How To Help Someone Recover From A Rape or Sexual Assault:
Your friend or loved one has been attacked and violated in one of the most horrifying of ways. You feel powerless, angry, and unsure of what to do next.
Here are some tips for helping a loved one recover from a sexual assault:
Right After The Sexual Assault:
Encourage – but do not pressure – your friend to report the attack. If your friend does not want to report the rape, respect that decision as his or hers to make.
Assure your loved one that he or she is not to blame for the rape. Expect to do this often as your loved one tries to work out why he or she was the victim of sexual assault.
Reassure your friend or loved one that you will be by their side no matter what. Your door is always open and you’re always just a phone call away.
Reassure your loved one that no one “deserves” to be sexually violated or raped.
Remind your friend that there is no right or wrong way to feel after a rape. Many of the emotions of a rape victim can be confusing – especially to the victim of the sexual assault.
Long Term Help After A Rape:
If your friend seems to be having a particularly hard time recovering from the rape, gently suggest that he or she speak to a counsellor trained to help victims of rape.
Help your friend seek therapy for the assault by finding a list of local therapists or support groups that specialize in working with the victims of sexual assault. Often, while very depressed, it is hard for a rape victim to take these steps on his or her own.
Remind your friend who has been through a sexual assault that he or she is not to blame – the guilt and the what ifs can plague a person who has been assaulted for a long time.
Expect that your loved one will experience many emotions following a rape or sexual assault. Feelings of anxiety, fear, humiliation, shame, guilt, anger, numbness and confusion are common following a sexual assault.
Give them time – if your loved one indicates that he or she is still struggling, remind them that there is no timetable for recovering from a rape. Recovery is a slow, gradual process.
If your loved one is a male who is admitting that he was raped, take extra care to reassure him that you believe him. Many people do not believe that men can be the victim of a rape – this could not be farther from the truth. Men and women can both be the victim of a sexual assault.
Allow your loved one to make choices for him or herself. Being raped is the ultimate type of loss of control over their environment. Don’t step in and try to take charge – allow your friend or loved one to make their own decisions as a way to begin the road to empowerment.
Ask – rather than assume you know best – how best you can help your friend. This can help your friend begin the path to recovery and begin to rebuild trust.
It’s natural to be overprotective of a loved one who has been raped – however, your loved one may not appreciate being treated with “kid gloves” or coddled. Play it by ear – you know your loved one best – and if all else fails, ASK them what they want and need from you.
If you are having a hard time coping with the feelings that the rape has stirred up inside you, consider talking to a therapist or counsellor about how to manage your OWN feelings.
Regardless of whether you are a victim, a survivor, or a loved one, taking care of yourself is the best way to help others. There are many ways we can take care of ourselves.
As a Survivor:
Balance your life – Make sure you are sleeping, eating, and exercising as regularly as possible. This will help your life regain some normalcy.
Be patient with yourself – It can take a long time to recover. It may happen in small steps, incrementally, or there may be setbacks. Be mindful of your progress and your setbacks
Breathe – Often we forget to breathe and regulating and focusing on your breath is a great way to calm and centre your body. It allows you to tune in to what is going on and what you are feeling.
Allow yourself to experience your feelings – This is a tall order, and some people may feel numb after a rape. However, for most there will be emotions that come up at some point. Allow yourself to feel them and give them space to happen. You might feel angry, scared, sad – these are all normal and okay.
Find an outlet – Find an outlet to express your emotions and feelings. This can help rebuild your confidence and your sense of empowerment.
Take time for yourself – It is a big job to be supportive of a friend going through a difficult time. Make sure that you give yourself enough space so that you can be mentally available for your loved one.
To be continued…