Rubbed the Wrong Way: Sexual Assault and Massage - a site for people who have experienced rape, sexual assault and other inappropriate behaviour in the course of massage
Were You Sexually Assaulted?
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*Important: If you have just been raped or sexually assaulted, please see this page on what to do*

Types of Sexual Assault
Your sexual assault may have been violent, i.e. you were beaten. However bear in mind that most rape/sexual assault does not result in physical injury, and it's often the case with massage that the assaults are couched in "gentleness." Please don't be ashamed to seek help if you're minimizing the assault for example with thoughts like "it was only touching - why do I feel so bad?" Violent or not, all sexual assault is serious. Society is fond of stereotypes about what "real" sexual assault is. These include nonsense myths such as : "The only real rape is stranger rape", "men are not sexually assaulted," "women ask for rape" or "it's not rape if you weren't beaten to prove you didn't consent." This results in a lot of injustice to survivors. But if you have been sexually assaulted, you deserve to be supported, believed and listened to.

Let's have a look at what rape/sexual assault is. Because the boundaries in massage are sometimes blurred, you may be unsure of how to define your experience. While you would need to check the laws in your country or state to find out what legally constitutes rape/sexual assault, here are some generally-accepted definitions:

Rape is the penetration of the vagina or anus with a finger, penis or object without consent. It also includes forced oral sex in the forms of fellatio (forcing a penis into your mouth), cunnilingus (going down on a woman) or fellating (going down on) a man without consent - please read about the masseur convicted of assaulting 2 men in this way).

Sexual Assault is touching your breasts, buttocks, genitals or anus without consent, or the perpetrator forcing you to touch them in this way. It may involve grabbing, fondling or kissing you without your consent. It can include visual behaviour such as somebody exposing him/herself to you. In some places, a verbal threat to rape or sexually assault you constitutes an assault.

Consent is not present if: it was not sought, you were physically forced into sex acts by the use of strength, violence or binding, if you were asleep, you were drugged or drunk to the extent you could not give consent; you submitted because you or a third party were threatened with harm; you were deceived as to the nature of the act (i.e. internal massage explained away as a necessary part of the massage), or you were otherwise coerced or persuaded into the sex act, or touching proceeded after you said "no." On that note, It's important that you understand you do not necessarily have to have said no for the act to be sexual assault (Please see Stefka's article on so-called "Grey Area Rape"). Perhaps you were "ambushed" i.e. the touch came without warning, or you were too shocked and confused to protest - that doesn't mean you "consented" or weren't sexually assaulted. Ditto if you were coerced into believing that the act was a treatment for your own good. Even if you had a physical response, it was not your fault (some men and women have had orgasms in the course of being raped or sexually assaulted). It doesn't matter what your body did. - if you didn't consent, it is sexual assault.

What is "Inappropriate"?
Sexually inappropriate behaviours
are forms of behaviour which while they may not be criminal (and some may in fact be), are unethical and by which you may have been hurt. They may include lewd comments, approaching you for sex, or not giving you privacy. Check out anything that doesn't feel right - a good masseuse will be transparent with you. Please see this page for a discussion of appropriate behaviour in massage. The bottom line is this: Even if these behaviours are not criminal, they are still unprofessional and inappropriate. If you have experienced anything like this, you can check out what avenues of complaint exist in the clinic the MT works for, or if he or she is a member of a national body that governs massage practice, you may also look at avenues of complaint. Please see this page for international links to Massage Therapist Associations. A thing does not have to be "legally" sexual assault to be extremely upsetting (remember that certain types of sexual assault were not legally recognized until the law caught up with people's realities). So, you can also ask for support from other survivors at Pandora's Aquarium.

How You Might Feel
Sexual assault is a trauma that can leave psychological scars. These don't make you weak or defective in any way - just as it isn't your fault you were assaulted, it's not your fault it affected you. There's no "right" or "wrong" way to feel - some survivors cry uncontrollably, others feel numb and emotionless, or you may experience alternating bouts of both. Sexual assault turns our assumptions of a safe world upside down, and this may be particularly true of the assault came from somebody who was supposed to be safe, or who initially seemed that way.

Some survivors experience the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). These can include flashbacks in the form of memories, emotions or physical feelings that can make it seem as if the assault is happening again right now. You may find that you have nightmares about the assault, trouble sleeping and you feel depressed and anxious. Some survivors think they're doing fine, but then they experience a "trigger" or reminder of the assault which can set off some catastrophic feelings. You may get angry more easily or question your sanity. Please see a more comprehensive overview of PTSD and how it is diagnosed here. Of course it isn't a given that you'll develop PTSD, and you likely won't have all the symptoms if you do. Support as early as possible after the assault can help ward off later psychological issues.

Shame and self-blame are common responses to sexual assault, and it's not surprising given that we live in a culture that routinely blames sexual assault victims and denies their reality. For example, if you are a man, you may feel ashamed that you couldn't defend yourself against the assault, or you may be a woman who was repeatedly assaulted when you returned to the masseur for more treatment because he told you it was acceptable and you wanted to trust him. I remained friends with my bad masseur for a time after because I didn't know that what he did was wrong, and I have felt (unwarranted) guilt because he "really cared" about me; how could I think he'd harm me? Of course this was exactly what he wanted me to think. While I don't think I feel traumatized by it as such (and I have had PTSD as a result of other events in my life), I have felt violated, angry, disgusted, sickened and saddened by the masseur's betrayal.He knew I had been raped and beaten by an ex-partner who was still stalking me, and he appeared so empathic.

