Helping a Student in Distress
For Concerned Others
The Anxious Student
Danger is everywhere even though what makes students anxious is often unknown; not knowing what is expected and conflict are primary causes of anxiety. Unknown and unfamiliar situations raise their anxiety; high and unreasonable self-expectations increase anxiety also. These students often have trouble making decisions.
- let them discuss their feelings and thoughts. Often this alone relieves a great deal of pressure.
- reassure when appropriate.
- remain calm.
- be clear and explicit.
- make things more complicated.
- take responsibility for their emotional state.
- overwhelm with information or ideas.
For Loved Ones Of Sexual Assault/Abuse Survivors
A Guide For Friends, Family, And Partners
How To Help The Survivor And How To Help Yourself
WHAT IS SEXUAL ASSAULT AND SEXUAL ABUSE?
SEXUAL ASSAULT is any form of sexual penetration, oral, anal, or vaginal, where the victim does not--or is unable to--give knowing consent. Sexual assault is also called RAPE. ACQUAINTANCE RAPE is sexual assault when the victim knows the attacker. DATE RAPE is sexual assault when the victim is attacked by an assailant while on a date.
SEXUAL ABUSE is sexual contact, not involving penetration, in which the victim does not--or is unable to--give knowing consent. Sexual contact, not involving penetration, may include intentional fondling by the assailant (directly or through clothing) of the sex organs, buttocks, or breasts for the purpose of sexual gratification of the assailant. The definition also includes the victim being coerced into fondling the assailant.
It is important to note that both definitions are gender neutral. Sexual assault and sexual abuse can be emotionally devastating to victims of either sex. However, as the victims are more often females, the information presented in this pamphlet primarily addresses female survivors and their loved ones.
PERTINENT STATISTICS REGARDING SEXUAL ASSAULT/ABUSE
- As many as one in four college women become victims of attempted or completed rape during their college years.
- In 60-80 percent of rapes, the assailant and the victim know each other and, of these, over half of the rapes happen on a date.
- It is estimated that only 10 percent of rapes are reported to the police.
- 75 percent of the male perpetrators and 55 percent of the female victims report that alcohol was involved at the time of the incident.
- Only 27 percent of women who were sexually assaulted, according to the legal definition of rape, perceive themselves as being rape victims.
COMMON RESPONSES TO RECENT SEXUAL ASSAULT/ABUSE
Survivors differ in their responses to assault/abuse. The long-term effects may be influenced by the severity of the assault, the survivor's existing coping skills, and the support the person has afterwards. Nevertheless, the following responses are experienced by many survivors:
- A survivor's self-esteem often diminishes after an assault or abuse. Frequently she feels shamed, humiliated, guilty, angry, and powerless.
- A survivor's attitude toward her body may be negatively affected. This change may lead to self-abuse (e.g., alcohol abuse, overeating, self-mutilation, etc.).
- A survivor may find it difficult to trust and to be intimate with others.
- A survivor may not want sexual intimacy for some time or may engage in risky sexual behaviors.
- A survivor may experience flashbacks of the incident.
- A survivor may experience fear of being alone and fear of a future attack.
- A survivor may experience nightmares or other sleep disturbances.
- A survivor may not be able to concentrate and focus. This can affect academic and/or job performance.
Survivors often go through three general phases. (The phases do not always occur in the order listed below.)
- PHASE ONE: This phase may last a few days to several weeks. The survivor may experience shock and severe distress, confusion, disorientation, anger, and rage.
- PHASE TWO: The survivor often wishes to forget the incident and return to "normal." It is common to want to suppress feelings in order to forget about the incident and regain control. However, the crisis is not resolved.
- PHASE THREE: The survivor is ready to begin to deal with the feelings associated with the assault/abuse. This phase usually involves re-experiencing feelings, thoughts, and memories of the assault/abuse. This healing process may vary in duration.
Throughout all three phases, survivors need supportive people (friends, family, loved ones). A survivor support group and/or a counselor can also be of help.
