A college student goes to a party. She’s drinking, hanging out with her friends, flirting with a cute guy. They go back to her dorm room and start kissing. Then the guy forces her to have sex, even though she doesn’t want to, leaving the young woman feeling immense amounts of fear, anxiety and shame.
Though this might sound like a typical scenario, it is actually a crime, and it’s one that can leave deep emotional scars on victims for years to come.
According to a 2015 survey from the Association of American Universities, 27.2 percent of all college students — more than one in four — experience unwanted sexual contact, from kissing to touching to actual intercourse. And although incidents are more common among women, men can also be victims of sexual assault.
Robbie Bogard, Director of Integrative and Group Services at Yellowbrick, says these kind of incidents can have a serious impact on college students’ mental health. After a sexual assault, many students suffer from symptoms of PTSD, which include having intrusive memories of the event, mood instability, feeling fearful, and being triggered by certain sights, sounds and smells that remind them of the incident. They can be hyper anxious or feel numb or disconnected from their feelings altogether.
“There can be a lot of shame and self-blame. That’s very common,” Bogard says.
Bogard says college students often blame themselves for what happened, thinking if only they hadn’t been drinking, or hadn’t been friendly with the person, or if they had fought back more it wouldn’t have happened.
“It’s important for people to know that you can make yourself vulnerable to sexual assault, but you’re never responsible for other people’s behavior,” Bogard says.
Bogard says students also feel shame if they were sexually aroused by the incident, even if it was unwanted, and these mixed emotions can cause them to have increased shame about their bodies.
Unfortunately, the repercussions of sexual assault aren’t short-lived. Bogard says sexual assault may cause some students to avoid dating or being in a situation with someone of the opposite sex for years to come. Others may actually become more promiscuous to try to prove to themselves that they have power over their own bodies.
Someone who is assaulted is at greater risk of using alcohol or drugs more heavily to numb their feelings, leading to increased chance of substance abuse.
Luckily, women who report the incident and seek mental health treatment quickly have a better chance of overcoming these emotional roadblocks.
Here are some of Bogard’s tips for college students who have experienced a sexual assault:
Yellowbrick collaborates with adolescents and emerging adults, ages 16-30's, their families and participating professionals toward the development and implementation of a strategic “Life Plan.” An integrative, multi-specialty consultation clarifies strengths, limitations, and risks, and defines motivations, goals and choices.
A mental health condition that’s characterized by intense shifts in mood including both manic and depressive episodes.
People living with Major Depressive Disorder, or MDD, experience episodes of depression and sadness that are debilitating to daily life.
Those living with anxiety disorders experience high levels of anxiety and stress that interfere negatively with daily life.
A mental health issue in which a person’s cognitive function is impaired, resulting in symptoms like experiencing challenges with conducting speech, reading and writing, and behavior.
Mental health disorders that negatively affect a person’s behaviors, thought patterns, and function. People diagnosed with these disorders experience challenges with managing relationships and understanding various situations.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental health condition that people can develop as a result of experiencing traumatic situations, characterized by symptoms including flashbacks, avoidance behaviors, and more.
A mental health condition that is characterized by specific symptoms of forgetfulness and lack of concentration, which makes it challenging to complete necessary tasks.
Mental health conditions that interfere with a person’s eating habits, thought patterns, and behaviors in negative ways.
A mental health disorder diagnosable with the DSM-5 that is characterized by both obsessions and compulsive behaviors.