You may ruminate over what you believe you could or should have done to stop it. What ever you did or didn't do, you did not cause the perpetrator to sexually assault you. That was their choice and their fault. You may become very mistrustful - and who can blame you? As you heal, you'll know when you're ready to take chances again. Some survivors also feel "dirty", but remember, you are not what the perpetrator did to you.

If you are experiencing any of the above, don't panic - you are experiencing a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. And you are not alone - please see this article about a woman survivor of massage rape who experienced PTSD. The thing for you to know is that the bad feelings you are experiencing will pass, and that's particularly true if you have support. We'll look below at this.

What You Can Do
To Prosecute or Not? Sexual assault is a crime. But the choice about whether to prosecute or not is an intensely personal one. Please don't let anybody push you either way - it really is up to you. If you aren't sure what you want to do, would you consider talking to a rape counsellor to explore your options? (Please see this page for international links to sexual assault services). Some survivors believe it's important to stop the perpetrator from doing it to somebody else, but really, the only responsibility for stopping the sexual assaulting is the perpetrator's. If you are considering reporting the assault to the police it's wise if you act as soon as possible, because delayed reporting can lead to the loss of evidence (Please see Jes's page on the "rape-kit" or evidence-gathering process). As well, there is a tendency for the courts to believe (unjustly), that a late report is more likely to be false. You can have a rape crisis worker or a good friend go with you to talk to the police. Unfortunately, courts are still biased against sexual assault complainants. If the legal system doesn't work for you, the fault lies with warped views of sexual assault that shape laws, not with you, and you can still heal. Nevertheless, some massage therapists are convicted - please see this page for some articles.

If you are not reporting the assault, you may still want to consider avenues of complaint. National associations of massage therapists can best advise you - even if the perpetrator isn't a member of their association, they may still be able to direct you - see this page. It may also be that the perptrator belongs to a different organization such as one governing naturopaths or chiropractors.

Importantly, even if you are not reporting the assault, it's still best to have a hospital examination to guard againt infections and pregnancy. Again, see Jes's page.

Secondary Wounding
Secondary wounding is a term used to describe unhelpful or hurtful responses other people give to survivors of trauma. These include denial and minimization - for example saying that you're lying about the assault, that you're making "too big a deal of it" and should "just get over it." Out of deliberate cruelty, somebody may rub your face in the assault. You may be betrayed by somebody who talks about it behind your back when they've promised you confidentiality. Blaming is a very common form of secondary wounding - here, you are asked what you did to provoke the assault, or why you didn't "stop it." Secondary wounding can also come from institutions - for example you may have been denied help by the police or other agencies you turned to for redress.

Unfortunately when it comes to sexual assault, there are many people who think they have a right to define the victim's reality. This is true from the courts down to our next-door neighbours. It has been suggested by some idiot, for example, that since massage is akin to prostitution in that you're paying somebody to touch you (there's that stupid confusion of legitimate massage with sleaze again), when there are charges of sexual assault the only real crime is that the masseur was ugly. Ffffff....so many clowns, so few circuses. Nevertheless, secondary wounding can feel almost worse than the original trauma, and certainly compounds the pain. It doen't seem uncommon for massage sexual assault to be trivialized, and the media is another culprit - Rebecca Romijn-Stamos has spoken about her experiences saying she believed she was "raped in a sense" and yet an article calls it "Rebecca's Raunchy Massage Trauma" But sexual assault is not trivial.

If you have experienced responses like these, please know that not everybody thinks the same way as the person who hurt you. It actually says more about their ignorance than you. Although experiences of secondary wounding can leave you afraid of seeking further support, don't be silenced. You deserve support. Please see Jes's page on helpful and unhelpful responses, as well as Identifying and overcoming hurt from others. Stefka also has a page that deals with secondary wounding here.

Healing
At times, surviving sexual assault can leave you feeling as though you will never heal. Certainly if you are in crisis, your world can seem turned upside down. Nevertheless, be assured that survivors do heal all the time.
Healing means different things to different people. Many survivors speak of healing from sexual assault as being like an onion-skin - it comes in layers. Sometimes when you thought of an issue as "dealt with", it can come around again for further work. It's okay, you aren't going backwards.

Some people write poetry, draw, paint or dance to help themselves heal (Please see Stefka's page of survivor creativity.

One of the things most likely to assist you in healing is support. Please make sure you have at least one or more trusted people in your life that you can discuss the sexual assault and your feelings with. Some of your issues may be better explored in counselling, but you deserve others who can hear you too. If you feel like you need support from a counsellor, you might like to start with sexual assault services. The workers are trained and they will not judge you. It is also ususally free, and is confidential. Please see this page for a list of international sexual assault hotlines.

As an administrator of Pandora's Aquarium, I can attest that quality support can be found on the internet. While I think it's important to have at least one person with "skin on" to talk to, I have had some of my best support from this wonderful community of survivors. If the idea of an internet messageboard appeals to you, I highly recommend you sign onto Pandy's and have a look around. There are many forums, including sexuality, a men's forum, and one in which you can share your story. It's thriving and very very compassionate. For more information, please click here.

Sexual healing and body issues may also come up for you. You can have a look at this page on my other site (for women) - it doesn't pertain to massage abuse but survivors have told me that it contains useful suggestions no matter what the context. Jes also has a page on sexual healing and resources.

Some further browsing suggestions:
Here is a comprehensive list of articles on healing and caring for yourself in the aftermath of sexual assault - including for male survivors. For more resources, see this page.

There are good books that can help healing from sexual assault along - please see Shannon's page of book suggestions.

You'll get there, my friend - just don't forget to reach out, okay? There is help out there for you.
Copyright 2007