Healing and Recovery
Healing from a sexual assault takes time, and everyone’s path to recovery is different. Sometimes the trauma slowly lessens over months or years; sometimes a survivor buries the trauma for a long time; sometimes symptoms come and go.
Know that it’s never too late to get help. Even if the attack happened months or years or decades ago, you can benefit from talking with a trained advocate. Support is available for friends, colleagues and family of survivors as well.
While every person responds differently to sexual assault, the following behaviors and reactions are common. They are all normal responses to trauma.
Self-blame/shame. Survivors often feel shamed, dirty, devalued and humiliated. They may also believe that the assault was their fault, and that they are to blame for what happened. Understanding that the assailant is the one responsible for the attack is an important step towards healing.
Fear. Some survivors may find it hard to be alone at night or in a setting that reminds them of the place they were attacked.
Avoidance. Many survivors try to avoid anything or anyone that will remind them of what they’ve been through. This may mean avoiding getting help. They may also shut themselves off from family, friends and social activities.
Acting out sexually through high-risk behavior. This can be one way survivors try to get back control of their body. It can also be a way of reinforcing their feelings of unworthiness or shame.
Avoiding sexual activity
Nightmares, trouble sleeping
Physical symptoms (headaches, stomach problems, etc.)
Numbness. Sometimes it takes a while for survivors to feel anything at all.
Depression, suicidal thoughts, post-traumatic stress disorder(PTSD)
Mood swings. Most survivors experience a lot of ups and downs as they heal. Intense and rapidly changing moods are normal.
Distrust. If a survivor was assaulted by someone they knew, they may feel they can’t trust their judgment about other people. If they were attacked by a stranger, they may be unable to trust people they don’t know.
Flashbacks, panic attacks, strong emotional responses to certain touch, sounds, smells)
Self-injury (cutting, burning, bruising)
Dissociation or “checking out”, not able to stay in the present
Poor concentration in class or at work
Beginning or increasing drug/alcohol use