When a person is raped or sexually assaulted, his or her world is turned upside down. Not only has he or she been violated in the most intimate way possible, he or she has to heal from the assault. But…how? Society is still afraid to talk openly about a rape or sexual assault; people may not know how to approach the rape victim – afraid to say the wrong thing.
Every person who has been sexually violated responds differently to the crime – some become horribly depressed while others become very angry. All emotions are fair responses to a rape or sexual assault.
Here’s a list of tips for talking to a rape victim as well as how to help yourself recover from a rape or sexual assault. Note that for the purposes of this resource, we are using rape and sexual assault interchangeably.
How To Recover From A Rape/Sexual Assault
If you have been the victim of a rape or sexual assault, you may not know how to feel normal again. You may feel that the emotional pain of a rape or sexual assault will never go away. You may feel shame, depression, anxiety and fear after the attack. No matter how you feel, know that things will become better, you will learn to heal, and life will go on in your new normal.
Here are some tips for recovering from a rape or sexual assault:
Seek medical attention – even if you do not want to take the assault to the police, you must be seen by a doctor to receive care for any injuries and to be tested (and receive treatment) for any sexually transmitted infections.
Even though you may have the intense desire to shower, before showering go see a doctor so he or she can collect evidence to try and convict your rapist. Even if you do not want to press charges right away, you may change your mind later. Chances are, your rapist has or will attack someone else. This evidence could be the difference between a conviction and another rape on another person.
Do not throw away or wash the clothes you were wearing at the time of the attack. Place them in a sealed plastic bag to take to the police.
You are not alone – one out of every six women and one out of every 33 men have been the victim of a rape.
Remind yourself that every person responds differently to a rape or sexual assault – and that all feelings, ranging from depression to humiliation, to fear, to confusion, to anger, to numbness, to guilt, to shame. All of these feelings, however unpleasant, are normal.
The rape was NOT your fault. Self-blame is common among rape victims. Rape victims tend to feel as though they are somehow responsible for the rape. It’s not true – the only person responsible for the sexual assault is the person who committed the rape.
It may take quite some time to rebuild trust in other people. Being the victim of a rape shatters your sense of trust and it’s not something easily rebuilt – like anything else, it takes time.
If you’re finding that you’re having a particularly difficult time coping with the aftermath of the rape, don’t be afraid to find a local counsellor who specializes in rape and sexual assault.
Confide in a trusted loved one about your feelings. Don’t keep them bottled inside because you feel you should be “strong” for other people. Let them know how you’re hurting and what they can do to help.
Recovering from a rape or sexual assault is a long, complicated experience. Do not feel guilty if you cannot simply “get over it.”
Part of healing from a rape or sexual assault involves regaining feelings of control over your environment. In addition to all of the other complicated feelings after a rape, feeling out of control is not uncommon. The rape took away your control – you must fight to bring it back.
Rebuilding feelings of safety, trust, control and self-worth can take quite a long time – that is okay.
Don’t hesitate to ask for help. If you need help from a counsellor or therapist, if you need help finding a support group, or if you need help going to the grocery store and getting chores done, ask someone for help. There is no shame in admitting you cannot do it all alone.
Find – and join – a support group for victims of rape and sexual assault. It can be very healing to be among people who understand the feelings you are dealing with.
Ditch anyone who doesn’t take you seriously or tries to play down what happened to you. Listening to that kind of garbage will only make you feel worse – like you need THAT in your life.
Being raped can make you feel unsafe. It may make you feel like you’re not brave anymore – like you want to hide out from everyone to stay safe. Don’t be afraid to ask a friend or loved one to go with you when you begin to go out again.
There is no right or wrong way to heal. Everyone has their own way of healing.
In time, you will move on from being a victim to a survivor, to someone who grabs life by the balls and makes it their bitch. You may not feel it now – but it’s true.
How To Help Someone Recover From A Rape or Sexual Assault
Your friend or loved one has been attacked and violated in one of the most horrifying of ways. You feel powerless, angry, and unsure of what to do next.
Here are some tips for helping a loved one recover from a sexual assault:
Right After The Sexual Assault
Encourage your friend to see a doctor and receive proper medical attention after a sexual assault. He or she may need treatment for STDs or pregnancy testing after the assault.
Encourage – but do not pressure – your friend to report the attack. If your friend does not want to report the rape, respect that decision as his or hers to make.
Shortly After The Rape
Listen, listen, listen to your friend who has been raped. He or she may try to go over and over the assault, replaying it in his or her mind. Listen without judgement as often as your friend would like.
Assure your loved one that he or she is not to blame for the rape. Expect to do this often as your loved one tries to work out why he or she was the victim of sexual assault.
Reassure your friend or loved one that you will be by their side no matter what. Your door is always open and you’re always just a phone call away.
Reassure your loved one that no one “deserves” to be sexually violated or raped.
Remind your friend that there is no right or wrong way to feel after a rape. Many of the emotions of a rape victim can be confusing – especially to the victim of the sexual assault.
Long Term Help After A Rape
If your friend seems to be having a particularly hard time recovering from the rape, gently suggest that he or she speak to a counsellor trained to help victims of rape.
Help your friend seek therapy for the assault by finding a list of local therapists or support groups that specialize in working with the victims of sexual assault. Often, while very depressed, it is hard for a rape victim to take these steps on his or her own.
Remind your friend who has been through a sexual assault that he or she is not to blame – the guilt and the ‘what ifs’ can plague a person who has been assaulted for a long time.
Expect that your loved one will experience many emotions following a rape or sexual assault. Feelings of anxiety, fear, humiliation, shame, guilt, anger, numbness and confusion are common following a sexual assault.
Give them time – if your loved one indicates that he or she is still struggling, remind them that there is no timetable for recovering from a rape. Recovery is a slow, gradual process.
