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  • April Griffin

Was it really sexual assault? (Trigger Warning….discussion of sexual assault)

Updated: Apr 26

A young woman sitting by herself in a dark room

As a trauma therapist I have noticed one of the hardest aspects about processing sexual trauma is guilt and shame about memories where someone did not say no, and consent did not happen, meaning a person did not say yes or agree to what happened.

Sexual assault inherently involves an intense experience of helplessness and powerlessness, and may result in being frozen (an automatic trauma response), having no words, or ability to move or escape. It may also involve a fawn response (an another automatic trauma response), where after an assault happens a person may be friendly or kind in order to avoid further harm.

This can be even harder and more confusing is if this is perpetuated by someone they loved and cared about, like a boyfriend or a partner, or someone with whom they have consented to intimacy at other times before or after the assault.

There is a lingering sense of guilt, shame and doubt. Why didn’t I say no? Why didn’t I ask for help or cry out? Why didn’t I tell anyone? Why did I pretend nothing had happened? Why didn’t I speak up? Was it really sexual assault?

I looked up a definition of sexual assault. Here’s the one definition I found : Sexual assault takes many forms including attacks such as rape or attempted rape, as well as any unwanted sexual contact or threats. Usually a sexual assault occurs when someone touches any part of another person's body in a sexual way, even through clothes, without that person's consent.

We are still undoing and dealing with the long history of women being treated as property for centuries in western cultures- and sex was seen as at the right of a man regardless of whether a woman consented. The fact that even today in many states in the US rape within a marriage is not seen as a crime is a testament to the enduring legacy of patriarchal systems.

Women have been told, to keep a partner faithful and connected to them they have to “satisfy” their partners, at the cost of their own desires or wants, or they risk losing them, disapproval or facing their anger and verbal abuse. Women can be blamed for infidelity if she is not “satisfying” a partner.

Not only women are affected by the legacy of patriarchy, but in any relationship regardless of gender or sexual orientation people may struggle with culturally or religiously taught ideas that satisfying someone else’s needs and denying one’s own needs is the only way to keep a partner in your life.

These patriarchal ideas make it harder for victims of sexual assault to find healing and everyone to have more respectful and empowering relationships.

For everyone out there:

Let’s say it again! Consent is two parties agreeing on something sexual happening, even if the other person does not say “no”, does not fight back, freezes or dissociates, or is friendly afterwards. (And of course kids/youth cannot consent to sexual acts with adults)

Consent is always necessary.

If you have suffered sexual assault:

You are not to blame for what happened to you. If you didn’t agree to it- It is not your fault, even if they are your partner, even if you argued earlier, even you loved them and engaged in sexual acts consensually at another time.

You can find healing through finding a counsellor who understands sexual assault. For help feel free to contact any our counsellors at Emotion Wise Counselling to help by contacting us at


To speak to someone immediately about an experience of sexual assault you can call the National Toll-Free 24-Hour Crisis & Information Line at 1-877-392-7583,

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