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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 brief encounter.

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.

Read about how to help a loved one who has experienced a sexual assault.

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