Mental Health & Sexual Assault

Mental health and sexual assault are closely intertwined. Many people believe an assault is the main cause of trauma for a survivor. However, the assault itself if often just part of the overall ongoing trauma survivors experience.

Sexual assault is not a just a traumatic event; it is a traumatic experience. Trauma is cumulative. Trauma stems from not just the assault, but the aftermath as well. Social and institutional responses to sexual assault can inform how people who are sexually assaulted approach their path to recovery. Sometimes, survivors have great support systems ready and willing to offer assistance. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

A study conducted by Michigan State University examined the various micro- and macrosystems that affect survivors of sexual assault. Cabral, Campbell, and Dworkin state that, “sexual assault does not occur in social and cultural isolation.” Victim-blaming, slut-shaming, disbelief, and personal attacks all await people in the aftermath of their assaults. The same article also suggests that for some survivors, diagnoses like PTSD can feel limiting, because sexual assault trauma is more nuanced and expansive that a diagnosis alone can encapsulate. Part of the reason why is because rape culture is so expansive, in our media, our justice systems, our social interactions. Rape culture perpetuates a cycle of trauma for survivors of sexual assault, beyond what science alone can explain.

Social and societal responses to sexual assault can be as traumatic as the initial assault. According to the Michigan State study, up to half of survivors “meet diagnostic criteria for depression,” and up to 40% “experience generalized anxiety.” For survivors who don’t have strong support systems or ways to cope with their assault, these issues can be exacerbated. They can be worsened further by problems including, “rape-prone culture, institutionalized racism, cultural differences in responding to rape, and acceptance of rape myths.” Although these problems present a bleak picture of survivors’ experiences, there are ways to positively impact someone’s path of healing.

While the study found that social macrosystems tend to perpetuate rape culture, microsystems do not necessarily do the same. Support and care from people closest to the survivor can have a significant impact on the distress levels of the survivor, such as friends, family, advocates, and more. Sexual assault response centers, mental health services, and trauma-informed hospital staff, including sexual assault nurse examiners (SANEs) can also reduce the level or likelihood of post-assault depression and anxiety.

Taking the blame from survivors is of the utmost importance for these small support systems, because at every step of a survivor’s process there is an opportunity for other people and systems to blame and shame them. To move past pervasive rape culture, we must start by being trauma-informed and less doubtful of survivors. If we do not, we abandon survivors, and leave them to face mental health needs like anxiety and depression, among other needs, by themselves. Surviving a traumatic assault is not a reason to be shunned; it is a reason to be embraced and supported on every level possible.

Campbell, R., Dworkin, E., & Cabral, G. (2009). An Ecological Model of the Impact of Sexual Assault On Women’s Mental Health. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 10(3), 225-246. doi:10.1177/1524838009334456

There’s no easy cure for mental health conditions, but stigma can be cured. Find your cure at #CureStigma

Photo credit: Eden Baron

Responding to #MeToo and More

In a time when our newsfeeds are overflowing with disclosures from sexual assault survivors, articles about the social and political consequences for high profile perpetrators, and endless debates over what accountability should look and sound like, it is natural to feel overwhelmed.

We are swimming, sometimes drowning, in questions. “How do we stop sexual assault?” “How come it has taken this long for people in power to be called out?” “How do I heal?” “What do we do with offenders?” “How do I escape, when it feels like sexual violence is everywhere?” “Who can I trust?”

As an agency, SARC wants to directly address all that is occurring in Hollywood, state and federal politics, and in our own communities. But while this storm of media attention has the potential to be a pivotal moment in changing how our culture views and addresses sexual violence, SARC’s response has remained the same:

If you have experienced sexual violence and are looking for some kind of support, SARC is here for you.

Whether something happened three hours ago or thirty years ago, SARC is here for you.

Whether you know exactly what you want or you have no idea where to begin, SARC is here for you.

For anybody with any gender identity, race, documentation status, sexual orientation, occupation, spirituality, and any other identities that make up a human being, SARC is here for you.

