The Healing Journey
If you are a survivor of sexual assault, please know, and please understand, the assault is not your fault.
Victim blaming can be a commonly held attitude toward sexual assault, even by the assault survivors themselves. A victim is not responsible for being raped under any circumstances. There is never an excuse for committing the crime of sexual assault.
And please consider securing at least some recovery counselling from an experienced counsellor. We would love to help connect you with someone you will feel comfortable with for emotional support.
Here is some basic information that may be of initial help regarding your health and recovery.
Three Phases: Reaction, Recoil, Reorganization
Experts use the term rape trauma syndrome in describing the recovery process from sexual violence. The three phases or stages in this recovery are sometimes termed reaction, recoil and reorganization.1 In working through the healing process, these boundaries may be blurred as each person may cope in differing ways.
The reaction phase occurs immediately after the assault. It may last for several weeks. The survivor’s life may experience complete disruption. Emotional reactions are characterized by shock and disbelief. She may also experience feelings of fear, anger, shame, self-blame and guilt. The following is an outline of the most common reactions for victims of sexual assault:
Common Emotions and Reactions: 2
SHOCK — I feel so numb. Why am I so calm? Why can’t I cry?
DISBELIEF — Did it really happen? Why me?
EMBARRASSMENT — What will people think? No, I can’t tell my family.
SHAME — I feel so dirty, like there is something wrong with me now.
GUILT — I feel as if I did something to make this happen to me. If only I had….
DEPRESSION — How am I going to go on? I feel so tired and hopeless.
POWERLESSNESS — Will I ever feel in control again?
DISORIENTATION — I can’t sit still. I’m having trouble getting through the day. I’m just overwhelmed!
RETRIGGERING — I keep having flashbacks. I wish they would stop.
DENIAL — Wasn’t it just a rape?
ANGER — I want to kill him [the perpetrator]. I want to hurt others, or myself.
FEAR — I’m so afraid of so many things. Will I get pregnant or get a STD? Can people tell what’s happened to me? Will I ever want to be intimate again? Will I ever get over this? I’m afraid I’m going crazy. I have nightmares that terrify me.
ANXIETY — I’m a nervous wreck! I have trouble breathing. (Anxiety is often expressed in physical symptoms like difficulty breathing or muscle tension, sleep disturbances, change in eating habits, nausea, stomach problems, nightmares and bedwetting.)
A survivor’s physical and behavioural reactions (in addition to injury pain) include fatigue, headaches, loss of concentration, loss of appetite, nausea, sleep disturbances and nightmares.
During the recoil phase the survivor may feel calmer, yet her difficulties are often only suppressed. During this period both “denial” and “resolution” may be occurring.
The survivor can present as well-adjusted at times, and then become distraught. Mood swings are common but will continue to dissipate with healing. According to assault counsellor Dr. Joan Schultz: “If resolution does not occur here, later concerns with ambivalence, low self esteem, sexuality, chronic depression and difficulty with trust may indicate a need for further psychological help.” 3
In the reorganization phase the survivor places the assault into perspective. In the words of Dr. Schultz: “Life no longer revolves around the crime. ” The survivor again has a sense of control over her life, although the world may always be seen as less safe for her and for others. Distress may occasionally resurface but memories of the assault are less vivid. 4 Healing is taking place.
Click on Your Response to Rape (PDF) for a 2-page printout on the journey to healing.
- Joan M. Schultz, Surviving Sexual Assault, (Coquitlam, BC: Denis Boyd and Associates, [ND]), p. l. [back to text]
- Sheila Benson and Kelly E. Maier, Sexual Assault: Information for Adult Survivors, (Victoria, BC: The Victoria Women’s Sexual Assault Centre), p. 5, from “Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women,” Surviving Sexual Assault, [ND]. [back to text]
- Schultz, ibid., p. 2-3. [back to text]
- Ibid., p. 3. [back to text]