Sexual Assault

Facts About Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is any form of sexual contact or activity that occurs without your consent, including:

  • Touching
  • Kissing
  • Physical restraint
  • Sexual intercourse
  • It is not limited to rape (forced sexual intercourse), and it can happen to both men and women

There are two types of rape:

  • Acquaintance rape is the act of forcing sexual intercourse onto a date or an acquaintance. Also referred to as date rape, 80% of all sexual assaults on college women were committed by someone they knew.1
  • Stranger rape is the act of forcing sexual intercourse onto a stranger.

It can be especially devastating to be raped by someone you previously trusted and can lead to self-blame and mistrusting one’s own judgment. Acquaintance rape can be confusing, as it most often does not involve the use of a weapon. Usually the following may be used:

  • Physical restraint
  • Threat of physical harm
  • Intimidation
  • Coercion
  • Alcohol and other drugs—more than 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol related sexual assault or date rape2

When to Be Concerned

Should I go to the hospital? Evidence must be collected within 5 days. Go directly to a hospital for an exam that includes procedures to check for internal bleeding or damage caused by the assault. You also have the option for sexually transmitted disease (STD) and pregnancy testing, counseling, treatment of injuries, and emergency contraception.

The exam is done by a trained sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) who will be sensitive to your needs. The physical evidence recovery kit (PERK), used to collect any forensic evidence, is free and confidential. The information collected can be used in court but is not required to be. A PERK can still be done and the survivor can choose to not use the information. You do not have to make any decisions about pressing charges, and you have the right to refuse any part of the exam and ask questions about any aspect of your care. Often after an assault, survivors are in shock. You may decide later that you want to pursue legal options. Foremost, you have the right to make whatever decision feels best to you at any point in your recovery.

If I go to the hospital, what do I need to know about preserving evidence? You have 72 hours to preserve evidence. If you have been drugged, it may be less than 48 hours before the drugs leave your system. It is best if you go to the hospital within 24 hours.

Do not shower before going to the hospital. A shower will be provided at the hospital after the exam if you should choose to take one. Also, do not change your clothes before going to the hospital. Bring a change of clothes or ask someone to do this for you; what you were wearing at the time of the assault may be kept as evidence. If you absolutely must change your clothes, place them in a paper bag instead of a plastic bag. Plastic bags produce condensation that can impair the evidence and weaken any subsequent legal action on your part.

If I want to press charges, what are my options? WPI has appointed Sexual Assault Judicial Advocates who can help you determine which options are best for you. The decisions about how to proceed will be left up to you; there are no expectations about your choices. An advocate can, however, provide you with important information to guide you through the process.

How might I be affected emotionally? As a result of this crisis, many people experience rape trauma syndrome (RTS), with a wide range of possible reactions:

  • Shock and disbelief; you may feel emotionally numb and even begin to wonder if it really happened or why.
  • Fear and powerlessness about personal safety to the extent to which you may feel overly suspicious.
  • Embarrassment and shame; you may feel people are talking about you all the time or that something is wrong with you now. Some feel the need to shower all the time as if they are dirty.
  • Guilt: I did something to make this happen or It's all my fault, I have upset everyone.
  • Depression and loss of motivation to continue with everyday life. Especially as a student, the impact on your ability to continue with school can leave you feeling exhausted and helpless.
  • Anxiety: you may begin to experience panic attacks or phobias and have difficulty sitting still.
  • Intrusive memories or flashbacks of the assault; you may continue to see the victimizer’s face, hear his or her voice, or be triggered by a smell.
  • Physical symptoms of stress: easily startled, tension headaches, muscle aches, and stomach or digestive problems.
  • Nightmares: it is common to experience dreams where you relive the experience. You may even imagine yourself as the assailant; this is your mind’s way of taking back control.
  • Relationship concerns: issues of trust and sexual intimacy may develop.

