How is a Sexual Assault Victim Supposed to Look/Act Like?

It seems like I have written a number of entries over the past several months about sexual assault and rape. (; Every time I write one, it is because something in my personal or professional life has triggered my need to say something – whether it is a news item involving a sexual assault (Hello, Bill Cosby) or a client sharing her own difficulties – something happens and keeps bouncing around in my head until I put in on paper (or computer screen).

I have had a number of clients bring up the Rolling Stone magazine article depicting the alleged gang rape of a university freshman ( I will not revisit the article (please feel free to read the original article), but be aware there are allegations the girl made the story up and supposedly the fraternity mentioned in the article is planning to sue the magazine (

I do not presume to know what did or did not happen in this specific situation, but it has incited a number of interesting conversations in session. Most specifically, what does a sexual assault victim look and act like? This is an impossible question to answer because there is no simple answer. Someone who has been raped may be sad or angry or may act like nothing at all happened. They may continue the “relationship” with their perpetrator and may not talk about the assault for a long time – if ever. Why? Well, because sexual assault is a confusing experience.

All too often, I hear that an alleged victim is not believed because she did not “act like a victim”. Many women have told me (especially in the case of acquaintance or date rape) they might be confused about what actually happened. They may hold mistaken ideas that rape is something that happens when you are grabbed in a dark parking lot and are held at knife point, not when a boyfriend refuses to take no for an answer after you have been voluntarily making out for hours. While they are trying to make sense of it all, they may even initiate continued contact with the perpetrator. This is often misconstrued by the police or media or the world as proof that the woman engaged in consensual sex. This is not always the case – it is just such a complicated issue.

I’ve even have clients who felt they were not believed because they were not perceived as attractive enough o have been raped. Can you believe it? Total BS. Sexual assault is about violence and power – not romance. People from all ages, races, sizes – basically every possible option out there – are sexually assaulted. I hate the idea that a survivor of rape feels the need to justify their “rape-worthiness”. Load of crap.

So…. what is my takeaway message here? I just recommend that you keep an open mind. Don’t assume that anything  having to do with sexual assault can ever be a simple issue. I am not advocating you always take the alleged victim at face value, but try your best to remember there is no one way to react to trauma. Just because someone is not acting like you assume you would, does not mean the trauma did not occur.

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