Understanding and Healing from Sexual Trauma

BYU Victim Advocate Lisa M. Leavitt discussed sexual trauma, resources available to students, and the healing process

Men and women, both faculty and students, from various parts of campus filled the McKay School auditorium to listen to BYU Victim Advocate Lisa M. Leavitt on December 7, 2017. Sponsored by the David O. McKay School of Education and the College of Nursing, Leavitt led a powerfully informative session about sexual trauma. 

“A lot of our students don’t know what is available to them as sexual assault victims,” Tina Dyches, associate dean of the McKay School, explained. “This [lecture] is our attempt to start the conversation with the students to let you know what is available to you, your friends, or those that you know who have been victimized either through stalking, sexual harassment, or sexual assault.” 

After Dyches’s introduction, Leavitt began her presentation with the definitions of sexual trauma to help clarify the different terms associated with different aspects of sexual trauma. The definitions Leavitt presented included stalking, sexual assault, sexual harassment, rape, and sexual abuse. 

Statistics from the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network’s report show that one out of every five women and one out of every eighteen men are sexually assaulted on a given college campus. Fifty-four percent of all sexual assaults are between 18–30 years of age.

Sexual Assault lecture
Lisa M. Leavitt gave a sexaul assault presentation on December 7, 2017 
Photo Credit: McKay Creative

“The whole definition of sexual assault is without consent,” Leavitt said. “Asking for consent isn’t just an act of respect. It’s required by law. It’s an offense to have any sexual contact with a person without any consent.”

Consent is described as a clear yes, enthusiastic, freely given, active and not assumed, and ongoing. It’s vital that consent be a part of any relationship, whether it’s dating, marriage, or any other type of committed relationship. 

In Leavitt’s opinion, the old idea of “no means no” needs to change. Rather, Leavitt encouraged the idea of “yes means yes.”

“When we talk about ‘no means no,’ we are putting the entire responsibility of whether a sexual act happens on the recipient,” Leavitt remarked. “We’re taking away any responsibility from the person who is asking for it.” 

Common effects that sexual assault victims face are sleeping problems, eating difficulties, inability to regulate emotions, depression, anxiety, phobias, flashbacks/triggers, desires to move, inability to focus, and spiritual issues. 

“Sexual assault is a very personal, very invasive, and very destructive crime. When you think about that, there aren’t many other crimes that we are that vulnerable physically, emotionally, even spiritually,” Leavitt said. “The effects can be psychological, emotional, and/or physical. Most of the time, it’s pretty much all three of those. My experience has been that even for people for whom it doesn’t last very long, ‘[not]lasting very long’ can be up to two years. [For] other people it’s a lifetime if they don’t get the help that they need.” 

One survivor said, “Most of the time I feel like I am living a lie, going about my daily life as if everything is okay, but internally I am screaming for help and barely hanging on and coping. I feel like at any moment I could explode.” 

Leavitt described the healing process in six steps:
1.    Reframe what happened
2.    Prepare for flashbacks and upsetting memories
3.    Reconnect to your body and feelings
4.    Stay connected to family and friends
5.    Nurture yourself
6.    Seek professional help 

“If what you have experienced in any way is causing you distress on any level, it’s important and a good idea to seek help,” Leavitt explained. 

At BYU, there are multiple avenues for survivors seeking help. There is the victim advocate office, law enforcement, Title IX, rape crisis centers/hotlines, BYU Counseling and Psychological Services, Women’s Services and Resources, and a Victims of Crime office. 

Hope, healing, and help can be found in these campus resources. Whether a roommate or oneself comes across a sexual assault issue, a knowledge of these available resources can make a difference.  

Lecture Resources:

Video

PowerPoint Slides


Writer: Janine Swart
Contact: Cindy Glad (801) 422-1922