Whether you want to tell us what happened or you want to keep that to yourself, SARC is here for you.

For people struggling with how to support a friend or family member who has experienced sexual violence, SARC is here for you.

To people who may be grappling with the multitudes of denials that have come from these disclosures, and the small number of admissions, we want to recognize how painful and messy it is to hear perpetrators try to lie or apologize their way out of accountability. Hearing offenders admit their wrongdoing can have value and be healing for some people, and SARC respects the power that can give survivors. We would be ignorant to not also recognize critically that it is only under the most extreme social and political pressure that these few public admissions are coming to light – when entire careers, financial investments, and crucial elections are on the line.

The reality of how commonplace acts of sexual violence are is as true today as it was 40 years ago when SARC first started, as it was 400 years ago. The consequences these high profile perpetrators are facing represent a step forward in cultural accountability, but this momentum needs to carry us further. As a culture, we can’t only pay attention to an offender after more than 50, more than 70, more than 100 survivors come forward. We can’t come out against sexual assault but not call out “locker room talk” at our jobs, schools, and in our personal lives.

To those in positions of power, especially white men, who pledge to be more accountable in their personal and professional lives, and who recognize how they have contributed to and enabled sexual violence, we say: thank you, more please. Step up through ongoing actions, beyond words alone. Take the pressure of voicing these issues off of those who experience sexual violence most often, like women, trans women, women of color, LGBTQ people, women in poverty, and more. For too long, the burden of combating sexual violence has fallen to those who have experienced it firsthand. Help us change that.

SARC is, as always, in awe of the resilience and strength of the survivors out there. The people we work with, and the people we don’t. The people who are sharing their stories, and those who are not. Everyday may not be perfect, you may not always feel the magnitude of your strength, and you may not always feel okay. Through all of that, you are not alone. Everyday, especially the tough days, SARC is here for you.


To get in touch with SARC’s services, seek support, or ask questions, contact SARC’s 24-hour Support Line: 503-640-5311.

Spotlight: Volunteer Support Line Advocates

This month with recognizing Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) we also recognize three of our support line advocates who volunteer their energies, expertise and service. We can’t stress enough how important our volunteers are to the success and continuation of SARC services.

We appreciate you!

This month, meet Tina, Lua, and Yi, three of our support line advocates.

Tina Tina_April
Started at SARC: February 2015
Outside of SARC: Tina works as a CNA and does Jiu Jitsu. She plans to become a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE).

“The first thing I did when I moved back home from college, besides eat and get rest and typical kid home from college stuff, was to get in touch with SARC and apply to be an advocate. I first learned about SARC through the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event, then volunteered as an advocate on the crisis line, and now I am part of the weekend on call crew. Previous SARC events showed me the philosophy and mission of SARC. I knew that when I was able to commit myself to a volunteer position of an extended period of time that it would be with SARC. I like the vulnerability I experienced with my training group, I LOVE ERIN [Ellis, SARC’s Executive Director], I like the motivation behind everything that SARC does. I like that we work with CSEC and Beaverton Police. SARC allowed me to work closely with my community and has helped me realize what profession I want to pursue.”

Lua Lua_April
Started at SARC: August 2016
Outside of SARC: Lua works in psychiatric research and spends her spare time with friends and family, playing with her two dogs, Thor and Loki, and learning songs on her ukulele with her husband.

“After moving around to pursue my education, when I finally settled in Portland I wanted to start being involved in the community. Working with SARC has been a great opportunity to help people at a time of crisis, when they might not have anyone else to offer the support they need in that moment. Aside from taking on the role of an advocate, one of my favorite things about volunteering is meeting and working with the wonderfully selfless (and overall awesome) group of ladies of SARC.”


Yi Yi_april
Started at SARC: February 2015
Outside of SARC: Yi works as a Domestic & Sexual Violence Case Manager supporting immigrant and refugee victims and survivors. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her bike, practicing yoga, reading books, and watching 24 and Game of Thrones with family — especially with Season 7 coming up!

