Healing After Sexual Assault
"I thought it was my fault. I felt so filthy, I washed myself
over and over in hot water. Was I raped? I kept asking myself.
I didn't consent. But who's gonna believe me?"
Every year thousands of men and women are raped by someone they
know and trust. This type of rape, commonly called acquaintance
or date rape, occurs more frequently than stranger rape and is
less likely to be reported.
The term "date rape" is misleading. It suggests that
it is not really rape because the assailant is known to the victim.
But in fact it is the violation of trust that can make it more
damaging. Victims are often blamed for the crime and the rapist
is not held accountable. It is blame which complicates the healing
process results in secrecy and the perpetuation of the crime.
By listening to rape survivors we gain valuable insight into the
healing process. From these courageous men and women who tell
their story, we can learn and understand the profound impact rape
has on identity and self esteem, and how the path of healing leads
to reclaiming personal power that was robbed from them in one
While psychological responses to rape trauma are individual and
complex, most rape survivors report the initial feelings of shock,
numbness, self blame, anxiety, depression and loss of control.
Eventually these responses can result in deep feelings of personal
shame, loss of self esteem and an altered view of the world.
Survivors are helped by non judgmental listening. Simply being
available and a willingness to listen conveys acceptance and diminishes
the tendency to self blame.
Immediately following the rape the victim may be in a state of
shock and may need help with decision making, accessing medical
attention, and dealing with police and family. However, it is
important that the victim make his/her own decisions and regain control
of his/her life. Support from family members, friends, a rape crisis
counselor is critical at this phase.
As healing progresses, helping may mean not giving help unless
its requested, while still being available and accepting of the
feelings of frustration, sorrow and depression that may follow.
After rape, survivors experience a flood of strong emotions particularly
fear and anger. This can become overwhelming. Professional counseling
is suggested if problems emerge such as increased alcohol and
drug use, cutting, panic attacks, nightmares and suicidal thoughts.
These complications may surface any time after the rape but for
many there may be a delay of several months or even years.
Healing from the trauma of sexual assault is a slow process, there
are no shortcuts. For many it is a life long journey. In the final phase of
healing survivors become more oriented to action. Many find resolution
by becoming involved with education, prevention and support groups.
By telling their story, offering support and encouragement to
others they find meaning and purpose for the suffering they endured.
More importantly as a new self awareness and inner strength takes
hold there is an identity shift from victim to survivor.
For more information about recovering from Sexual Assault, read a brochure about self-care and recovery for victims by the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network.
Syracuse University has an excellent brochure for helping a loved-one who has been sexually assaulted. http://students.syr.edu/rapecenter/parents_friends/index.html
For more information on prevention education and advocacy visit
the PAIRS website
The Counseling Center is available to students Monday through
Friday from 8:30 AM - 4:30 PM. For an appointment phone 436-3368.
J. Keahon, CSW