Healing from Sexual Violence
If you believe you may have been sexually assaulted, click here.
The Healing Process
Everyone who has experienced sexual violence goes through the healing process differently. Each person feels the effects of their abuse differently. Below are some common affects that a person who has experienced violence may, or may not experience.
Rape Trauma Syndrome (RTS) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
RTS is a name used to refer to the symptoms of PTSD a person who has experienced sexual violence might experience. RTS can also refer to the immediate affect of sexual violence while PTSD often refers to the longer term effects. Some of these effects are:
- Triggers- Triggers are when something in a person's environment causes them to re-experience the feelings, emotions, or sensations of abuse. For example, if they see someone who looks like the person who abused them, they may see that person's face in their mind and feel the fear they felt when they experienced the abuse. Each person experiences triggers differently.
- Nightmares- Nightmares may be re-livings of the traumatic event(s) or may be dreams in which the person experiences feelings they relate to their abuse. Nightmares may be so severe they cause a person to resist falling asleep and they may use drugs to either stay awake or fall asleep in order to deal with the nightmares.
- Flashbacks- Flashbacks may occur in the case of triggers. The person may see, hear, feel, taste, and/or smell things they associate with the abuse.
- Disassociation- Disassociation is something that the mind does when it feels it is in an unsafe environment. It may occur during abuse as a way for the person to protect their mind. Some people describe it as the sensation of floating outside of their body but not being present. Disassociation may also occur when a person is triggered. It also may occur instead of a trigger if a person recognizes that they are in a situation which may trigger them. Often, disassociation is a subconscious choice or does not feel like a choice. It may cause someone to withdraw and shut down.
- Anxiety- People who have experienced violence may have heightened anxiety as a result. Anxiety may cause seemingly excessive worrying. A person may be anxious about being alone or may dislike crouded rooms and will have a panic attack if they find themselves in that situation. Panic attacks may include trouble breathing, sense of fear or danger, sense of losing control, shaking, or other things.
- Isolation- Sometimes, people who have experienced sexual violence will isolate themselves. Each individual may do this for very different reasons. For some they feel as though they are contaminated and choose to stay away from people. For others, they may feel as though no one will/can understand what they have experienced and may choose to try to cope on their own.
- Avoidance-Avoidance may be particularly evident if a person has specific triggers. For example, someone may have trouble being around people who are of the same sex as the person who abused them. Some people may start avoiding the place they were abused or places similar to the one in which they were abused. Generally, avoidance is used when a person is trying to avoid triggers.
- Altered Reaction- People may develop amplified startle responses or different responses to everyday experiences as a result of their abuse. A person may start shutting down in situations in which they previously were energized. They could also have an opposite reaction and start acting out in situations which they previously were calm and settled.
- Lost Sense of Safety- A person may have a lost sense of safety as a result of abuse. A lost sense of safety may not mean that they feel unsafe in all situations. While that may be the case, another common reaction is that a person may constantly put themselves in dangerous situations because every situation feels dangerous to them.
Everyone Processes Differently
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, they may or may not experience any of the things mentioned above. Just because someone doesn't experience any of the things mentioned above does not mean that they did not experience violence. They may experience symptoms of RTS or PTSD for a little while after they were abused and then they may go away. Or a person might not experience any symptoms for a while and then suddenly develop them. Some people may experience some of the symptoms for years. Sometimes, a person will experience some of the symptoms and then they may go away for a while and then return. Whatever your experience, here are some important things to keep in mind:
- No one has the right to cross your boundaries without your consent.
- Whatever you experienced, it was not your fault. It does not matter if you were drunk, dressed "provocatively," flirting with the person, initially saying yes, saying no then after persuasion saying yes, or in a relationship with the person.
- "No" means no the first time and every time. "Maybe" means no the first time and every time. "Yes" does not always mean yes. Consent is essential in every sexual interaction. For more information on consent click here.
- Healing is not always a rational or linear process.
- You are not going crazy. If you believed you experienced violence, that is important. What others say does not reflect on your experience.
- You are not alone. While yes, every situation is different, there are people on campus here to support you. RISE Advocates can provide confidential support and help. You can also come to the RISE office in lower Dodge to speak with a crew member or see Ew Quimbaya-Winship.
- No one deserves to experience violence of any kind.
Strategies for Healing
Some of these strategies may work for some people and not for others. For more complete information on healing feel free to contact a RISE Advocate. Bellow are some strategies which may be helpful.
- Write. Some people find it very helpful to journal every day about what they are experiencing. Some people find it helpful to write out all the details of their abuse and then burn, tear up, or otherwise destroy the paper.
- Talk. Some people find it very helpful to talk about their experience. Further down on this page there are a number of hotlines and resources listed. Calling a hotline can take a lot of courage but can be a huge step in a healing process.
- Tell. Some people find it helpful to tell the people around them about abuse they have experienced. For more information on telling your story drop by the RISE office to pick up the Telling Guide.
- Care. Take care of your body. Sometimes after a person experiences violence they begin to see their body differently. Some people feel ugly and try to hide their bodies. Some people feel as though their body won't be respected no matter what they do and as a result stop respecting their bodies. Creating a healthy daily routine which includes eating times and healthy exercise can be very helpful.
- Art. Some people find it very helpful to make art which for them represents their abuse. Making art does not always mean showing art, although showing art can be empowering.
- Lists. Making lists of various things can be very helpful for some people. Further down on this page there is some information about lists, why they are helpful and what some lists might be.
- Letters. Some people find it very helpful to write a letter and mail it to the person who abused them. Or write a letter and not mail it to the person. Sometimes, they may not know who the person was but may still write a letter saying what they would like to tell that person. People also sometimes feel it is helpful to write a letter and then destroy it.
- Boundaries. Setting boundaries in relationships, friendships, and families can be a very empowering. For example, people may find it helpful to ask all the people they know to ask them before they hug them or touch them in any way. In relationships, setting boundaries to prevent triggers or feelings of powerlessness can be very helpful.
- Remember. Remember that what works for one person may not work for another. For more information on healing, come by the RISE office to pick up the Healing Workbook or the Squeaky Clean Flying Dreams Zine on self-care and creative healing.
Some people find making lists to be an incredibly helpful process as well as tool for healing. Bellow are some list suggestions.
- Triggers: Making a list of your triggers can be very helpful in two ways. First, it can help you identify your triggers and in doing so, work towards preventing getting triggered. Second, you can give the list to partners, friends, and family members to help them understand why you may withdraw from certain situations.
- Ways to Pull out of a Trigger: Having a list of ways to pull out of a trigger can be incredibly helpful for you and for people in your life. It may include things like taking a hot shower, taking a walk, being held, not being touched, having someone talk you back into the moment, or anything that you have found works for you.
- Boundaries: Making a list of boundaries can be very helpful both to understand your personal boundaries as well as to give to others so they can understand your boundaries.
- Self Care: You can make a list of things which help you take care of yourself. This may include things like activities you like to do, food you like to eat, and self-affirmations. This can be useful to refer to when you are triggered or need to take care of yourself.
- Information: Some people find it useful to make a list with information about their abuse. This can be helpful as a healing process and can also be given to people you know to help them understand what happened.
Remember, whatever you do is up to you. Also, if you are trying to figure out the best way to support a friend, partner, or family member, all these tools may also be helpful to you to insure that you are taking care of yourself.
You can always contact RISE - contact information here.
24 Hour Crisis Line: 828.255.7576
24 Hour Crisis Line: 1-800-656-HOPE (1-800-656-4673)