Sexual assault support program aims to help students cope

Marshall University’s Counseling Center is providing an eight-week program for sexual assault victims to assist them with coping mechanisms and dealing with possible triggers. The program, Sexual Assault Survivor Skills, also known as SASS, was introduced last fall to a select group of female students.

“I know what that journey was like, and there aren’t a lot of groups out there,” Kocak said. “There’s not a lot of skill set groups. There’s not even a lot of trauma counseling out there.”

Kocak said the participants are given a fitness tracker at the beginning of the program, which helps them reconnect with their own bodies and gives them the ability to see how triggers impact them physically.

Although the program previously used fitness trackers as a research component as well as a way for the women to take back control, Kocak said she still believes using the technology is the right direction for the group.

“They’re learning,” Kocak said. “They say, ‘I can control my heart-rate by using my breath. I can get better sleep by walking.’”

Kocak said getting acclimated to the device is one of the most difficult parts of the program for most women.

“It’s a constant reminder that you’re dealing with your assault,” Kocak said. “Building up that tolerance to those emotions is all part of the process.”

Kocak said the program consists of many layers, including group counseling and individual meetings.

Sydnee Baker, Kocak’s field supervisor and counselor at Marshall University, said it is important for members of the program to receive help individually to discuss trauma.

“Counseling really does help; it’s that open, unbiased space where you can talk about whatever you need to talk about,” Baker said. “We separate the trauma (from the group) so that we’re not re-triggering other students. You have to be in individual counseling so you can talk about that trauma.”

Kocak said one of the most important aspects of the program is discovering what triggers the participant and figuring out how to manage it. Kocak said triggers can variate anywhere from certain colors or smells to a stranger greeting them on the street.

“It’s not always directly related in a way that you can see immediately,” Kocak said.

Kocak said the group meetings will consist of activities like journaling, coloring, yoga techniques and other art forms. Kocak said all of these methods work very specifically with mindfulness, cognitive behavior therapy and makes the participants more aware of their senses.

Kocak said it is very important for those affected by sexual assault to seek help.

“Most of the feedback that we get is that people stop living to some degree,” Kocak said. “Post-traumatic stress happens to everyone after a trauma. Whether it becomes post-traumatic stress disorder or post traumatic growth depends on how you process that trauma.”

Kocak and Baker said they are very excited for the eight-week program to begin after receiving wonderful feedback from last semester’s participants.

“One person told me this week that it changed their life, and I hope that’s true,” Kocak said. “That’s why we do this.”

This is Kocak’s final semester at Marshall University, but she said she hopes to see the program continue next fall.

The SASS group will meet Wednesdays from 6-8 p.m. Feb. 7-April 4 in Room 317 of Prichard Hall.

Those interested are required to contact the Counseling Center by Jan. 29 in order to be considered for the program.

Hanna Pennington can be contacted at [email protected]