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Does counselling help deal with sexual assault? Two survivor stories

03/09/2015 05:00 EDT | Updated 05/08/2015 05:59 EDT
Ten years after being sexually assaulted, Amelia Herman knew she needed help.

At the age of 14, she had been a victim of an assault after losing consciousness in a high school hallway in Woodstock, Ontario.

At the time she had been quite ill and was heavily medicated.

When she awoke a friend was by her side. Initially confused, she began, with the help of witnesses, to piece together what had happened. It would eventually lead to a court case where the teenage boy was charged with the crime and would come away, as she puts it, "with a hand slap" and a sentence of community service.

For Herman, it was a process that left her years later with many unanswered questions.

"The court proceedings… they were not as accommodating as I was led to believe. There was a lot of information on how friendly law enforcement would be, how they would see you through.

"But the fact of the matter was that there are a lot of people within that system who were not equipped with appropriate resources to handle, not only any survivor, but a very young survivor."

With the help of friends and family, she contacted SACHA, a sexual assault centre in Hamilton, and began the process of trying to understand the events that had shaped the early part of her life.

Today, she is finally beginning to move forward and is now offering help to others who have gone through similar experiences. 

"I slowly came to the realization, 10 years later, I needed support. I realized I had to be accountable to myself and take some self-care steps."

Overcoming sexual assault can be a difficult and slow journey. The process of healing takes time, as those trying to put an attack behind them begin to build trust and learn to feel safe once again.

After a sexual assault, it's not unusual to experience a sense of detachment and loneliness — as Hamilton community college graduate Adam Bryan discovered.

"Some people who I had opened up to said 'that couldn't happen to you because you're a guy,' or 'oh that couldn't happen to you because you were on a date,'" Bryan, 23, said. "It really began to get me down."

Adam thought he was going on date with a male friend almost three years ago when things took a turn for the worse. His date assaulted him later in the evening leaving Adam in tears and in search of an explanation.

Initially he tried to carry on as if nothing had happened. But over time he found himself waking up at night with panic attacks and fearful of running into his assailant again.

It was at that time he made a decision to seek out counselling, something that he admits has turned his life around. 

"My support group offered a 24-hour support line that I could use when I was having a panic attack or something like that. Today I'm trying to make people aware that these organizations and services are out there."

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