Sexual violence and sexual assault is a terrible crime, leaving the victim emotionally and physically hurt and traumatized. Recovering from a sexual assault takes a lot of time, with the healing process being painful and a horrible experience for the victim itself. However, with proper counselling, supportive people, and regaining the sense of control, the person can overcome and cope with the sexual assault.
The cases of sexual assault are alarmingly high, and the victims are not only women- many men and boys to suffer from gruesome sexual assault. Regardless of the age or gender factor, the impact of a sexual assault and violence goes beyond the physical injuries. The sexual assault leaves a person bruised, scared, ashamed and lonely, with the aftermath giving nightmares of the horrific experience. Victims often question their judgment, self-worth as well as their sanity. They start blaming themselves for the assault and think of themselves as ‘dirty’. They are scared of relationships and commitment, with the bindings feeling dangerous and scary.
It is essential that the victim learns and starts the process of coping and overcoming from the sexual assault to resume a healthy life again. Dispelling the harmful, victim-blaming myths that come with sexual assault and violence can help the victim to start the healing processes. The victim should start the following steps:
Open up about the Sexual Assault
Narrating about the sexual assault case can be extremely difficult. There is a stigma attached to the sexual assault cases- it makes the victim feel dirty and thoughts about how people judge them are on the forefront. It is easier to keep the assault a secret, but when the victim stays silent, the person denies help and reinforces the victimhood.
It is necessary to talk with someone they trust. Not talking about it doesn’t mean it never happened. Avoiding the assault and the occurrence will never heal the person. Hiding will bring more shame. The victim should open up to someone they trust, someone supportive and calm.
If the victim has no one to confide in, they can join a support group meant for sexual assault victims. This support group will give them healing techniques and ways of how to cope with the aftermath of the assault. The victims will get to hear similar cases and their efforts to overcome the attack, which in turn will help them.
Overcome Guilt and Shame Feelings
Victims often feel guilt and shame, even when they know they are not to be blamed for the assault. These feelings arise from misconceptions like:
- They didn’t stop the attack from occurring: During an assault, the body and the brain go into a state of shock and thought processes are hampered. In such a situation, it is almost impossible to think clearly. The victim shouldn’t judge themselves for the trauma. They could have stopped the assault if they could.
- The victim trusted someone they shouldn’t have: Violation of trust is the foremost difficult thing a victim has to face. It is unfair on the victim to stress themselves over trusting the attacker. The attacker is the one to be blamed, not the victim.
- Being drunk and not cautious: In cases where the assault happens on a drunk victim, the victim often blames themselves for being in that situation and not careful on that day. The assaulter is solely responsible and not the victim, regardless of what the circumstance was.
- When the victim accepts the circumstance and the truth of the assault, they can understand that they aren’t responsible for whatever happened. This helps them a lot to cope and overcome in the long run.
Prepare for Traumatized Nightmares and Flashbacks
The aftermath of a sexual assault brings horrific nightmares and flashbacks of the incident to the victim. It causes the nervous system to get stuck and be on high alert always. Often victims have Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) because of the stuck nervous system. In such a state, the victim should try to reduce the stress of the horrific nightmares and flashbacks.
Look for triggers of the assault flashback (like the date of occurrence, sounds and smells) and avoid them at all costs. Understanding the triggers and avoiding them is the right way of coping.
Please pay attention to the danger signals of the body (when it feels unsafe or tensed) and try calming exercises and activities to ward them off.
Reconnect with the Body and Mind
A state of shock in a sexual assault and the aftermath of it makes the victim avoid any connection and numbing their feelings. This numbness leads to the victim not only avoiding the miserable flashbacks but also the body and mind’s capacity to embrace joy. This way, the victim becomes disconnected in both emotional and physical form.
To recover from the disconnect and cope with the assault, the victim should try to reconnect with their body and mind. Listening to what the body and the mind are saying and embracing all feelings will help them to overcome the pain. They can also try the following techniques for reconnection:
- Indulge in rhythmic movements like dancing, marching or any other activity which diverts the mind and body and help them to coordinate. Rhythm is very healing for the human body. Anything that conjoined rhythm and movement will have a positive effect.
- One can practice mindfulness meditation and focus on the thought processes to be able to regulate them.
- Activities like Yoga, Tai Chi or Qigong will give double benefit to the victim- it will help the person to relax as well as body awareness. These activities can also heal any symptoms of PTSD or traumatized thoughts.
- The victim can opt for massage as touching is a crucial way of giving comfort and reopen oneself for human contact.
A sexual assault leaves the victim isolated and lonely, and they avoid any connection and confrontation with people and society. However, it is the support and communication which will help and heal them. The victim can stay connected with the community by indulging in social activities, reconnecting with older friends and by making new friends.
How to provide Help to a Sexual Assault Victim:
A sexual assault victim can be anyone, a spouse, friend, loved one or a colleague. As such, it is essential to provide comfort and support to them to make them feel loved ad help them cope up with the assault and the aftermath. One can provide help and support in the following ways:
- Let the loved one know that they are still and will always be loved. Make them understand that the assault was not their fault; it was the assaulter who was responsible.
- Allow the loved person to open up in their way and pace. Sexual assault victims find it difficult to open up and share their thoughts. As such, they should be given their own time to talk about their thoughts and feelings. One should never force the loved one to open up, provide them with time and space.
- Encourage the loved person to seek help and support, but without pressurizing. One can help the person to regain control of their life by not pushing or cajoling for talk. It is essential to encourage them to seek help and support.
Talking about sexual assault with family and friends can be very tough for the victim. And it’s okay, to not speak if they are not comfortable! They must take time to heal, seek counsellor and help to overcome the psychological trauma and open up slowly to friends and family.