuse –offering an opportunity to address the behaviors BEFORE sexual violence has been perpetrated in the first place. This training will discuss the concept of bystander intervention and why shifting the responsibility away from just the victim and perpetrator, and placing on the community as a whole will prevent more acts from escalating to the point of sexual violence. Educating and creating community awareness on how to prevent sexual violence, will create a community culture where people will be more willing to speak up and say something or do something when there is an opportunity to act.
Risk reduction focuses on the potential victims by offering a variety of strategies that may reduce the possibility of being sexually assaulted. People often ask what they can do to keep themselves safe. Risk-reduction strategies such as self-defense or general safety tips can be helpful. Yet, it is important to remember that whether or not risk reduction measures are taken, a victim is NEVER responsible for preventing her or his assault.
Below is a list of suggested methods that may reduce your risk of being sexually assaulted. However, this is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but rather a resource to increase your knowledge and available options. If you should find yourself in a dangerous situation, TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. Some people feel comfortable and are able to defend themselves physically others do not or cannot. Submitting to the demands and threats of an attacker IS a viable and reasonable option. The goal is to survive. Submission to an attacker as a result of force, threat and/or intimidation is rape.
In Your Home
- Make sure you have strong locks on all doors and windows. Door chains do not provide adequate protection from anyone seeking entry.
- Use extra locks for windows near fire escapes. If you live in a basement or first floor apartment, place releasable bars on the windows. Place curtains and/or blinds on all windows.
- Report any suspicious activities that occur in your neighborhood to the police and to your landlord.
- Be sure lights are installed and working in dark walkways, driveways, and yards.
- Be aware of places where assailants might hide; under stairs, between buildings, in bushes.
- If possible, do not let strangers into your home.
- Request identification from service personnel, or call their company to verify their employment before you open the door, particularly when the visit is unannounced. Even if the service is scheduled, consider having a friend, family member, or neighbor with you.
- Report unusual phone calls to the police.
- Never give information, not even your name, to an unknown telephone caller. If you receive an obscene phone call, hang up. If calls persist, blow a whistle or click the receiver and say, “Operator, this is the call I want you to trace.”
- Meet your neighbors and know which ones you could trust in an emergency.
- When returning home at night, have your keys ready before you get to the door.
- If someone is watching or following you, go to a neighbor’s house or a public place to call the police.
- Never hide a key outside of your home.
- Hang bells or wind chimes on entryways and place cans or houseplants on the top of in the tracks of windows so that they will be disturbed by anyone who tries to break in.
- When you leave your home, use light timers. Consider having one light inside and one outside and rotate the light you leave on at night.
- Have a lock on your bedroom door and a phone by your bed with emergency numbers written so you can read them without glasses.
- Have a free home security inspection through your local police department. If you live in Alexandria, call the Police Department’s Community Relations/Crime Prevention Section at 703-838-4520 for more information.
On Public Transportation
- When you use mass transit, try to travel with one or more companions.
- Try to sit near the driver.
- Do not fall asleep.
- If you believe that someone is following you, stay on the bus or train until after the suspect gets off. On a bus, ask the driver to let you off at a safe place.
- If your destination is in a questionable neighborhood, take a cab instead of mass transit.
Out and About
- Use a steady, confident pace.
- Vary your travel routes from time to time.
- Carry a whistle or keys in your hands.
- Avoid walking through dark or deserted areas.
- Be wary of giving your name, address or place of business in restaurants and other public places.
- Do not overload yourself with packages.
In Your Car
- Have your car serviced regularly.
- Have a good battery, tires with good tread, and ample gasoline. Refill your gas tank when it is half to a quarter full.
- Lock car doors and keep windows rolled up even during daytime driving.
- Never pick up hitchhikers.
- If anyone tries to enter the car, sound your horn in short blasts until the police or others come to your assistance. Observe the assailant’s appearance so you can give the police a description.
- Plan your route in advance, carry plenty of maps and ask directions only from gas station attendants or police officers.
- Never pull off to the side of the road to ask a stranger for directions.
- If your car breaks down, put your hood up. If you have a “please call the police” sign, place it in your back window and wait for help. Do not accept a ride from a stranger, but request that he/she call for help.
Before an Extended Trip
- Ask a neighbor to collect your mail and newspapers for you.
- Leave a key with a trusted neighbor so emergencies can be handled and unusual activity in your house or apartment can be investigated.
