After Effects of Sexual Assault

At Safe Harbors of the Finger Lakes, Inc., we offer all kinds of support. Each advocate is able to provide short- term counseling during the initial period of crisis and after things have calmed down. A long-term therapist can work with survivors for a longer period of time. For many survivors getting through the first weeks and days following an assault are the most difficult. Although the trauma of the event can effect the survivors relationships and self-esteem far into the future.

Directly following the assault you might:

  • Feel afraid, ashamed, angry, sad, lonely, betrayed or depressed
  • Feel guilty and confused
  • Feel like you have no friends or that your friends won’t believe you.
  • Want to hurt someone else or yourself
  • Feel like taking steps to defend yourself
  • Feel hopeless that anything can be done
  • Be afraid to go anywhere
  • Feel anxious all the time
  • Feel bad about yourself or your body

These are all natural feelings and others who have been assaulted have experienced the same things. It is ok to feel this way but it is also important that you talk to someone who understands and is able to give you the space you need to talk about and experience these feelings. Often times when you talk to friends or family they may want to be supportive but might not know what to say. A person experienced working with survivors might be able to provide more support. You don’t have to confront this alone.

Although friends and family may want you to move on, no one expects you to heal right away. It can take years to come to terms with what has happened to you. Even then you may find yourself thinking about it for years to come. The person you once were may be gone but someone stronger will take her/his place. You will never forget what has happened to you but you will find a strength you never knew before. It is ok to be afraid, sad, angry.

What happened to you was a violent and awful act and you are not to blame.

Common physical survivor symptoms:

  • You might experience flash backs of the event during the day or night.
  • Hyper vigilance is also common; feeling like you can’t trust anyone, feeling on guard everywhere you go, that it could happen again at any moment.
  • Sleeplessness, nightmares, sometimes oversleeping
  • Withdraw from social situations or relationships
  • Increase in detached sexual experiences

These are just a few things you may experience. Each survivor’s experiences are unique. Whatever your experience is you may find support in taking advantage of support groups or individual counseling. Sometimes just knowing that you are not alone can be very helpful during this time. Other survivors have been here and lived through it to heal and live healthy, productive lives. You too can make it out of the darkness. Especially in the beginning it is important to keep yourself safe and to find someone to support you.

Using your pastime to heal (writing, art, movement)
Knowing how to heal is not something we generally learn as children. There may be things that make us feel good or give us energy but when we are sad, angry or depressed it can be hard to turn to these things. Some days it can be difficult just getting out of bed. For many survivors using their love of art or writing has allowed them a way of healing from their trauma.

Journaling, keeping a record of your feelings, can be helpful in getting them out without having to share them aloud. Writing directly about the incident helps some survivors to move through what happened to them. Some suggestions for journaling, from the book ‘Writing as a Way of Healing’ by Louise DeSalvo, are to create a comfortable writing environment (uninterrupted space, comfortable chair, etc.) and then write for a set amount of time. She emphasizes that when you feel too overwhelmed to continue writing that you take a moment to put down your pen and take a break. You can write about anything you want to. It doesn’t have to be about the event but do not run from it either. Try not to write when you are afraid or right before you go to bed as this may make the anxiety and stress worse.

Maybe art is more your thing. Find your medium and go with it. Use bright colors or dark colors, paint or draw. Just get it out! Nothing you do to heal needs to be shown to anyone else around you. You do not have to share what comes out of this time you take with yourself. If you want more information about any of this there are many books on the subject and we have some in the office as well.