HOW TO HELP A SURVIVOR OF RECENT SEXUAL ASSAULT/ABUSE:
- Talk, listen, respect and be emotionally available to the survivor.
- Accept what the survivor tells you.
- Accept the fact that the assault/abuse happened.
- Understand that it is not the survivor's fault.
- Listen nonjudgementally. Suggest options and actions (medical, psychological and other assistance), but let the survivor decide what action to take.
- Let the survivor talk about the incident, but don't force a discussion.
- Respect and understand that temporarily the survivor may become distant from loved ones.
- Assure the survivor that you will be available to provide support throughout the process of recovery.
- Give the survivor time to heal. Be patient and understand that the healing process takes time.
- Take the initiative to maintain communications with the survivor.
- Moderate your natural tendencies to become overprotective.
- The survivor may need to seek medical attention immediately. You can help by encouraging and accompanying the survivor to obtain medical attention. If the
- survivor wishes to seek criminal action, this should be done as soon as possible after the incident.
ADDITIONAL SUGGESTIONS FOR THE ROMANTIC PARTNER OF THE SURVIVOR
- Ask for permission before touching or holding the survivor.
- Do not rush sexual contact. The survivor needs to decide when it is right to have sexual contact, and to pace the intensity of involvement.
- Accept the fact that the survivor's renewal of sexual interest may occur at a slow pace.
- Discuss the subject of sex in a non-sexual environment (i.e., not in bed).
IN HELPING THE SURVIVOR, HERE ARE SOME FEELINGS YOU MAY EXPERIENCE:
- The survivor's dependence on you may feel overwhelming.
- Recovery can be a long, slow process that may take years. You may fear that the survivor will never be the same again.
- You may feel guilty that you did not prevent the assault/abuse. It is neither your fault, nor the survivor/s fault. The perpetrator committed the crime--not you.
- Your closeness to the survivor's experience may underline the vulnerability to violence that we are all subject to. You may feel vulnerable because you realize
- that it could happen to you.
- If you are a man, you may be afraid you will be associated with the perpetrator.
- If you are a sexual partner, you may be afraid to have sex with the survivor.
- It is important to realize that your feelings are natural. Accept your feelings and try to understand and to get help for yourself.
HOW TO HELP YOURSELF:
Talk with people you can trust. You too need support from others.
- If you are male and the survivor is female, do not take personally any hatred she feels towards men. Her anger with the perpetrator and may generalize into a temporary anger toward all men.
- Talk to a counselor or call a rape crisis hotline. It is hard to witness someone in emotional pain. Take care of yourself as you help the survivor.
- Educate yourself about rape and rape prevention.
- Moderate your stress levels through activities with other friends and/or through "alone time."
- Do not expect to be able to make the survivor feel better all of the time.
- Do not blame the survivor. Even when you feel poor judgments were made by the survivor, no one deserves to be sexually assaulted or abused.
- Do not blame yourself. The only person who is at fault is the person who committed the crime.
Need Additional Help?
Some excellent books on the topic are:
- Benedict, Helen. Recovery: How to Survive Sexual Assault for Women, Men, Teenagers, and Their Friends and Families. New York: Doubleday,
- Beneke, Timothy. Men on Rape. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1982.
- Brownmiller, Susan. Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape. New York: Bantam Books, 1976.
- Ledray, Linda E. Recovering from Rape. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1986.
- Warshaw's Robin. I Never Called it Rape. New York: Harper & Ross, 1988
Helping Students Maintain The Balance
Studies indicate that in a class of 100 college students with equal numbers of men and women at least:
30 students will have divorced parents
15 students will have a substance-abusing parent
10 students will themselves have a substance abuse problem
15 female students will be victims of rape or sexual abuse
6 female students will have an eating disorder
4 male students will be victims of sexual abuse
3 female students will become pregnant during their college years
College students today often experience considerable personal and school-related stress. In addition to the pressure to achieve and work out a path to professional success, students must cope with a variety of personal stressors and pressures. Many of these personal stresses are age-related developmental factors, some are situational, and some are psychological.
