Beginning the process of healing from sexual assault is a place no one ever thinks they will be. The pain, shame, and loneliness can run deep, and it often feels overwhelming. Though there are no words to fix what has happened, we do believe there is hope.
Below are just a few things to remember as you begin your healing journey.
It’s Never Okay.
Sexual assault of varying levels of sexual contact, without active and continued consent, is always wrong no matter the setting or circumstances. There are often very unhelpful narratives portrayed through media and other sources that blame the victim. Under no circumstances is sexual assault the fault of the victim. Our hope is that you’ve heard that before, but you may need to be reminded continually throughout this process. Any sentence that begins with “well was she/he…,” (such as “well was she/he drunk, wearing XYZ, out late at night, alone,” etc.) falls into the category of unhelpful and unnecessary. Sexual assault is never excusable.
Under no circumstances is sexual assault the fault of the victim.
Surviving The Shame.
Shame is an intense feeling or fear of not being worthy of love and belonging. Shame in all forms is very common in the wake of a traumatic experience. We can replay our experiences, and be filled with “what if’s.” When shame settles in, we are often so disconnected from our own emotions that our anxiety level increases. When this happens, it is common to isolate from those around us. Shame often causes us to blame ourselves. Though it is normal to feel the shame, the hope is that with time we will learn the guilt does not belong to us, but instead to the perpetrator.
Connecting With Others.
In sexual assault, the power is taken away from the victim. Because of that, it is important that you get to decide how you tell the story and who you tell. The most important thing is for you to feel heard, empowered, and believed by those around you whom you trust. Unfortunately, it is common to be hurt by people’s responses to our experiences, which often has little to do with us, and has more to do with others trying to manage their own emotions and reactions. Sharing our stories with trusted people can combat shame by allowing other people who care about us to comfort us and give witness to our pain.
Healing is a process.
There are good days and hard days as we cope with the pain and grief of sexual assault. When the hard days come, we must try and remember it does not erase any healing we’ve experienced. Healing ebbs and flows, and that is normal. If your assault is recent, it is normal to feel shock, and even to deny the severity of your experience. When we survive traumatic experiences, it is common for our emotions to change frequently and rapidly. Flashbacks, or sudden and disturbing memories can intrude our minds and distract us from our daily life, creating difficulties in our relationships. Seeking professional help is one of the best ways to cope with the trauma and emotional disturbances that comes from surviving an assault. It is vulnerable to reach out for help, and it is important to remember it is not a sign of weakness but one of courage.
It is vulnerable to reach out for help, and it is important to remember it is not a sign of weakness but one of courage.
No matter if your assault was recent or in the past, it is helpful to maintain medical and emotional support.
1. Seek professional support through therapy.
Therapy can assist in the coping and emotional recovery of an assault. Finding a therapist can be done through your insurance company, through the counseling center on campus, or by searching online. It is important to find a therapist who has experience working with sexual assault and trauma to ensure you get the care you need. EMDR Therapy is one powerful therapeutic and evidenced based mind-body approach that has helped many people in the life-long healing process from sexual assault.
2. Seek Medical Support.
Visiting a physician after an assault is a challenging and emotional experience, however it is necessary to ensure long term healing. Bringing a trusted friend along with you and finding doctor who is sensitive to trauma can ease your experience. In most circumstances, doctors can keep information confidential even when it is unlawful, but it is important to ask if your provider is a mandated reporter and to communicate your desires to your physician before the end of your visit.
3. Consider Advocacy Groups.
Getting in touch with an advocacy group can assist you in getting help at your own pace, including reporting the incident if YOU deem that a priority. To find an advocacy group near you, Click Here.
God sees you.
In the midst of a heart breaking situation, it can be easy to assume God isn’t present, maybe even that he doesn’t care. Being angry with God is a common response in times of crisis. Time and time again in scripture, we see Jesus comfort those who are brokenhearted and grieving. We believe he wants to do the same for you. With the support of a trusted community, it is possible to heal from even the most devastating moments in our lives.
Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Hotline: https://www.rainn.org
National Sexual assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
Melissa McCormick is on staff with Greek InterVarsity at SDSU. She is also a Mariage & Family Therapy intern, focusing on trauma and eating disorders.
This is part 2 in our series on Sexual Assault. To read part 1, "Someone I Care About Was Assaulted, How Do I Handle This?" Click here.