Counselor speaks about survivor experiences

Megan Binkley, Opinions Editor

More than 28 percent of all undergraduate students on college campuses experience sexual assault and abuse, according to This is an issue that significantly impacts all colleges, including Madison College.

The college did several things throughout the month of April to draw attention to Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This included the college motivating people to take part in the clothesline project, and wearing teal on Fridays to raise awareness.
Though Madison College has raised awareness about sexual assault throughout the month of April, there are also year-round resources available on campus for those who experience assault. Annette Haas, Madison College’s Rape Crisis Center Counselor and Advocate, is available for all students.

Haas spoke about her experiences working with and counseling victims throughout the years.  First and foremost, she dispelled the idea that there is any ‘average’ or ‘correct’ reaction to rape and assault.  

“The range of reactions to sexual violence is very vast, and there isn’t one “normal way” for people to react.  Some of the reactions we see most commonly are difficulty concentrating, and with memory.  It’s not uncommon for a survivor to remember little about the assault at first (these memories may come back with time) and to experience difficulty with short term memory going forward.  Some people experience hyper-vigilance afterwards.  This is when a person feels “on alert” at all times, and they may find themselves having exaggerated startle responses to things such as loud noises, or anything that their brain may perceive as a threat.”

Haas went on to cite insomnia, nightmares, flashbacks, self-isolation, increasingly pessimistic world views, nausea, headaches, self-harm, dramatic behavior and daily routine changes, feelings of guilt, shame, anger, anxiety, and powerlessness as common after-effects of assault. 

She also described rape and sexual assault as having a severe impact on students’ ability to participate in their own lives, both academically and socially.  

“As I shared before, concentration and memory can be impacted, which can make participating in classrooms very difficult.  Additionally, it can be difficult if the survivor’s perpetrator goes to the same school…we also see impacts socially and in [romantic] relationships.  After a traumatic event, it isn’t uncommon for a person to isolate themselves.” 

However, Haas assures victims that this is by no means a permanent experience.  “Generally we see these impacts early on, and this is not to say that a person won’t have trusting, safe, and loving relationships in their life,”she said.

When asked about how her constant immersion in these experiences has affected her personally, Haas had a mixed, yet generally optimistic response.  

“On one hand, I’m forced to face the ugliness and violence that exists in our world.  I find that I watch less movies and television with violence, as I spend a lot of time at work dealing with that. On the other hand, I’m constantly amazed by the fierce resiliency of the people I work with. The love that they show to other people despite all they have been through. It is easy to feel like there is so much evil in the world, but my clients constantly help me see the good and how that outshines the hurt.  It reminds me to keep looking for the good in the world because it is always there.”

While the Rape Crisis Center, and the individuals who staff it, strive to provide a warm and supportive environment for the individuals who seek them out, the experiences of victims outside of the center after their ordeals are often painful, and reinforce the harm caused by the assaults.

Haas described how the friends and family of the victims she speaks can be less than supportive, and characterizes the modern criminal justice system as one “that rarely convicts perpetrators.”

While she does feel that the culture surrounding sexual assault is changing, she describes it “as changing at a very slow pace, and it can be very frustrating to see how pervasive rape culture is.”

Yet Haas left off the interview on a supportive note, with a message to survivors at Madison College:

“I’d remind you that you don’t have to share your stories with anyone you don’t want to.  But if you do want to talk about it the RCC is always there to listen when you need it.  I’m on Madison College Mondays and Thursdays, but our 24/7 Helpline is always open,” Haas said. 

“There can be a lot of pressure to share your story.  I don’t think anyone should ever be ashamed of their story.  I also acknowledge that it is a very personal experience to share and only the survivor has the right to decide if and when they share that with others.  I’d also remind them that they deserve love and support and to encourage them to surround themselves with people who can provide that.”