Still attracted to someone who assaulted me

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, 

It takes a lot of courage to share this experience. First and foremost, what he did isn’t your fault. You aren’t responsible for his actions. As for what happened to you, how you define your experience is your choice. Some people find definitions, terms, and labeling to be useful for their healing, while others don’t. Though he has a girlfriend, those who commit assault are usually doing it from a desire for power, as opposed to sexual interest (more on this in a bit). These types of experiences can bring up many feelings, and even if it changes from moment to moment, it’s valid. How you move forward is up to you but know that there are trained professionals who can provide support if you don’t think you can reach out to your peers. 

Although still feeling attracted to this person is confusing, there is no right or wrong way to feel after an experience like this. For many people, feelings don't necessarily dissolve after one negative experience, even those as serious as assault. In fact, many survivors of assault report still feeling love for the person who assaulted them, and it can be complicated to understand these feelings. More specifically, survivors of sexual assault report an array of emotions that are as varied and individual as their processes of healing and recovery. 

To address your coworker’s girlfriend—whether or not he had a girlfriend likely wasn’t a contributor to his decision to do this. At the core, these acts of violence are rooted in a desire for power and control. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) list several risk factors that can make someone more likely to commit assault and it includes a complex web of individual, relationship, community, and societal factors. That being said, even a person who experiences all of these risk factors isn’t destined to commit assault. Assault is always unjustifiable, and the responsibility for it lies solely with the person who committed it. Even if you had flirted with this person, or if you had wanted and initiated sexual contact, being assaulted still isn’t your fault. 

Since you indicated that you need to stay at your job, it might be helpful to come up with a safety plan. Some questions you might consider to inform your plan include: 

  • If you have to stay late at work again, is there a way to avoid being alone in the building with him? 
  • Are you familiar with all of the exits in your building if you need to get out? 
  • Is anyone in your life aware of this incident with your coworker? Can you ask them to be available via phone if you are feeling uncomfortable at work? 
  • How do you want to interact with him when you see him at work? Are there ways to set boundaries if you don’t want to interact with him? 
  • What are some coping strategies you can use when you see this person? 
  • If, despite your safety planning, this occurs again, what steps do you plan to take? 

You mention that nobody would believe what happened, but sharing this experience with somebody else, even if it’s not a coworker, could help establish more of a sense of safety and support. Experiencing assault is more common than people realize and sharing your story with others you entrust may help you feel less alone. Perpetrators thrive on isolating the people they have harmed; one way you may counter this is by connecting and building power with others. That said, sharing your experience is a choice. If you do decide to tell others about it, there are some additional questions you can consider in your safety plan: 

  • What word or phrase can you use in communications with trusted people in your life to let them know that you need help? 
  • Do you have any trusted colleagues that you can share this incident with? 
  • If you felt comfortable sharing the experience with others, would you have any interest in reporting this incident? 

For other questions about building a safety plan, you may find the Create a Safety Plan tool from the National Domestic Violence Hotline to be useful. While sharing this experience with others may be helpful, you may consider whether the person you choose to tell is required to report incidences of assault, discrimination, or harassment. Some workplaces may require people holding certain roles or titles to report these types of incidents when they occur in the workplace. Learning more about the practices and policies in your workplace can help ensure that your privacy is protected while you decide how to balance sharing this information and protecting yourself. 

Sexual assault, violence prevention, and mental health services are also available on many college campuses. These professionals help support students through a variety of situations, whether or not they happened on campus, and may be able to help you navigate a path forward at your job. They can also help you to process any emotions that you may be experiencing. A mental health professional could be beneficial in navigating the complex emotions and situations that you’re having around this experience and can help provide you with support. 

Take care, 

Last updated Apr 07, 2023
Originally published Dec 31, 2010

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