The Advocacy Center

The Path Toward Recovery for Survivors of Sexual Violence

Introduction

As a survivor of rape, sexual assault, attempted sexual assault, sexual harassment, or relationship abuse, it is common to experience both short-and long-term psychological effects. You may feel no one really understands what you went through or what you are going through now. The survivors who have shared their thoughts and ideas with the Advocacy Center to produce this pamphlet want you to know that you are not alone, that you will get through this time in your life, and that there are people who can help you through the healing process.

Every sexual assault survivor’s experience is different. You may be reading this booklet weeks, months, or even years after you were assaulted. Perhaps you have met with a counselor or maybe you have chosen not to seek this form of help. There may be times when you think about seeing a counselor but are unsure where to go or whom to ask. You may have told some close friends and family members about your experience. You may also have people close to you who have been supportive throughout your experience. You might, however, have people you sense are tired of hearing about the experience and are telling you they don’t understand why you aren’t over it yet. You might have felt there was no one you could turn to.

HEALING IS AN INDIVIDUAL PROCESS
No two people recover from a sexual assault in exactly the same way. It is important to remember that only you can decide what is right for you and how you will proceed in any decision or action. Sometimes friends and family members ask counselors, “When will she (or he) be over this,” or survivors may ask themselves, “When will I feel like me again?" There is no definite answer to this. There is no correct amount of time that it takes one to heal and recover from sexual assault.

It is helpful if friends and family members understand the process cannot be shortened or rushed. Factors that can affect recovery include personality, life experience, coping skills, reaction of others, societal messages, and the support system in place.

FAMILY MEMBERS
How, when, and if you tell your parents or relatives about the assault are decisions you will have to make. Talking with a counselor can help you work through these decisions. Every survivor’s situation is different.

Not all survivors will tell their family members about a sexual assault. However, when you spend time with your family, they may notice you are acting differently or realize something is troubling you.You may want to think about what you will say if family members ask you if anything is wrong. It can be helpful to talk through how you might respond.

Your family can provide support, assistance, and encouragement. Because they are your family, they may also try to protect you or make decisions for you. The reasons for doing this are varied, but it may feel suffocating, stifling, and controlling. It’s important for them to understand you need to make decisions for yourself. Your family will also be dealing with their own emotional responses to the sexual assault, which may limit their ability to assist you. You may end up worrying about how they are handling the assault rather than taking care of your own needs. This may be especially true if your family expresses their anger by saying things like, “I’m going to find that guy and kill him!” These kinds of statements may not only make you upset but also lead you to believe that because you were assaulted you’ve caused problems for your family. Remember: The assault was not your fault.

Some families may not deal in a positive manner with the assault. They may not talk about it, not want you to talk about it, and try to keep it a secret from others. They may also request that you not tell anyone that you were assaulted, which may make you feel ashamed or guilty. Remember: The assault was not your fault.

Try to talk as openly as possible with your family about how you feel. Some survivors have found it helpful to speak with only one family member and have that one tell others in the family what happened. If you are having a difficult time with your parents, consult the resources available at your school. There are places and people who can assist you.

I got through each day by taking it minute by minute. I did not worry about the next hour or week, but how I could pass through the next minute. Surrounding myself with my friends and family helped.

–Carly

FRIENDS
Friends can be a great resource and support system. Decide for yourself who you will tell and how much.

Well-meaning friends may want to push you along the road of recovery at a pace that is not right or comfortable for you. Pay attention to your own feelings. You may have to inform your friends that you don’t want your experience to be the focus of every conversation and that you will let them know if you need to talk about it.

Although it may feel burdensome, you may also have to explain to your friends exactly what you do and don’t need rather than expecting that they will know. Chances are they won’t.

If you talk to someone and they don’t make you feel good about yourself, don’t be afraid to try someone else. Some people know how to say the right thing and others just don’t.

–Rachel

ALCOHOL AND SEXUAL ASSAULT
If you were drinking before the assault happened you may feel that you are in some way responsible and that it was your fault. This is not true. You are not to blame for someone else’s choices. It may be important for some survivors to assume the responsibility for their drinking. This needs to be clearly separated, however, from the other person’s choice to commit sexual assault.

Most of all, because my rape was alcohol related, I am afraid of alcohol now. I am afraid of it for myself as well as for others. I vowed to myself that I would never again drink so much that I did not have control of myself and my body. Alcohol is dangerous. I never knew how dangerous it was until the night I was raped. I guess I learned the hard way.

–Anonymous

IF THE PERPETRATOR IS/WAS SOMEONE YOU KNOW
One of the things you may have heard as a child is “beware of strangers.” If you have been taught to fear people whom you don’t know, it can be difficult to comprehend that the person responsible for the sexual assault is someone whom you knew and trusted.

No form of sexual assault is easy to deal with. If you have been assaulted by someone you know, however, it can be complicated by the breach of trust you have experienced. Many times, as part of the recovery process, survivors of sexual assault require a lot of time to begin re-establishing trust among friends and others who are close to them.

In addition, if the person who assaulted you is someone you know, you may feel you are a bad judge of character because you were interested in this person or trusted this person as a friend. It is important to remember that this person chose to take advantage of you and betray your trust. You were not wrong to trust this person. This person had no right to betray you.

Deciding whether to report a sexual assault when you know the person who assaulted you can be very complex. It can be harder to think about seeking prosecution of the perpetrator if it is someone you know, even if you believe it is the right thing to do. If the assailant is someone you know, there is the possibility you may have to see her/him or her/his friends in class, on campus, in your apartment building, etc. It may be helpful to think about your response, if any, should you encounter this person, regardless of whether you file a formal complaint.

DECIDING TO PRESS CHARGES
Some survivors decide to report the assault to the local police and to work with the district attorney’s office in prosecuting the person or persons who sexually assaulted them. Others decide to work within the campus judicial affairs system to file a formal complaint. This could lead to a campus hearing. Some choose to pursue both options. Whatever you decide, make sure it is your choice and not the choice of friends or family members. A staff person at the Advocacy Center can talk with you about your options and support you as you make your own decision. The Advocacy Center will not encourage or discourage you from reporting or pressing charges. That choice is yours. The center will support either choice you make.

CHILDHOOD SEXUAL ABUSE
Sometimes life changes can trigger memories you thought were no longer an issue. Sometimes life changes can bring about fragments of memories you weren’t aware of previously. Coming to college can be a major life change that causes both excitement and disruption, and the transition from homeroom to dorm room can bring with it more than was anticipated. If you are a childhood sexual abuse survivor, you are not alone. One in three females and one in five males arrives on a college campus having already been victimized. Because childhood sexual assault can result in such adverse psychological effects as relationship problems, eating disorders, and alcohol and other drug addiction, it is important to seek help to begin the process of recovery. A counselor can help you to develop ways to deal with this experience so you can enjoy your college years and bring healthy coping skills to all areas of your future.

SEXUAL INTIMACY
Beginning a new relationship or resuming a sexual relationship with your partner may be challenging following a sexual assault. Having sex, even with someone you love and care about, may remind you of the sexual assault.

Sometimes sexual activity may feel OK and other times it may not.

Sexual intimacy may be a stressful challenge. If the assault occurred on a date, beginning to date again or being alone with a date may cause mixed feelings.

If intimate aspects become difficult, it may be helpful for you and your partner to seek counseling, individually or together, to talk about some of the problems that may be affecting your sexual relationship. If you go together, the counselor can help you understand how the assault has affected each of you and discuss ways to work through some of these problems. Be honest with your feelings and needs. Take the time you need to readjust.