Physically attracted to someone who assaulted me

Originally Published: December 31, 2010 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: July 3, 2013
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Dear Alice,

I have a huge crush on one of my coworkers. I am single but he is not, so I have never made any passes or encouraged myself to flirt with him. Five months ago, as I was the last one to leave from work (so I thought), I ran into him. I was surprised that he was still there. To make a long story short, he tried to assault me. I got away. I'm experiencing terrible confusion. I am still attracted to him! I can't stop thinking about him and whenever he ignores me (and he does...constantly), I feel like I'm going to go crazy!

I can't tell anyone; no one will believe me. They would say that I provoked him and that I wanted it to happen. I can't give up the job. I need the income to get through college! Why do I feel this way? What happened to me? Why would he do something like this if he has a girlfriend?

Dear Reader,

That sounds like a terrifying experience. How difficult it must be to continue seeing him and to feel like you wouldn't be believed if you told anyone. Whatever you did in response to the assault was exactly right on: you got away, it sounds like, with minimal or no physical injuries. Nonetheless, this experience must have been traumatic. There are two primary parts to your question: why would I feel this way towards someone who tried to hurt me and why would he do this, especially if he has a girlfriend?

Let's address the latter question first. Myths about rape abound. One such myth is that people who rape are sexually frustrated or never have access to sex. Studies actually show that this is not the case. Whether or not someone is in a relationship is not a predictor of whether or not they will rape. This is probably because rape is not an act for fulfilling sexual gratification. It's an act of violence and at the core of the motive is a desire for power and control. Incidentally, in case you were worried that your sexual attraction "provoked" the rape in any way, this is another myth: the myth that women really want to be raped. This is a statement often used by people who rape in order to justify or excuse their violence. Notice how people rarely make this claim about other types of crime: robbery or muggings, for example. Rape is no different. Of course you didn't want it. Your fear of not being believed makes sense given the presence of these myths. Is there anyone whom you can trust that would believe you? If you are a Columbia student, you may find it helpful to check out the university's Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Support Center and/or to make an appointment to talk with a counselor at Counseling and Psychological Services (Morningside) or the Mental Health Service (CUMC).

Your attraction to him, while it may be distressing for you, is actually not all that uncommon. Most people who rape choose to rape someone they know. Studies indicate that 85% of female victims of sexual assault report knowing their assailant. These women are sometimes the dates, intimate partners, and/or wives of the men who rape them. It is likely, then, that a large number of women share your experience of having feelings for someone who attacked them. Even if someone severs a relationship after being assaulted, feelings of love and attraction may remain for a time. Feelings don't necessarily dissolve after one negative experience (even after a very difficult and/or traumatic experience such as yours) and crushes, which can be very intense, are no different. It sounds that despite that attraction, you know he is bad news and you are avoiding him because of this, even though it still hurts that he ignores you. You are trying to keep yourself safe and that's very important. All of these feelings are likely very unpleasant to be experiencing, but you are not crazy for feeling them.

What's important is that you feel supported in making whatever decisions feel right for you in this situation. If staying at your job feels absolutely necessary, have a safety plan in place. What will you do if you are working late again? Is there a way to ensure you will never be alone in the building with him? Do you think there is a chance he would try to assault you again if you were? When the assault happened, it sounds as though you were able to maintain your physical safety. Are there additional measures that you may want to take, such as carrying pepper spray or taking a self-defense class? Another myth regarding sexual assault and rape is that fighting back makes the situation worse for women, but studies show that the opposite is true. The Center for Anti-Violence Education is a great resource for information and, if you are in the New York City area, low-cost self-defense classes. Additionally, the links below provide information about the availability of these classes at Columbia.

The safety plan is important not only for your physical safety, but your emotional safety, as well. What do you need to cope with all the feelings that come up when you see him at work? Are there ways to minimize your contact with him? Does seeing a therapist sound like an option for you? Lastly, it may be good to keep in mind that you are possibly not the only person in his life who he has tried to assault. There is a culture of silence and taboo around rape. At some point, you may find it useful to confide in a trusted co-worker who also knows him and may have had a similar experience. In any case, trust your gut to know how to navigate this situation. Your survival strength is admirable.

Take care,

Alice