Sexual assault is one of the most traumatic events human experiences. After the event, survivors are likely to feel angry, scared, confused or powerless. Many people blame themselves for how they acted during the event and experience guilt about not having done enough to get away from their offenders. They are likely to feel betrayed by the world and often remove themselves from their families and friends. This feeling is even stronger if the offender was someone familiar.
Survivors may feel that they can’t carry the burden of the fear, confusion and desire to run away. The feelings are so strong they may feel that there is no one else in the world who can understand them. It is important to understand that all of these reactions to sexual assault are normal. Full recovery from this trauma may take months and even years, and require patience and self-forgiveness.
Here are some ideas to help survivors cope with and overcome sexual trauma. The power to regain control of your life is in hands of the survivor. Take it.
- Talk about it
Often times we try and carry our burdens by ourselves. We feel like we are alone and that no one else in the world will understand us. Talking to a person who is close to you can help. You can unload some of the feelings that are flooding you, and feel less alone. Talking with someone often helps to organize your own thoughts and begin to understand what really happened. Having the support of family and friends is essential to helping you effectively cope with the trauma you have experienced.
2. File a police report
Going to the police is important because it tells you and your attacker that you will not be silent about what happened. This is important even for people who may be reporting someone who they know. If you are in Israel, we suggest going to your local sexual assault center. The staff and volunteers at the center will know how to help you file a police complaint. If there is any evidence that may help the police, such as an article of clothing you were wearing at the time of the attack, preserve it and don’t wash it. You should know that turning to the police can be a long and painful experience, which may conjure up many memories of the experience. The decision to go to the police should be one that is yours and not one that is a result of pressure from people around you.
3. Get medical attention
Internal physical damage can occur in cases of sexual assault, and infectious diseases can be transmitted. If you are concerned about either of these issues and don’t have a doctor you trust, consider first calling a rape crisis center for a referral.
4. Try to move away from self-blame and guilt
Often following sexual assault people feel tremendous guilt over the fact that the attack happened and on how they behaved during the attack. It is crucial to remember that no person wants to be attacked and that the blame is solely on the offender. At the time of the attack people are confused and overwhelmed and don’t know how to react: Should they scream? Run? It is important to remember that the way a person reacts during and after the attack is a normal and natural way of coping with a dangerous situation. Do not judge your behavior at this time. This is hard when many emotions are flooding you, but try to focus on the fact that you haven’t done anything wrong, even if your emotions are screaming the opposite. If you do this, the feelings of guilt will diminish and you will able to see the situation in a new light.
5. Consider turning to psychological help
If your feelings are overwhelming you, your fears are getting the better of you, or if you’re finding it difficult to make it through the day, do not hesitate to turn to psychological help. This is even more urgent if you feel that you may hurt yourself or are feeling suicidal. The rape crisis center in your area should be able to refer you to people who specialize in helping individuals who have had experiences like yours.
6. Turn to support groups
You may feel that the people close to you will be not be able to understand what you are going through. If that is the case, turn to a support group. In a support group you will be able to compare your thoughts and feelings with those who have had similar experiences. These groups can also help you file police reports, seek medical help and recommend appropriate psychological assistance. There are many victims who don’t turn to support groups because they don’t want to talk about what happened or share their problems. The person running the group can be a great resource for helping you get the necessary help and support. See our links page for resources in Israel.