- Leave shades, blinds, and draperies in their usual positions. Use automatic timers in several rooms so lights will appear alternately.
- Arrange to have your lawn mowed during your absence.
- Tell a relative or friend when you plan to arrive at your destination and when you expect to return home.
- If you live in an apartment, tell both a trusted neighbor and your building superintendent that you will be away.
In a Hotel
- When making your reservation, ask that you be placed in a room near the elevator, not at the end of a hallway or on the ground floor.
- Women should consider making their reservations under a man’s name to protect themselves from hotel personnel.
- Upon entering your hotel room, check its safety (strong locks on doors and windows, hallways adequately lighted).
- If possible, carry a cell phone with you, particularly when traveling. All cell phones, if charged, will call 911, even if there is no service. Be sure to tell the dispatcher your location, as cell phones do not give precise locations.
Myths & Facts
MYTH: The primary motive for rape is sexual.
FACT: The motive for rape is aggression and power, not sex. Rapists have a desire to dominate, humiliate and degrade their victims. Rape is not the result of “pent up” sexual desire, as many offenders report that they do not enjoy the sex act per se during rape. In fact, most offenders have access to a sexual relationship with a spouse or lover.
MYTH: People are sexually assaulted because they “ask for it” in some way.
FACT: Attempts to shift the burden of blame from the offender to the victim/survivor by implying that “he/she asked for it” are common. There is nothing a person does or does not do to “deserve” a sexual assault – the way a person dresses, the amount of alcohol consumption, or sexual history of a person are often used as excuses to justify the rapist's behavior. By blaming the victim/survivor, the attention is directed away from the offender, diminishing the offender's responsibility for the attack. Blaming a person for the rape because of how the person acts or what the person wears is like blaming a bank for being robbed because it “tempted” the thief with all that money.
MYTH: A person can nearly always prevent an assault by resisting the attacker.
FACT: Every sexual assault is unique and the issue of resistance and submission should be evaluated individually. Resistance could deter an attack or it could conceivably increase one's chances of injury and perhaps result in death. The victim/survivor needs to do whatever they feel comfortable doing to extricate themself from the situation. The person should rely on their instincts and whatever the person does is correct for them. Even if the person must submit, this does not imply consent, and in fact, may keep them alive.
MYTH: Many people falsely report rape as a means of revenge or to get attention.
FACT: Reported sexual assaults are true, with very few exceptions. The rate of "false reports" of rape (fabricated stories) 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.) The general misconception of a high rate of false reports of sexual assaults may be confused with observations of low conviction rates of offenders.
MYTH: Rapists are easily identifiable by their physical appearance, actions or words.
FACT: There is no standard mental or physical profile that defines a rapist. A rapist can be someone of any age, race, economic background, belief system or culture. Although the stereotype of the deranged stranger rapist abounds in our society, stranger rapes only make up around 20% of all sexual assaults and even then the stranger may not be a mentally disturbed person. The vast majority of rapists are people the victim/survivor knows, people she/he sees in day-to-day life.
MYTH: Women owe men sex under some circumstances.
FACT: All people should have the freedom to make sexual choices regardless of the circumstances. Paying for dinner and a movie does not give someone the right to demand sex for repayment, nor should someone feel obligated to have sex because of these circumstances. Marriage is also not an excuse-spouses do not own one another's sexualities or bodies. 'No' still means no even in a marriage or partnership.
MYTH: Only the young or beautiful may be sexually assaulted.
FACT: Victim/survivors range in age from a few months to 90 years and older and come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Rapists tend to choose victims for their perceived vulnerability and availability, without regard to their physical appearance. Attributing a sexual assault to a victim/survivor’s attractiveness perpetuates the myth that rape is primarily motivated by sexual desire. This myth inappropriately places blame and responsibility onto the victim/survivor because of her/his physical attributes.
MYTH: When a woman says “no,” she might really mean, “yes.”
FACT: This myth is common in dating situations. When a person says “no,” that person’s partner must assume she means nothing other than “no.” It is also vital to point out that if a person does not explicitly consent to an act of sex, in the form of a “yes” or similar phrasing, that person has not consented. Silence on a person’s behalf must be taken as a “no” rather than consent. Rape is not just a matter of miscommunication--communication is vital in all sexual situations.
Volunteers are an integral part of the Sexual Assault Center. After a comprehensive training course, volunteers may become client advocates.