In an attempt to juggle the demands of college and their personal lives, students sometimes act out aggressively or self-destructively. Strong feelings of anger depression, and anxiety are common. Sometimes just one added situation or stressor can precipitate a crisis.
The purpose of this brochure is to help you, as a faculty or professional staff member learn more about student stress and helpful ways to respond to students having problems.
Some of the common stressors that students experience include:
- Isolation and Loneliness
- Break-up of an Intimate Relationship
- Unplanned Pregnancy
- Sexual or Physical Abuse or Assault
- Family Conflict or Parental Divorce
- Perceived Rejection by Family
- Identity Confusion
- Low Motivation or Inability to Establish Goals
- Death of a Loved One
- Serious Illness
- Academic Pressure or Failure
- Cultural Oppression / Discrimination
In their efforts to cope with problems, students in distress search for solutions which may not always be effective. These unsuccessful attempts to cope and alleviate stress may include substance abuse, eating disorders, aggressive behavior withdrawal from others, loss of contact with reality, and suicidal thoughts and actions.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people ages 18 to 24 (accidents are the leading cause of death among this age group). The incidence of suicide in young people has increased over 200% in the past 30 years. Studies show college students are more likely than their same age counterparts who are not in college to both attempt and complete suicide. Abuse of alcohol and other drugs increases the risk of both accidents and suicidal behavior among college students. Suicidal behavior is often concealed or denied. In fact, many accidents among young people may actually be unacknowledged or undetected suicides and suicide attempts.
If the behavioral warning signs of student distress are detected early there is a good chance that the problem can be addressed and that more serious negative behavior such as suicide, substance abuse, or other psychological problems can be avoided.
Stress Warning Signs - As a faculty or staff member have you ever noticed the following?
- Despite satisfactory performance, a student who appears anxious constantly seeks you out concerned about grades.
- A student misses an exam and comes to you crying, requesting a make-up due to "personal problems."
- A graduate student suddenly has a dramatic drop in grades and class participation, and decides to withdraw from school.
- A student with no apparent physical illness loses a dramatic amount of weight in a short period of time.
- A student attends class sporadically, sleeps during class, is withdrawn, appears exhausted, and doesn't bother to turn in assignments.
- A student in your design, composition, or poetry class is preoccupied with themes of death and despair.
- A student seems agitated and restless in class, constantly argues with you, and is shunned by classmates.
- A disheveled student, whose appearance has deteriorated, inappropriately talks out loud to no one in particular.
These behavioral warning signs may indicate serious student emotional distress. As faculty and professional staff members having daily contact with students, you can make a difference.
You Can Make a Difference
The decision about when to intervene and try to assist a student is difficult. Most faculty and staff are limited by time and the number of students encountered. Also, it's impossible to serve as surrogate parents, and students need to learn to manage their own lives. On the other hand, it's important to provide some level of guidance and advice to students.
When you observe any of the student distress warning signs mentioned previously, keep these suggestions in mind:
- Stay calm.
- Attempt to talk to the student privately.
- Indicate your care and concern for the student.
- Based on your observations, give the student feedback on his or her behavior and its negative consequences. Try to make the feedback constructive rather than critical.
- Listen nonjudgmentally if the student chooses to talk about the stress he or she is experiencing.
- If appropriate, encourage the student to get professional help.
- If the student is not receptive to referral, call one of the student support services on campus for consultation.
How To Help a Friend Who has been Sexually Assaulted
Sexual assault is unwanted contact or touch of a sexual nature. Rape is forced vaginal or anal intercourse. Rape by instrumentation is vaginal or anal penetration with an object. Rape and sexual assault can be committed by anyone -- a stranger, a date, an acquaintance or even a friend. Assaults happened to both women and men.
Sexual assault and rape are violent crimes. Neither is motivated by sex or sexual desire; rather they are motivated by anger and aggression. Sexual assault is not uncontrolled passion - it is a hostile attack, an attempt to hurt, dominate and humiliate the victim.