If your loved one is a male who is admitting that he was raped, take extra care to reassure him that you believe him. Many people do not believe that men can be the victim of a rape – this could not be further from the truth. Men and women can both be the victim of a sexual assault.
Help your loved one who was raped to feel that they are now safe. It may take time for a rape victim to feel safe; to begin to participate in activities when they are ready – this is okay. If they ask for your companionship to various activities – including support groups – be sure to provide it if you can.
Allow your loved one to make choices for him or herself. Being raped is the ultimate type of loss of control over their environment. Don’t step in and try to take charge – allow your friend or loved one to make their own decisions as a way to begin the road to empowerment.
Ask – rather than assume you know best – how best you can help your friend. This can help your friend begin the path to recovery and begin to rebuild trust.
It’s natural to be overprotective of a loved one who has been raped – however, your loved one may not appreciate being treated with “kid gloves” or coddled. Play it by ear – you know your loved one best – and if all else fails, ASK them what they want and need from you.
If you are having a hard time coping with the feelings that the rape has stirred up inside you, consider talking to a therapist or counsellor about how to manage your OWN feelings.
Regardless of whether you are a victim, a survivor, or a loved one, taking care of yourself is the best way to help others. There are many ways we can take care of ourselves.
As a Survivor
Balance your life – Make sure you are sleeping, eating, and exercising as regularly as possible. This will help your life regain some normalcy.
Be patient with yourself – It can take a long time to recover. It may happen in small steps, incrementally, or there may be setbacks. Be mindful of your progress and your setbacks
Breathe – Often we forget to breathe and regulating and focusing on your breath is a great way to calm and centre your body. It allows you to tune in to what is going on and what you are feeling.
Allow yourself to experience your feelings – This is a tall order, and some people may feel numb after a rape. However, for most there will be emotions that come up at some point. Allow yourself to feel them and give them space to happen. You might feel angry, scared, sad – these are all normal and okay.
Find an outlet – Find an outlet to express your emotions and feelings. This can help rebuild your confidence and your sense of empowerment.
As a Loved One
Take time for yourself – It is a big job to be supportive of a friend going through a difficult time. Make sure that you give yourself enough space so that you can be mentally available for your loved one.
Get help if you need it – Sometimes it’s worth recognizing that we don’t have all the answers. You’re not expected to be an expert. If you or your loved one need additional help or resources, scout those out and get the help you need too.
Be there – Sometimes just being there is enough. Your loved one is likely looking for a safe space to share, not for a fixer or a solution.
Things To Say To Someone Who Has Been Raped:
- “I believe you.”
- “I’m so sorry this happened to you.”
- “This is not your fault.”
- “How can I help?”
- “Would you like me to find a support group for you?”
- “I’m here if you want to talk.”
- “I’m here if you don’t want to talk.”
- “You are not alone.”
How NOT To Help Someone Recover From A Rape or Sexual Assault
Sometimes even the most well-meaning people can say the wrong thing to a victim of rape or sexual assault. It’s very hard to know what to say and what not to say.
Here are some tips for what not to do or say to a sexual assault survivor.
- Don’t guilt or pressure your friend into reporting the rape – it is up to his or her discretion whether or not he or she wants to report the rape to the police. You can encourage this, but do not use guilt or pressure as a motivator – your friend is already dealing with a lot of guilt and grief about the rape.
- Don’t imply or outwardly criticize the survivor for not resisting the attack. A rape is not the victim’s fault no matter what.
- Don’t suggest that the rape or sexual assault was somehow related to being in the wrong place – and that the victim should’ve known better.
- Don’t ask after what the rape or sexual assault victim was wearing or doing at the time of the attack – it implies that blame should be given to the victim for behaving inappropriately.
- Don’t judge. Anyone can be a victim of rape or sexual assault – not simply “drunk chicks.” Assaults can happen to anyone at any time at any age. So check judgement at the door and listen openly as your friend opens up about the assault.
- If your friend indicates that he or she does not want to talk about the rape, do not push for details. It may make them feel more uncomfortable than they already do, having survived a rape.
- Don’t imply that he or she is misremembering the situation. If your friend was the victim of sexual violence, it’s not up for debate.
- If the rape victim is male, do not indicate that male rape is fake or that the assault didn’t happen. Men can be raped, too.
- Don’t frighten them – even as a joke. If your friend or loved one has experienced a sexual assault, chances are that they will feel jumpy and startled under the best of circumstances. So don’t come up behind them suddenly or touch them – this may trigger flashbacks of the rape.
- Don’t be offended if your loved one doesn’t want to be close or touch you. Touches may trigger flashbacks of the rape. Ask before hugging or holding their hand if they are okay with you hugging them. Ask every single time you feel compelled to hug them – don’t assume that they are always going to feel comfortable with your touch.
- Don’t take out your feelings on your loved one. Knowing that you weren’t able to protect someone you love from a violent sexual assault can cause a lot of unpleasant feelings inside you – it is not your friend’s responsibility to hear about or comfort you about how the rape makes you feel.
- Don’t expect too much of yourself. Your friend or loved one may need different types of support from different people – you should not and cannot be the sole person to support your friend as he or she recovers from a rape.
- Don’t speak for your loved one unless they have asked you to. When friends, doctors or police ask questions, allow them to speak for themselves.
Things Not To Say To Someone Who Has Been Raped:
- “Were you drunk?”
- “What were you wearing?”
- “Men can’t be raped.”
- “It’s your fault.”
- “Why aren’t you getting over this faster?”
- “You’re wallowing.”
- “That wasn’t rape.”
- “You were leading him/her on.”
- “You shouldn’t report it – it’s only going to make it worse for you.”
- “You’re overreacting.”