Counseling Center group supports sexual assault victims


Photographs courtesy of 175975929003102

The UIS Counseling Center is located in office 64 of the Human Resources Building


The UIS Counseling Center has implemented a new support group for victims of sexual assault and incest, helping victims dispel myths about assault and showing them that they are not alone.

The group, the first of its kind at UIS, was the brainchild of Valerie Gebhardt, a mental health counselor who has worked at the university since 2005. She has years of experience working with victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault and thought that a support group would be a helpful way for some women to work through their trauma.

“[Victims] believe that they are the only ones that this has happened to,” said Gebhardt. “The survivors feel alone and have no support.  Sometimes we internalize that guilt and believe that it is our fault, and that this wouldn’t have happened if we had only been a better person.

“After speaking with a few students this semester, I felt that this was the time to start the group so that survivors would not feel so alone.”

The group is also meant to dispel myths surrounding sexual assault, empowering victims and helping them come to terms with the fact that they are not responsible for their trauma.

“So many times, women are told that if they did not dress this way, do this or that, they would not have been assaulted,” Gebhardt added. “People will victimize the victim for whatever myths that they might believe.”    

There have been four reports of rape on the UIS campus from 2014 to 2016, according to the University’s 2017 Fire and Safety Report. Yet, as Gebhardt notes, the majority of sexual assault cases remain unreported.

The group is currently no longer accepting new members, but Gebhardt will consider starting more groups depending on interest. She also hopes to one day start a support group for male victims of sexual assault and incest, dispelling the popular myth that only women are the victims of sexual aggressiveness.

Gebhardt wants students to know that that sexual assault is an unfortunate reality and that in 80 percent of cases, it’s perpetrated by somebody close to the victim. She encourages students to be aware of their surroundings and, when going out, informing a friend of where you’ll be.

Although the group had its first meeting Oct. 13, Gebhardt hopes that it will be a force for positive change, helping individuals come together and support each other as they work through trauma and, often, internalized guilt.

“I hope that this group will empower and provide support to those who need it,” said Gebhardt.