“My favorite thing about volunteering in SARC is that I get to learn from and work with amazing women from all walks of life who are passionate and dedicated to support sexual violence survivors. SARC is a supportive and inclusive community that upholds practicing self- and trauma-informed care; this is reflected in its volunteer training and extensively in its crisis line advocacy. As a crisis line volunteer advocate, I often feel cared, encouraged and appreciated by SARC staff. In navigating career paths after college graduation, volunteering for the crisis line has fulfilled my desire for gaining human, direct service experiences and ultimately led me to find the job of my dreams. It’s precious to me that volunteering for SARC enables me to connect with myself and others on a meaningful and deeper level. I continue to volunteer for SARC because it has a special place of my heart.”

Spotlight: CSEC’s STRYDE Program


Meet the STRYDE team: Keri, Hannah, Lex, and Olivia

This month’s spotlight is on one of our programs, STRYDE for CSEC. Here is a Q&A with Hannah
Geist, Program Coordinator.


Q: Can you explain what ‘CSEC’ and ‘STRYDE’ stand for?

Hannah: CSEC stands for: Commercially Sexually Exploited Children, though we like to refer to them as youth as opposed to children. STRYDE stands for Survivors Together Reaching Your Dreams Empowerment.

Q: SARC uses a lot of acronyms. Can you explain what “CSEC” and “STRYDE” stand for?

Hannah: Commercially Sexually Exploited Children, though we like to refer to them as youth as opposed to children. STRYDE stands for Survivors Together Reaching Your Dreams Empowerment.

Q: Can you share some of STRYDE history?
Hannah: SARC has been providing 24-hour crisis response and long-term supportive case management to commercially sexually exploited youth (CSEC) since 2008. Our STRYDE program began solely with volunteers, and as funding was established full time staff was hired to handle case management. Our team has grown as our services have expanded and we now have two full time Multnomah County case managers and one full time Clackamas County case manager.

Q: What is the goal of STRYDE as a program?
Hannah: Our 24-hour crisis line is available around the clock to offer emotional support to exploited youth and to respond in-person to hospitals, youth shelters, and police stations. Additionally, our Cabs to Safety program offers 24/7 transportation to safe locations. At the heart of our case management services is the establishment of safe and supportive relationships to empower and reduce barriers, connect youth to appropriate resources, provide consistency in complex systems, foster youth community building, and engage youth around their own self-identified goals.

SARC CSEC Programming spans a wide age range from 12-25. The STRYDE program serves youth ages 12-18. Fully Confidential case managers meet youth in the community and offer flexibility in engagement and services offered, including accompaniment and support through the legal process. The CSEC team works closely with community partners on meeting wide-ranging needs. Youth are invited to monthly All-Ages Night in the SARC Resource Center.

In summary, we are here to provide support and safety to youth, walk with them as they navigate their goals and let them know that their stories and their lives matter.

Q: How can youth or individuals get connected to the STRYDE program?
Hannah: Call our 24 hour crisis line (503-640-5311) and/or email me at hannah[at]


En Español >

Intimacy Group Fall 2016

Intimacy Group Fall 2016

The Alder Program at The Sexual Assault Resource Center (SARC) is announcing a FREE 10 week psycho-educational group for women who have experienced sexual trauma and want to address and resolve issues around intimacy that arise from experiencing sexual trauma.

In this group participants will:

  • Explore individual ideas of healthy sexuality in a safe, sexpositive, non-judgmental environment.
  • Discuss barriers to sexuality and intimacy that arise from experiencing sexual assault.
  • Learn and practice tools to increase ability to be in touch with sexuality while setting and maintaining boundaries.
  • Learn and practice tools to manage trauma triggers and increase ability to experience physical intimacy as a healthy, fulfilling and empowering part of life.

When: Group will be on Thursday evenings starting in mid-October

Where: SARC Alder Program office

For more information or to sign up for the group, please contact Betsy Trumbull, LCSW at 971-708-5771 or email:

Trauma-Informed Peer Clinical Consultation Group

Trauma-Informed Peer Clinical Consultation Group

SARC’s Alder Program is starting a free, monthly, trauma-informed peer clinical consultation group for clinical providers who work with trauma survivors.

