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Surviving Rape and Sexual Assault

As with any traumatic event, survivors of sexual assault or rape can experience an array of feelings and reactions in response to what they have been through (sometimes called Rape Trauma Syndrome.) These symptoms can be experienced even if the survivor does not identify what happened to her or him as “rape” or “sexual assault”. Although there are some common reactions to the trauma of sexual assault, each person will respond in his/her own unique way. You may find that you experience some or all of the reactions listed below and it is likely you’ll experience different levels of intensity in some of these reactions. All reactions after sexual assault are an attempt to adjust and adapt to the trauma of the assault. Nothing is abnormal and there are no time limits for feeling the aftermath of sexual assault. However, symptoms are generally most intense immediately following the assault, but can become chronic, particularly if the survivor lacks support and validation. Some reactions appear a few hours or days after the incident, while in other cases, weeks or months may pass before the stress reactions appear. Similarly, symptoms may last a few days, a few weeks, a few months and occasionally longer. It is helpful to have a strong support system of friends, family, a counselor and/or a support group. If you find that these symptoms are interrupting your ability to function in your life, advocates at the YWCA are here to help you explore ways of coping with the on-going feelings surrounding sexual assault. Your reactions are normal responses to an abnormal situation. The YWCA can help.

Ten Things to Remember:

  1. The rape was NOT your fault. Don’t feel guilty or ashamed. Even if the person who assaulted you was someone you know, you are IN NO WAY responsible. HE OR SHE COMMITTED A CRIME.
  2. Get yourself medical attention – you need and deserve it. You have been hurt – you may possibly have sexually transmitted diseases – and you won’t know unless you go to a clinic or a doctor. You can ask someone who understands to go with you, including a YWCA advocate.
  3. You are not going crazy: almost any reaction is normal. You may experience reoccurring thoughts, dreams or flashbacks. Call someone who knows and check it out – a therapist, rape counselor or understanding friend.
  4. You are a good person, and there are no rights or wrongs about the way you reacted. Talk about what you’re going through when YOU are ready – it will help.
  5. People’s reactions may hurt you. Many people are ignorant about sexual assault and may not understand. Surround yourself with people who understand and support you. You deserve sympathy and support.
  6. There is no “one way” to heal: find ways that help you heal from the trauma you have experienced.
  7. Be aware of numbing the pain with overuse of drugs or alcohol. Explore other coping techniques.
  8. You have every right to cry, scream and be as upset as you feel. Having many different feelings is a normal reaction to what happened to you. You may be able to forget about it for a while, but don’t be surprised if you get upset when something reminds you of the assault.
  9. Rape is not sex. Comparing rape to sex is like comparing a slap in the face to a kiss. Being raped doesn’t mean you will never have a normal sex life. It doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy having sex when YOU decide that you’re ready.
  10. Don’t ignore it.. Trying to act like being raped is no big deal will not minimize what you are feeling. Take very good care of yourself and seek the help that YOU need when YOU are ready.
  11. The rape is over. You have survived, and you WILL survive.