Sexual violence can be one of the worst things a person can experience. While most physical injuries heal with time and treatment, the mental and emotional scars that sexual assault victims face can take far longer to heal. Here are some resources for how to cope with rape or sexual assault.
Getting Past Sexual Assault is a Matter of Survival
Stories of rape and sexual harassment are in the news every day. For sexual assault survivors, these stories can be triggering, catching you off guard and causing to you to experience powerful, often disturbing memories from your own history. For those whose stories are still unresolved, pending court dates, depositions, and interviews can force you to relive your experiences when you might rather put the past behind you.
It is normal to experience difficult emotions and mental health concerns in the aftermath of a rape or sexual assault. However, being prepared with strategies for your recovery and resources to get help when you need it can make sexual assault recovery easier.
Tip 1: Talk About What Happened When and How You are Ready
Coming out about a sexual assault experience can be extraordinarily difficult. You may feel guilt or shame around what happened or worry about how others will react to your story. You may think that keeping it a secret will help you treat it like it didn’t really happen.
However, trying to handle your trauma alone could increase your feelings of shame and reinforce your victimization. Talk to the people you trust about what happened. This will likely include your sexual assault attorney or family lawyer, but we shouldn’t be the first ones to hear your story. Talk to a confidante among your family, friends, or community, or find a sexual assault support group. These supportive people will listen to you and help you process your trauma independently of whatever legal issues you may face.
Tip 2: Keep a Journal
A journal is an excellent tool for a sexual assault survivor. Trauma affects the way you remember what happened to you. There may be gaps in your memory, or your thoughts about the situation may be scattered. A journal can help you organize your thoughts and put your story together privately. It can also be a safe space to write out how the incident made you feel, and to process those feelings in a healthy way. When you are feeling upset or depressed, a journal can also help show you how far you have come, and remind you that you are a survivor, not simply a victim.
Tip 3: Know What Triggers Your PTSD or Anxiety
Many sexual assault survivors suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or anxiety as a result of their experience. These mental health conditions can be triggered by situations or circumstances that remind you of your experience. Even if you are coping well, an unexpected trigger can bring new distress, and set you back on your recovery journey.
Work with a mental health professional to identify your triggers. They may be places, people, or even smells. They could also include news stories about similar events. Then develop coping strategies to limit your exposure to triggers and respond when they do arise. Your victim’s attorney can help you with this as well. If you communicate your triggers to your legal team, we can help shield you from them, advocating on your behalf, and communicating with you about your case in a way that works best for you.
Tip 4: Stay Connected to Your Support Network
Don’t rely on just your lawyer and your therapist to get you through the tough times. Your friends and family are an important part of your recovery as well. Isolation can make your mental health conditions worse and endanger your sexual assault recovery plan. Make a point to stay connected to people who matter the most to you.
Remember that you don’t have to talk to these people about your experience, your recovery, or your legal matters. A support network can help you through the emotions that come up in your case, but they don’t have to. Your friends and family could also play a different role in your recovery — distracting you, and helping you connect with life and even your own body. Consider asking a friend to go to an exercise class with you, or plan a recurring night out. That way you will have a set time to connect and something to do other than talk about your trauma.
Tip 5: Reach Out to Resources for Sexual Assault Victims
There are resources for sexual assault survivors and their families that can help with trauma recovery:
- National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline: 656.HOPE (4673)
- San Francisco Women Against Rape 24-hour Crisis hotline: (415) 647-RAPE
- 2-1-1 United Way Bay Area services
- CORA (Community Overcoming Relationship Abuse)
- NCVC (National Center for Victims of Crime)
- CPEDV (California Partnership to End Domestic Violence)
- CALCASA (California Coalition Against Sexual Assault)
- Santa Clara Shelters and Support
- San Francisco Domestic Violence Consortium (DVC) Agencies
- San Mateo County Rape Trauma Services
Your friends and family are important to your recovery, but in many cases, they won’t have the professional skills you need to address the mental health consequences of rape or sexual assault. It is important to also have a therapist or psychiatrist on your team to help you process your experience and move forward down the road to recovery.
At ADZ Law, LLP, we understand that surviving sexual assault can mean a lifetime of mental and emotional challenges. We represent sex abuse victims in San Mateo County and the surrounding region of California. Our legal team is sympathetic to your experience, and we will work with you and your mental health providers, if appropriate, to respect your needs and assist in your recovery, as well as helping you receive justice and financial compensation for your loss. We invite you to contact ADZ Law, LLP to schedule a consultation to learn more about how we can help you.