Thank you for taking the time to read this. Despite the fact that we don’t know each other, we believe you. Know that what happened to you was not your fault and you are not alone. How you choose to deal with what happened to you is entirely your decision. If you are open to exploring resources for support, you will find them below.
Dear Loved One/Friend,
Thank you for reading this for your own experience and to support someone you care deeply about. Having a loved one survive a traumatic event can be difficult and you are not alone. Any thoughts or feelings that emerge are completely normal and you are deserving of a space to process them. Your loved one holds the expertise on what they need – and don’t need – right now, and simply being present is the greatest gift of all.
April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a time of year when many people are talking about, learning about and thinking about sexual violence. It’s hard to turn on the television or scroll through social media without encountering something related to #MeToo, #TimesUp or the anti-sexual violence movement. For some, this is comforting – a collective ‘ah-ha’ moment to openly discuss sexual violence. For others, awareness contains a minefield of triggers. No matter what may come up for you, know you are not alone. And whether you are a survivor, know someone who is a survivor or are simply interested in learning more, you’ll find local resources below that offer guidance and support around experiences of sexual assault.
As a trauma therapist for nearly 15 years, Julia Hochstadt, LCSW hasworked with hundreds of survivors of sexual violence. Some she has met in the ER just after an assault, while others have connected to her for support for something that happened long ago. People who have experienced sexual violence seek help whenever it is right for them and there is no wrong time to reach out.
Four years ago, Hochstadt met one such woman, in the early morning hours in the emergency room. Amy-Lee Goodman came in for medical care after she was sexually assaulted. Hochstadt is grateful to Goodman for speaking with her then, and for her willingness to share her story with us here.
“I met Julia as my victim advocate in the ER, after I had woken up to being raped in my bed by my roommate’s boyfriend. Earlier that evening, we were celebrating as I was heading off to law school. I spent the next 12 hours receiving medical care, having evidence collected and speaking with detectives. I testified on July 23, 2015, and my abuser was indicted by a grand jury on two felony counts. In November 2016, a year and a half later, we finally went to trial because my abuser repeatedly rejected a plea deal. After a week long trial, the jury, comprised of 11 men and one woman, found him guilty. My rapist was sentenced to 5 years in prison and is currently serving his time,” shared Goodman.
“Verdict or not, the impact of the rape is indelibly printed on my body,” she continued. “In the weeks and months after the assault, I drifted through life, holding together a shell of a person. I felt a deep sense of shame, guilt and embarrassment and suffered from PTSD. I felt like I walked around with a label my abuser placed on me that reads: ‘Damaged: Rape Victim,’ but that was only true when I looked in the mirror. No one could see the heartache or the millions of broken pieces that I could not put back together yet.”
When it comes to experiencing a traumatic event like a sexual assault, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to recover. One person’s path might be drastically different than the next. And yet, they are equally valid. Reactions to sexual assault can manifest in many ways – emotionally, physically, socially/behaviorally. Common reactions to sexual assault may include flashbacks; sleep/eating disturbances; a sense of always being on alert (hypervigilance); poor concentration; self-blame; feelings of shame and/or guilt; withdrawal/isolation; nightmares; and somatic complaints, like headaches or abdominal pain. It’s also common for a survivor of sexual assault to experience none of these symptoms. Symptoms may emerge immediately after an assault, but can develop months after as well. Symptoms may cause problems in a survivor’s everyday routine. Or, a person’s routine or lifestyle may seemingly not be changed at all. This way of coping should not be seen as an indication that something “didn’t happen” or “wasn’t that bad.” And again, no matter what the reaction, anything after a sexual assault can be considered normal. The survivor is the expert on what feels most comfortable for them and validating this can go a long way.
“I would not be where I am today – about to graduate from law school– nor have the courage to speak out, without having had a supportive medical team at the hospital, the love of my family and friends and, significantly, the therapy and support from Julia. Therapy sessions helped me on my path to healing and to understand that my feelings, fears, and thoughts were normal,” said Goodman. “I’ve learned healing is different for every survivor. A part of my healing has been owning my story – one that I used to be ashamed of. I choose to speak out about my assault to help educate ER doctors and advocates on how to help survivors so others could have the opportunity to pursue justice if they choose to. I hope by sharing my story other survivors will feel comforted that they are not alone, know it’s okay to seek help, and remember that there is magic within each of us that no one can take from you.”
Sexual assault is a crime. Whether you are a survivor of assault or know someone that has been, many forms of help and assistance are available locally and nationally whenever, and if ever, you decide the time is right for you. For some, it is helpful to be aware of the rights and options available to a sexual assault survivor. In New Jersey, you have the right to a medical/forensic exam free of charge by going to a local emergency room. You also have the right to report what happened to you to law enforcement. Regardless of when an assault occurred, or if you’ve chosen to report it as a crime, emotional support is available 24/7 through trained victim advocates and ongoing, supportive counseling.
Healing from sexual violence is possible. Remember, you are not alone and support is available.
By Julia Hochstadt, LCSW and Amy-Lee Goodman
Julia Hochstadt,LCSW, psychotherapist, has been working with survivors of trauma and crime for nearly 20 years in hospital-based and private practice settings. Hochstadt maintains a psychotherapy practice with offices in Midland Park and in midtown Manhattan. In addition to her clinical work, Hochstadt facilitates educational courses for medical, legal and other professional and community audiences related to interpersonal violence. She regularly testifies as an expert witness with the Manhattan and Bronx District Attorneys offices. Hochstadt holds a master’s degree in social work from Columbia University, advanced clinical certificates from NYU, and certification in psychodynamic psychotherapy from the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy. Hochstadt can best be reached at email@example.com or via her website, www.TherapyWithJulia.com.
Amy-Lee Goodman has guest lectured at Emergency Room Departments throughout New York and spoken at advocacy trainings on the experiences of sexual assault for a survivor and navigating the criminal justice system. Goodman is the co-author of two non-fiction books on food and health policy: “Rethink Food: 100+ Doctor’s Can’t Be Wrong” and “The Meaty Truth: Why Our Food is Destroying Our Health and Environment – And Who is Responsible.” Goodman is graduating from Boston College Law School in 2019, where she is a Rappaport Public Policy Fellow. She has an honors B.A. degree in political science from Wellesley College.
Sexual Assault Resources
24/7 Hotline, Counseling, Hospital Advocacy and Forensic Exam Information (via Sexual Assault Response Team – SART), Legal Support – free of charge for Bergen County residents.
Healing Space – YWCA of Bergen
214 State St., Suite 207, Hackensack
24-Hour Hotline: (201) 487-2227
Office: (201) 881-1700
Fax: (201) 487-9609
TTY: (201) 487-0916
The hospitals below provide medical/forensic care and are affiliated with the Bergen County SART (Sexual Assault Response Team), operated by Healing Space.
Hackensack University Medical Center
30 Prospect Ave., Hackensack
Valley Health System
223 N. Van Dien Ave., Ridgewood
Holy Name Medical Center
718 Teaneck Road, Teaneck
Englewood Hospital & Medical Center
350 Engle St., Englewood
Law Enforcement – Filing a report, questions about the process etc.; also possible via SART.
Bergen County Prosecutors Office – Special Victims Unit
2 Bergen County Plaza,
Mon-Fri: (201) 646-2300
After Hours: (201) 642-5962
Bergen County Sheriff’s Office
2 Bergen County Plaza, Hackensack
Bergen County Police Department Headquarters
66 Zabriskie St., Hackensack
The NJ Coalition Against Sexual Assault (State-wide resource)
24-Hour Hotline: (800) 601-7200
RAINN – Rape Abuse Incest National Network