Volunteers respond to the 24-hour hotline on evenings and weekends. They provide emotional support and information to assist victims in regaining control of their lives. Volunteers also accompany victims of sexual assault to the police department and/or hospital.
If you are interested in volunteering, please call 703.746.3127 to obtain and submit an application to the volunteer coordinator.
Presentations and workshops on sexual assault and related topics are offered to community groups. This includes presentations for youth, adults and Spanish-speaking audiences. Other community education events include Denim Day, and Messages of Hope campaign held each April, which is recognized as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Presentations are available upon request. To schedule a presentation for your group please call Ashley Blowe at the Sexual Assault Center at 703.746.3118.
Watch this space for future information on how you can advocate with your local and/or state representatives on sexual assault.
The Clothesline Project
Break the Silence...to end violence against women
The Clothesline Project features t-shirts painted by women expressing their messages about violence.
- If you are a survivor of sexual assault, sexual abuse, or are a loved one of a survivor, please come and join us in creating a visual display about your experience and violence against women.
- You don’t need to be an artist to create a personal and profound message, and we will supply all the materials.
- If you choose, you may then add your t-shirt to the others that will be on display in Alexandria, in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
- See the Sexual Assault Center's online Clothesline Project
Each April, during Sexual Assault Awareness Month, The Sexual Assault Center participates in Denim Day. A national organization called Peace Over Violence sponsors Denim Day in USA. Started in Los Angeles in 1999, this campaign is now a nationwide event. This sexual violence prevention and education campaign came about after an Italian court case that sparked international outrage when judges did not convict a rapist because the victim wore jeans. The judges ruled that because the victim was wearing tight jeans, she must have helped her attacker remove them, thus implying consent. Each year we invite community members, elected officials, businesses and students to make a social statement with their fashion statement and on this day wear jeans as a visible means of protest against misconceptions that surround sexual assault. Denim Day will be held April 29, 2015.
Messages of Hope Project
The Messages of Hope project features jeans painted by survivors as well as those that support the prevention of sexual violence, expressing their messages of hope and encouragement for others who have been a victim of sexual violence. The Jeans will be displayed throughout the city of Alexandria to show support for survivors as well as build awareness of sexual violence.
- If you are a survivor or a loved one of a survivor of sexual assault, or sexual abuse, or support the prevention of sexual violence, please come and join us in creating a visual display to promote awareness surrounding the issue of sexual violence.
- You don't need to be an artist to creat a personal and profound message, and we will supply all the materials.
- If you choose, you may then add your jeans to the others that will be on display in Alexandria, in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
- We will be taking jean donations starting in February for anyone who would like to donate a pair of old used adult jeans for the Messages of Hope project at our 421 King St. Suite 400 location.
- Contact the Sexual Assault Center at 703.746.3118 to learn more about the next Jean Decorating Night event or the Messages of Hope Project.
- See pictures of last year's Sexual Assault Center's Messages of Hope displays.
Resources and Related Links
- Alexandria Domestic Violence Shelter (703.746.4911)
- Alexandria Police Department, Non-Emergency (703.838.4444)
- Alexandria Child Protective Services (703.746.5800, local) (1.800.552.7096, national)
- Alexandria Hospital ER (703.804.3005)
- Alexandria Victim Witness Assistance Program (703.746.4100)
- Alexandria Adult Protective Services (703.746.5778)
- Arlington County Victims of Violence
- Fairfax County Victim Assistance Network (VAN)
Victim Services (703.246.2141)
- Fairfax Hospital ER (703.873.8679)
- Virginia Family Violence and Sexual Assault Hotline (1.800.838.8238)
- Northern Virginia Suicide Hotline (703.527.4077)
- Preventing Sexual Assault on College Campuses
- The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook, Martha Davis, PhD; Elizabeth Robbins Eshelman, MSW; Matthew McKay, PhD
- Healing From Trauma, Jasmin Lee Cori, MS, LPC
- The Body Remembers, The Psychophysiology of Trauma & Trauma Treatment (for professionals), B. Bothschild
- 8 Keys to Safe Trauma Recovery: Take Charge Strategies to Empower Your Healing (for survivors), B. Rothschild
- Coping with Trauma-Related Dissociation: Skills Training for Patients and Therapists, S. Boon, K. Steele, O. Van Der Hart
- Healing from Trauma: A Survivor's Guide to Understanding Your Symptoms and Reclaiming Your Life, J.L. Cori.