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Psychological Counseling Center

Helping a Friend after a Sexual Assault

Sexual Assault

Sexual assault refers to any form of unwanted, unwelcomed, non-consensual or coercive sexual behavior that occurs without explicit consent, such as when a person is coerced or physically forced to engage in sexual behavior against his/her will.

The SUNY New Paltz Student Handbook states, "No person or group of individuals shall engage in sexual behavior towards any individual against their will and without their verbal consent."
The Handbook also defines "consent" as follows -
"Consent is a clear, unambiguous, voluntary and verbal agreement between all participating parties to engage in specific sexual activity. Consent cannot be given if an individual is incapacitated or impaired because of mental or physical condition, use of drugs or alcohol, loss of consciousness, or if any of the parties are under the age of 17. Consent may be initially given but withdrawn at any time. The use of coercion, force or threat of harm is evidence of lack of consent. Consent to any one form of sexual activity does not automatically imply consent to any other form(s) of sexual activity, nor do previous relationships or prior consent."

Statistics from the National Institute of Justice and the NIJ Campus Sexual Assault (CSA) Study (2007):

  • Between 1/5 and 1/4 of college females will experience a completed and/or attempted rape during their college career.
  • Between 1/6 and 1/4 of men will be sexually assaulted at some point in their lives.
  • Over half of rape or assault survivors will not tell anyone about the incident.
  • In 1/3 of sexual assaults, the perpetrator was intoxicated.
  • Over half of sexual assault against women occurred in off-campus parties.
  • Sexual assaults are most likely to occur in the fall months, on Friday or Saturday nights, and after midnight.
  • Most survivors (79% - 88%) knew their assaulter; over half of assaults occurred on a date.
  • Underclassmen are at greater risk for sexual assault than junior and seniors.
  • Alcohol is more frequently associated with campus sexual assault than drugs.

A New Paltz student who has experienced a sexual assault may feel:

  • Shock, numbness, disbelief, withdrawal, avoidance
  • Fear, panic, anxiety, depression
  • Guilt, shame, emotional volatility
  • Confusion, difficulty making decisions
  • Inability to focus on academics
  • Preoccupation with thoughts about the incident
  • Flashbacks, nightmares, sleeplessness
  • Physical aches, appetite changes

How to help a friend:

If someone you know tells you he/she has been a victim of harassment or assault, relationship violence or stalking, it is not always easy to know what to say or how to help. Here are some suggestions for how you can be supportive and helpful:

  • First, believe your friend! Do not dismiss or minimize his/her experience.
  • Listen to your friend; be patient as he/she talks about the incident; limit your questions.
  • Do not blame your friend for the harassment, assault, stalking or violent incident.
  • Offer to accompany your friend to seek medical assistance.
  • Offer to accompany your friend if he/she chooses to report the incident but do not pressure him/her to report if he/she is uncertain about doing so.
  • Do not pressure your friend to engage in activities he/she may not be ready for; remember that the timeline for healing from trauma is individual; be patient with your friend.
  • Provide information about campus and community resources for help and offer to accompany your friend to the Psychological Counseling Center to speak with a professional.
  • Be aware of suicide warning signs and offer help and support.
  • For more information about how to help, see "How to help a loved one" at RAINN.org