If someone you know has been assaulted or raped you can help them in the following ways.
IF THE ASSAULT JUST OCCURRED
- Make sure they are safe.
- Help them get the medical attention they need.
- Offer to be with them or call someone they want to stay with them
- Offer to call the police to report the rape. Reporting the assault does not mean you must prosecute, but it will ensure the availability of that option in the future, should the survivor so decide.
- Offer to call for rape advocate services. This will allow an objective, supportive person to assist her in dealing with the immediate issues of the trauma.
AT ANY TIME - IMMEDIATELY AFTER OR MUCH LATER
- As a friend, it is important that you LISTEN to what the survivor tells you. Sometimes assault victims need to talk about the attack.
- Allow the survivor the freedom to choose when, where and how to talk about the trauma.
- Be supportive: BELIEVE the survivor. People rarely make up stories about being sexual assault survivors. Reinforce that the survivor is not to blame. Avoid using words that imply blame.
- Be sensitive: Let the person know that you do not subscribe to any of the common myths about sexual assault. Understand that the person has suffered extreme humiliation. Let them know that you do not see them as defiled or immoral.
- Be patient. Recovery from rape trauma is slow. Let the person proceed at their own pace.
- Realize that you have strong feelings about the trauma. If needed, seek counseling for yourself. Avoid communicating your biases and negative emotions to the survivor.
- Remember that whatever the rape victim did to survive the attack was exactly what he or she needed to do. The victim did not cause the attack and is not at fault.
See Referral Sources
How to Interact with a Distressed Student
- Acknowledge openly to the student you are aware of their distress.
- Acknowledge you are sincerely concerned about their welfare and you are willing to help them explore their alternatives.
- Speak directly and honestly to a student when you sense that he/she is in academic and/or personal distress.
- Request to see the student in private. This may help minimize embarrassment and defensiveness.
- Acknowledge your observations of their situation and express your concerns directly and honestly.
- Listen carefully to what the student is troubled about and try to see the issue from his/her point of view without necessarily agreeing or disagreeing.
- Attempt to identify the student's problem or concern as well as your own concerns or uneasiness. You can help by exploring alternatives to deal with the problem.
- Behavior strange or inappropriate should not be ignored. Comment directly on what you have observed.
- Your flexibility with strict procedures may allow an alienated student to respond more effectively to your concerns.
Involve yourself only as far as you want to go. At times, in an attempt to reach or help a troubled student, you may become more involved than time or skill permits. Extending oneself to others always involves some risk--but it can be a gratifying experience when kept within realistic limits
Signs Of Distress
- Inability to Concentrate, Confusion, Indecisiveness
- Persistent Worrying
- Social Isolation, Depression
- Increased Irritability, Restlessness
- Bizarre or Dangerous Behavior, Mood Swings
- Missed Class /Assignments, Procrastination
- Disheveled Appearance
The Suicidal Student
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students. Any one of us can become suicidal if life hits us hard enough! The suicidal person is intensely ambivalent about killing himself/herself and typically responds to help; suicidal states are definitely time limited and most who commit suicide are neither crazy nor psychotic.
- High risk indicators include: feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and futility; a severe loss or threat of loss; a detailed suicidal plan; history of a previous attempt; history of alcohol or drug abuse; and feelings of alienation and isolation. Suicidal students usually want to communicate their feelings and the inability to do so results in a rage or anger directed toward themselves.
- take the student seriously - 80 percent of suicides give warning of their intent.
- acknowledge that a threat of or attempt at suicide is a plea for help.
- be available to listen, to talk, to be concerned, but refer the student to Counseling Center (674-2626)
- minimize the situation or depth of feeling, e.g.,
"Oh it will be much better tomorrow."
- be afraid to ask the person if they are so depressed or sad that they want to hurt themselves e.g.,
"You seem so upset and discouraged that I'm wondering if you are considering suicide."
- over commit yourself and, therefore, not be able to deliver on what you promise.
- ignore your limitations.
See Referral Sources