Sexual Assault Support Center helps victims heal through support group

tstevens@ledger-enquirer.comFebruary 10, 2014 

The Sexual Assault Support Center has a message for sexual assault victims: recovery from trauma doesn't have to take place alone.

Recently, the Center began developing a bimonthly Survivor's Support Group, overseen by a local licensed therapist. The goal — providing a space where women can support each other through the sometimes lengthy process of healing from trauma.

"We're looking at providing services for 18 years old and over, adult female victims," Support Center Director Kyle Bair said. "It doesn't matter when the assault occurred. They could have been assaulted as children. It could have been in the past year. It doesn't matter."

The group, held at 5:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month, will use an open, 8-week cycle format. A different topic will be introduced to guide the sessions each week, allowing participants to attend — or take a break — at any point necessary. This format allows victims to feel out whether group therapy resonates with them without committing to a certain number of sessions.

"People can come this week, and decide 'It's too much, I'm not ready,'" local therapist Rachel Snipes said. "Then they can try again later."

Snipes said some of the topics the group will discuss includes managing common feelings — such as anger, guilt and fear — positive coping skills and assertiveness.

"A lot of times we have coping skills, but they're not always healthy, they're not always positive," Snipes said. "But when you don't know, you do what you know works to get by."

Confidentiality also plays a key role in the group, which requires each of its participants to sign an agreement binding them to nondisclosure.

Another important part of the group will be disseminating accurate information about sexual assault. Snipes said cultural myths about sexual assault, such as attitudes that place the blame on victims, can often be spread by well-meaning friends and family, impeding a victim's ability to deal with trauma healthily.

"I like for people to have accurate information, and there's so much out there that's not accurate," Snipes said. "There's so many myths and stereotypes out there. So, this is a support group but there's information that's going to be provided that's more factual than what they may have gotten on the street or even from well-intended people."

Also crucial is the guidance of a licensed therapist, which Bair said is not common among sexual assault support groups. That oversight can help the Center discern whether a participant would be better suited to a different style of therapy, such as individual counseling.

Such situations can especially arise when the assault occurred recently, Snipes said.

"For those, we'd have to assess to see if they're appropriate, if they can handle being in the support group," Snipes said. "It kinda depends on the person. Some people can handle it and some people can't. But some of the topics that are being discussed are the issue."

Though the method isn't for everyone, a majority of victims who approach the Center find group therapy helpful, Bair noted.

"For a large percentage of our victims, it helps them to realize they're not alone in that process," Bair said. "If they understand that it's confidential, that people aren't going to go out and share that information, that people don't have to know they're there, it can be a very healing part of the process."

Due to the sensitive nature of the group, the location is not publicly available. Anyone interested in participating should contact the Sexual Assault Support Center at (706) 221-1033 or (706) 571-6010 for locations and times.

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