Part 2: What resources exist for survivors of sexual abuse?

by the staff of SAFE San Juans

This is part two of a three-part series for Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Sexual abuse/assault frequently causes immediate physical and psychological effects on those who experience it, including physical injuries, emotional scars, and fears of another assault. While addressing those may initially be the highest priority, sexual abuse can impact the whole person over time. Because the impact of sexual abuse can be so all-encompassing with no magical expiration date, attending to the whole person without setting deadlines gives the survivor the greatest opportunity to heal.

Sexual assault is a crime. It is always illegal when force is used or when a person does not give consent. If you have been sexually assaulted, reporting it to the SJC Sheriff’s Office or the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office is a logical place to begin. If you are being assaulted or fear an imminent assault, call 911 because law enforcement can be instrumental in stopping violence and preventing it. However, some sexual assault survivors choose not to report to law enforcement because of the relational complexities existing between them and their abuser. Unlike the common perception that sexual assault is a violent act perpetrated by a stranger, most sexual crime is perpetrated by someone the victim knows – frequently a family member, friend, or acquaintance. In those cases, the survivor may want to avoid engaging law enforcement up front and yet still deal with the abuse so it stops and its effects can be addressed. If you are trying to sort out what to do, a community-based agency like SAFE San Juans can be very helpful.

When you call or visit SAFE San Juans, our staff will help you discover and think about options. We are not here to find fault or choose sides. We are here to listen to you as you process what is happening in your life, and we will keep the conversation private. We will believe you and not blame you. We will assist you in creating a personalized safety plan. We will help you figure out and find the resources you need. These resources may include emergency shelter, food, clothing, housing, work, and other necessities that you fear losing when you speak up or flee. We can either provide them or connect you to other agencies who can provide them.

Sometimes help from the legal or medical community is needed when dealing with the effects of abuse. We can assist you with filing for a legal protection order, preparing for court appearances, connecting with an attorney, and we can offer support while in court. Tending to wounds and documenting injuries can be emotionally and physically difficult – we can support you at the hospital or at medical appointments if you ask us to. Because sexual abuse is such a common form of violence, SAFE offers free protective measures including condoms, pregnancy tests and emergency Plan B.

For those trying to navigate the reality of ongoing abuse, or for those dealing with the longer-term effects of past abuse, SAFE offers support groups as well individual counseling/therapy. Our state-licensed professional counselors can provide mental health therapy on a case by case basis for those dealing with the trauma of domestic or sexual violence.

SAFE San Juans (SAFE) is a non-profit agency serving survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse/assault. SAFE has offices in Friday Harbor, Eastsound and Lopez Village. All of SAFE’s services are confidential, free, and available to anyone who needs them. To talk with someone from SAFE San Juans, call 360-378-8680 or visit us online at www.safesj.org. SAFE’s 24/7 crisis line is always staffed and can be reached at 360-378-2345. If you are in immediate danger, please call 911.