The undeniable truth is that it is very difficult to speak out after being raped or sexually assaulted by a family member or someone you trust. The societal stigma and response are the things that will discourage the victim. However, with the arrival of social media, more and more people are anonymously telling their stories.
Nevertheless, we cannot fold our hands and do nothing. You can begin the process of healing from sexual trauma with these steps to ensure your safety, help you process your experience and develop coping skills for long-term recovery.
Ensure your own safety
After the experience of sexual trauma, the first and most important factor should be prioritizing your safety and well-being. In the immediate aftermath of an assault, most people experience shock, derealization, and a sense of being overwhelmed. To establish a sense of safety and normalcy, survivors use any coping mechanisms that have helped them feel comfortable in the face of major stressors in the past. It can mean calling your closest friend or trusted family member to come over and stay with you, or getting into bed under layers of blankets—whatever will help you feel a little bit safer in your own body.
Reach out for support
Once you feel more physically safe, it’s important to connect with a person you trust for support. After the shock, sexual trauma survivors often experience depression, anxiety, and dissociation. In a culture rampant with victim-blaming and doubt surrounding accounts of sexual assault—which may exacerbate trauma—it is crucial to confide in someone you fully trust. Finding a person who will not pry into the details of the experience, but who is there to say, ‘I am sorry this happened to you. Are you feeling safe? How can I help you?’ If you prefer to express your experience and emotions anonymously, it encourages victims to report the case.
Consider your medical options
Many survivors may be reluctant to pursue medical attention in the immediate wake of a sexual assault. It is ultimately up to you to decide what to do in accordance with your own physical, psychological and emotional needs. Choosing to go to the hospital or a medical rape center after an assault can be beneficial for a number of reasons. Most critically, health care practitioners can treat bodily injury and help ensure your sexual and physical health. Additionally, they can provide you with a rape kit—a sexual assault forensic exam that can be used to collect DNA, blood samples and other evidence. If you are not ready to file a police report immediately, some centers can freeze the evidence and store it for later access.
Process your experience
The desire to simply avoid addressing or processing the incident is a common phenomenon among survivors. But healing doesn’t happen through avoidance. You can’t go around it, over it or under it. You have to go through it. Learning healthy coping habits—which may be as simple as journaling, walking or meditating—can help survivors effectively process their trauma. Some may feel guilt as this sense of guilt can worsen the negative psychological effects of trauma. As such, therapy may provide an effective forum for mediating, understanding and coping with your emotions.
Consider your legal options
Some survivors are adamant that they want to file a police report or prosecute the assailant. For many others, the decision is not so cut and dry; they may be reluctant to report the assault immediately and may be confused as to what they should do next. There are many reasons survivors may not want to report their assault to the authorities or pursue legal action. A major consideration for most victims is the fact that their assaulter was someone they know and with whom they may share mutual friends, family or acquaintances. In fact, a staggering number of sexual assaults are committed by a person the victim knows. As such, survivors are often plagued with anxiety, shame, and fear of what others will think.
Reconnect to yourself and your life
Until you process your trauma and learn how to actively cope, it can be difficult to feel like yourself again. Consider the activities and social outings you may have avoided in the aftermath of your trauma. Stay attuned to your emotions and evaluate if you are ready to go back to that exercise class or join your friends at a party. A little internal nudge can be good, but never push yourself too far to be social when you aren’t yet ready. Take everything day by day.
By Damilola Faustino