Helping friends or loved ones who has been sexually assaulted. Start by being a good listener. Talking less and listening more is key. Be curious as to how they feel about what happened and try not to judge or evaluate any of their statements. Paraphrasing what they said back to them may help them feel understood. You can also help by:

  • Providing Reassurance. Find as many ways as possible to tell them it is not their fault! They did nothing to deserve what happened to them. Do not let them accept blame for any part of what happened.
  • Believing them. Be clear about this and do not point out discrepancies in the story. Survivors may feel shame and mistrust and may decide to open up more as time goes on.
  • Protecting their privacy. One of the few things a survivor has control over is who knows and what they know. Respect this. Do not gossip, regardless of how well meaning it is.
  • Encouraging them to get help. Offer to go to the SDCC to meet with a counselor. Have lunch with them to talk about what it was like. If they want to press charges, judicially or through the Worcester police, offer to go along.

Remember that the SDCC is here for you too. Supporting someone through such an experience can be stressful. It can strain other relationships, especially if the accused is someone you know.

1 National Institute of Justice
2 Hingson et. al., 2005


Services at WPI
If you have been sexually assaulted and need help now, call WPI Campus Police at +1-508-831-5555 or dial 911. Campus Police can provide you with information and arrange transportation to a hospital. You can also visit the Student Development & Counseling Center (SDCC) between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. and speak confidentially with a counselor. Or call the SDCC at +1-508-831-5540. You can also turn to on-campus options for support and redress:

Online Support

For survivors and friends of survivors of sexual violence

  • Aftermath - Survive and Overcome Trauma by Mariann Hybels Steer. Fireside; (January 1995) 
  • After Silence: Rape and My Journey Back by Nancy Venable Raine. Three Rivers Press; (August 3, 1999)
  • If She is Raped: A Guidebook for Husbands, Fathers, and Male Friends by Alan McEvoy. Learning Publications, Inc.; 3rd edition (2001)
  • Journey to Wholeness: Healing from the Trauma of Rape by Vicki Aranow and Monique Lang. Learning Publications; (January 3,
  • Recovering from Rape by Linda E. Ledray. Owlet; 2nd edition (July 1994)
  • Surviving the Silence: Black Women's Stories of Rape by Charlotte Pierce-Baker. W.W. Norton & Company; (June 2000)
  • Recovery by Helen Benedict. Columbia University Press; (April 15, 1994) 
  • Who's Afraid of the Dark? A Forum of Truth, Support, and Assurance for those Affected By Rape edited by Cynthia Carosella. Harper perennial Library; (January 1995)   

 For male survivors and friends of male survivors of sexual violence

  • Betrayed as Boys: Psychodynamic Treatment of Sexually Abused Men by Richard B. Gartner. Guilford Press; 1st edition (April 9, 1999)
  • If He is Raped: a Guidebook for Parents, Partners, Spouses, and Friends by Alan McEvoy. Learning Publications; 2nd edition (April 2003)
  • Male Victims of Sexual Abuse edited by Gillian C. Mezey and Michael B. King. Oxford University Press; 2nd edition (July 15, 2000)
  • Victims No Longer: Men Recovering from Incest and Other Sexual Child Abuse by Mike Lew. Perennial; Reprint edition (February 28, 1990)
  • Wounded Boys Heroic Men: A Man's Guide to Recovering from Child Abuse by Daniel Jay Sonkin. Adams Media Corporation; 1st edition (June 1998)


We have included links to other websites and we encourage students to evaluate the materials and to use what they find to be helpful. Please keep in mind that WPI cannot assume responsibility for information on other web sites.

Information on the web is not intended as a substitute for assistance from the SDCC. For personal assistance, WPI students should contact the SDCC at +1-508-831-5540 to schedule an appointment with one of our professional staff.

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At least 1 in 4 college women will be the victim of a sexual assault during her college career.

I felt like I was to blame for my rape, the SDCC helped me understand that it was not my fault and that there is a path to recovery.