This group will meet monthly for:

  • case consultation
  • sharing of trauma-informed practice knowledge, concepts, ideas
  • vicarious trauma prevention
  • clinical peer support
  • ethics discussions
  • sharing resources and referral sources
  • discussing ways to increase trauma-informed care in our community

Beginning August 9th

2nd Tuesday of each month


4900 SW Griffith Dr., Suite 103

This group is open to clinical providers who work with trauma survivors. We welcome clinicians who work with any trauma survivor population, but we will have a focus on interpersonal trauma work specifically.

For more information and to RSVP, please contact Mychelle Moritz at 503-626-9100 ext. 230 or

SARC Resources

Friends and Family Group

It is time to sign-up for the Alder Program’s Friends and Family Group summer session.

The Friends and Family group is a FREE 10-week psychoeducational group for partners, friends and family members of adults and teens who have experienced sexual assault at age 15 or older.

In this group participants will learn:

  • Information about sexual trauma, including: after effects of sexual trauma on the brain and body, how trauma memory is processed, how trauma survivors cope with sexual trauma and the losses that result from experiencing sexual trauma
  • How to provide helpful support to a person who has experienced sexual trauma, including: learning to use language that helps not hurts, how to validate effectively, how to help create a safe environment to promote healing
  • How to cope with your own feelings, including: learning how to cope with natural feelings that arise while being a support to a person healing from sexual trauma, self-care strategies

When: Thursday evenings beginning mid-June (exact start date TBD)

Where: The Sexual Assault Resource Center Alder Program: 4900 SW Griffith Dr., Suite 103 Beaverton, OR 97005

For more information or to sign up for the group, please contact Betsy Trumbull, LCSW at 971-708-5771 or via email:

SARC Mental Health Program: Teen Support Group

SARC Mental Health Program: Teen Support Group

SARC is announcing a group for older teens who have experienced sexual assault.

Our Teen Support Group is an ongoing, open ended, psycho-educational support group for older teens 16 through 19 yrs. old who have experienced sexual assault during their teen years by someone outside their family.

For more information or to make a referral contact Kathy Archibald, LCSW

Call 503-703-7353 or email

Trauma-Informed Peer Clinical Consultation Group

Intimacy Group

The SARC Alder Program will be offering a FREE 10-week psychoeducational group aimed at addressing sexuality and intimacy needs for adult survivors of sexual trauma starting March 3, 2016. The group will meet Thursday evenings at the SARC Alder Program office.

The group references work done by both Wendy Maltz (The Sexual Healing Journey, 1991) and Staci Haines (Healing Sex, 2007) that addresses intimate, sexual and sensual healing for survivors.

Goals of the group include:

  • Exploring one’s own definitions of healthy sexuality and intimacy in a sex-positive environment
  • Discussing barriers to sexuality and intimacy in a safe, non-judgmental setting
  • Offering tools to increase a participant’s ability to become more in tune with their sexuality while setting and maintaining boundaries

The group addresses sexuality and intimacy directly, therefore, a typical participant has previously participated in an initial support group and/or individual counseling to address sexual trauma and will have developed an array of positive coping skills.

For more information or to sign up for the group please contact Betsy Trumbull, LCSW at 971-708-5771 or via email at

The Alder Program

The Alder Program

SARC’s mental health program is expanding to a new space located just down the hall from our main office. With the move, we have also decided to give the program a name with meaning.

We are excited to introduce to you: The Alder Program. The name is based on alders, trees that are native to the Pacific Northwest. Alders are beautiful and resilient trees that are steeped in rich symbolism across many cultures. We chose this tree to represent our program because alders are important to forest restoration and health. After a forest fire, landslide, or clear-cut, alders quickly sprout and then secure and heal the soil as their roots spread and produce nitrogen, creating a nurturing environment for other trees to take root and thrive. Like alders, our program hopes to provide a safe and nurturing place for survivors to recover from the devastating impacts of sexual assault trauma.