It has come to my attention that people aren’t aware of how to deal with friends or family members who have gone through a sexual assault. I would like to give you all some tips and tricks on dealing with sexual assault right after it happens and dealing with all the issues that come along with it later. I also just want to educate everyone on what sexual assault can do to a person.
I can imagine how difficult it might be to hear someone you love has been sexually assaulted. Here are some things you can do or say that are helpful to your loved one:
- Listen. Be there. Communicate without judgment.
- If the survivor seeks medical attention or plans to report, offer to be there. Your presence can offer the support they need.
- Encourage the survivor to get support. Share resources like the National Sexual Assault Hotline and online.rainn.org, but realize that only they can make the decision to get help.
- Be patient. Remember, there is no timetable for recovering from trauma. Avoid putting pressure on them to engage in activities they aren’t ready to do yet.
- Encourage them to practice good self-care during this difficult time.
- If someone you care about is considering suicide, learn the warning signs, and offer help and support. For more information about suicide prevention please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 800.273.TALK (8255) any time, day or night.
** Source: Rainn.org (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network).
· Believe what the survivor is telling you.
· Remember, it was not their fault. Don’t put blame on the survivor.
· Ask before offering physical support. Asking “Can I give you a hug?” can re-establish the survivor’s sense of security, safety, and control.
· Take care of yourself. If you need support for yourself, please contact your local rape crisis center for a confidential place to discuss your feelings.
**Source: pcar.org (Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape).
Here are some reactions to sexual assault:
· Guilt, shame, self-blame
· Fear, Distrust
· Lack of control
· Shock, disbelief
· Flashbacks, or re-experiencing the assault
· Depression and other mood disorders
· Difficulty concentrating
· Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (ptsd)
· Substance use or abuse
· Phobias or fears
· Low self-esteem
· Thoughts of self-harm, including suicide
Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)
Depression is a common reaction following sexual assault. Symptoms of MDD can include a depressed mood, an inability to enjoy things, difficulty sleeping, changes in patterns of sleeping and eating, problems in concentration and decision-making, feelings of guilt, hopelessness, and decreased self-esteem. Research suggests that almost one of every three rape victims have at least one period of MDD during their lives. And for many of these women, the depression can last for a long period of time. Thoughts about suicide are also common. Studies estimate that one in three women who are raped contemplate suicide, and about one in ten rape victims attempt suicide.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) involves a pattern of symptoms that some individuals develop after experiencing a traumatic event such as sexual assault. Symptoms of PTSD include repeated thoughts of the assault; memories and nightmares; avoidance of thoughts, feelings, and situations related to the assault; negative changes in thought and feelings; and increased arousal (for example difficulty sleeping and concentrating, jumpiness, irritability). One study that examined PTSD symptoms among women who were raped found that almost all (94 out of 100) women experienced these symptoms during the two weeks immediately following the rape. Nine months later, about 30 out of 100 of the women were still reporting this pattern of symptoms. The National Women's Study reported that almost one of every three all rape victims develop PTSD sometime during their lives.
I have said this before, but I will say it again, this isn’t something you just “get over”, it takes time and it takes a lot of support from professionals and the people who love you. Again, there is no time limit when it comes to the healing process.
Please don’t tell us to be grateful to be alive.
Please don’t tell us to change our perspective.
Please don’t belittle our situation with a different situation. Yes, everyone goes through something but each person’s story is unique and not any less significant than another.
Please don’t tell us you understand what we are going through. Unless it has happened to you, there is a good chance you have no idea what we are going through.
Please don’t tell us how to heal. Unless you are a medical professional.
Please don’t tell us to stop being sad/depressed. It’s not that easy!
Please don’t dismiss our mental illnesses (if we have any). It takes time to get them under control. They don’t just go away on their own.
**These are my thoughts and opinions and not the thoughts and opinions of every sexual assault survivor.
Victim Vs. Survivor
The words “survivor” and “victim” have very different connotations. Being a “victim” implies helplessness and pity, which might not adequately describe the experiences of some people who experience sexual assault. Experiences vary from person to person, after all. However, what’s so different about the term “survivor” is that it implies that people are able to take control of their own lives. “Surviving” conveys that the person is still fighting, whether through the judicial system in order to bring justice to the perpetrator, to gain awareness for the cause, or to learn to live after experiencing an assault. A “survivor” thrives in their environment.
It’s important to be cognizant about when we use “victim” over “survivor” because of the impact our words can have on those we are referring to. If we’re accidentally imposing our views of what we think a victim or survivor of sexual assault should look like onto them, then it’s time to reconsider our language and how we think about it.
Please just make sure to keep yourself educated. Your words and actions can make all the difference.