4 things a Sexual Assault counselor wishes you knew

Peggy Wright has been counseling survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault for 19 years. There are four things she wishes everyone knew about sexual assault:

  1. It is never the victim’s fault.
  1. Seeking medical or victim services does not mean you have to file a police report.
  1. You cannot tell how the victim is feeling just by his/her outward appearance.
  1. Research shows that false allegations of sexual about only happen 2-8% of the time.  Therefore, 92-98% are telling the truth.  Let’s go with the odds and give them the benefit of the doubt.  Victims are often re-traumatized when they are not believed.

Peggy shared the following story with us to show how important it is to believe survivors and to think beyond outward appearances to understand how they may be feeling.

“Charisma was a cute, thin, healthy- looking 11 year-old girl.  Mom worked at a hospital and had to work Saturdays. Her older sister no longer lived at home and her 13 year-old brother was struggling in school so he was required to go to Saturday school. Charisma was left all day alone with Mom’s fiancé and was raped on two consecutive Saturdays.  She initially confided in her brother and after he pleaded with her she shared with her mother what had happened.  Mom fortunately did all the right things: kicked the fiancé out, took her to the hospital, moved into the shelter, started her in a new school, got her into therapy, and most importantly BELIEVED HER!

“I first met Charisma at the shelter.  She seemed to be happy-go-lucky and emotionally unaffected by the sexual assault.  As a relatively new counselor having never worked with a child who had been raped, I was very nervous.  The last thing I wanted to do was emotionally harm her further so I didn’t want to ask specifics about the abuse.  I started out by asking her if she would draw me a picture of her family.  She drew herself, her brother, her older sister, and her mother.  All were smiling. Mom’s shirt had “God” written on it, so I asked her if she thought of her mother as God.  She said “No, she just loves God.”  When she finished, I then asked her to draw a picture of the man who hurt her. (See the 2nd drawing).  I was speechless.  I now had a better picture of what was going on inside this little girl’s head.  The captions “Dead or Dead” and “Welcome to My World” said it all.  If you will notice, there are knives stabbing the man in several places including a close up of 3 knives in his brain. He is surrounded by fire and there are several guns.  There were what looked like tears coming out of his eyes so I asked her why he was crying.  She said “he’s not crying, that’s blood”.  His arms were dismembered.  Wow!  I was stunned that the same child five minutes earlier had drawn the happy family picture.

“Fast forward about a year later, the man went to trial.  Charisma’s mother had asked me to attend and sit with her in the victim’s waiting room to support her.  I gladly agreed.  The judge on the case even allowed me to sit next to her on the witness stand so I had an excellent view of the entire courtroom.  Charisma was stoic as she answered the basic name, age, grade, questions.  When it came to the hard questions, she stayed strong, but tears were streaming down her cheeks.  With the exception of the rapist, there was not a dry eye in the courtroom.  The man got 30 years.

“I still think of Charisma every time I hear of a child getting sexually assaulted.  Unfortunately, only a small fraction of sexual assault cases are prosecuted and even fewer result in convictions.

“Let’s remember, that you cannot always tell by the outside looking in whether a victim is telling the truth or has been traumatized.  Don’t judge.  Just Believe!  Just Listen!  Just Be Supportive!”