Whether it happened recently or years ago, there are steps you can take to help you cope with the short- and long-term effects of a trauma like sexual assault. Sexual violence affects people of every gender identity, and sexual orientation and research shows that 90% of sexual violence survivors are assaulted by someone they know.
Everyone reacts differently to the trauma of being sexually assaulted and any reaction you have is normal and valid. During the days, weeks, months and years after the assault you may have a variety of reactions.
Some people may find it impacts their mood, resulting in depression, or anxiety. It can cause us to experience sleep disturbances, or feel fearful of certain experiences. Below are some ways that you can look to support yourself.
Your experience of sexual violence may have been traumatizing – It is okay to feel and accept that
Many of the myths surrounding consent and sexual violence may make you feel as though what happened to you wasn’t ‘real’ sexual violence, have you convinced yourself that it was consensual, or maybe result in you feeling as though you are somehow to blame.
Especially if alcohol or drugs are involved, it can be hard to make sense of the experience and see the violation for what it truly is. You may find yourself thinking your assault was ‘too minor’ or ‘too long ago’.
Not acknowledging the events for what they truly are may also be a coping mechanism, especially if the person is part of your social group or fellow classmate and you are wanting to maintain relationships. But not acknowledging it also means that you don’t give yourself a chance to process the events.
Remember, it doesn’t matter if you don’t have visible injuries or didn't scream, try to run away or fight. It also doesn't matter what you were wearing or what interaction happened beforehand. Or if you experienced feelings of arousal. It doesn’t matter if you said yes initially, or if you never said the word ‘no’. It doesn’t matter if you have had a consensual sexual experience with that person previously.
Being forced, pressured, bullied, manipulated, tricked or scared takes away our freedom and capacity to make choices in lots of different situations.
If your consent was not continuous and freely given, something happened to you that you didn’t want to happen—and that’s not OK.
Reach out for professional support
The psychological impact of sexual assault varies greatly from person to person. Whether the assault happened yesterday, or it occurred decades ago, a mental health professional can assist you in coping with your feelings, identify new coping skills, and help you to regain your sense of trust and safety.
Therapy is a safe, confidential and non-judgmental place where you can work through any challenges you may be experiencing. Connecting with support groups is also a great option, or jumping on our platform to anonymously connect with other survivors.
Sexual violence can impact your wellbeing in lots of different ways, and self-care can help you to deal with some of these impacts. Self-care means doing activities that make you feel physically better and emotionally and mentally balanced and grounded. It’s also about being kind to yourself.
Self-care doesn't need to be about setting lots of really challenging goals. It can just be any activity that helps you to feel more safe, comfortable, healthy and looked after.
Physically, self-care looks like staying hydrated, eating the right foods, prioritizing sleep and rest, exercising and getting enough sunlight. To practice emotional self-care, ask yourself who you enjoy spending the most time with? What makes you feel happy, safe and supported?
Connect with those around you and share what you are going through (but only if you feel comfortable to do so)
It can be hard to talk about an experience with sexual violence, and it may feel daunting to open up and share with the people you love.
The trauma you experience from sexual violence can leave you feeling isolated and alone, and opening up to those around you, while challenging, can help them understand what you are going through and show up to support.
What you choose to share about your story is completely up to you, you’re not obligated to answer any uncomfortable questions. It’s also important to remind yourself that you don’t need to downplay the seriousness of the conversation in order to ease the tension.
Before you share, consider if you trust the person and whether this individual is likely to respond in a supportive way. Do you feel safe with them? Are they easy to talk to? Do they show care for you? It’s up to you to decide when you’re ready, who to tell, and how much you want to share.
Make use of resources
Services like local national sexual assault hotlines can be extremely helpful if you’re feeling stuck, as they are staffed by trained individuals who can walk you through the process of getting help at your own pace and the resources you have available to you.
If you're a student, colleges and universities often provide a host of services to students for free, including security escorts, health centers, psychological services, and sexual assault services.
Always remember, you are not to blame for what happened. 100% of the blame, shame and responsibility lies with the person who carried it out.
How to support a friend that confides in you that they have been sexually assaulted
Believe your friend. Do not judge your friend, no matter the circumstances. Let them know that you believe them and are here for them. “I believe you. I know it took a lot of courage to share this with me.”
Be a good listener. Let your friend do the talking and decide what and how much they would like to share with you.
Validate their experience. You may feel angry at the person who has done this to them, but try to keep your focus on providing your friend with calm and caring support.
Assure your friend that it is not their fault. Self-blame is common among survivors of sexual violence. It is important that you help them to understand that no matter what happened—it was not their fault.
Help them to explore their options. Let them choose the next steps. You may provide advice, guidance, and information about their options, but allow your friend to decide if, when, and how they will pursue these resources.
Remember to support yourself too. Supporting a friend through a trauma can be a difficult and emotionally draining experience for those in the support role as well. Recognize this and don't hesitate to seek help and support for yourself when you need it.