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Most people who have been sexual assaulted or raped find the incident traumatic. The emotional turmoil that follows such a violation may leave you feeling alone and wondering if you are "going crazy." You are not! Unfortunately, thousands of people each year are the targets of such violent acts, and a large number of them experience intense physical, mental and emotional reactions.
It is important to understand that the assault was not your fault; you are not responsible for someone else forcing you to have intercourse or sexual contact. Sexual assault and rape are acts of violence.
Initially, some survivors of sexual assault experience confusion, shock, and numbness. You may have difficulty believing that an assault occurred or that it is serious. This shock, which may last from a few hours to a few days, protects us from feeling overwhelmed. As the numbness lifts, you will probably begin to experience other feelings, which at times can be particularly intense. These strong emotions are a normal grief reaction to a very abnormal situation.
Feelings most frequently experienced include:
Most survivors indicate that memories of the assault haunt them. Nightmares, flashbacks, ruminating over the attack, as well as misperceptions of being followed, seeing the assailant, and hearing usual sounds, while quite common, are very distressing. The painful recollections and accompanying feelings frequently result in feeling distracted and unable to concentrate. Talking about these memories and the feelings that accompany them with a close friend or trained counselor will help, over time, to defuse their intensity and reduce their frequency.
Survivors often notice that they avoid certain situations, people, or activities. Some individuals experience a reduced capacity to feel and express emotions, which is part of the numbing process described earlier. Physical complaints may include sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, discomfort from injuries, headaches, back problems, sexual difficulties, and exaggerated startle response.
Recovery from this trauma will most likely take some time. How long depends upon the nature of the crime, its impact on you, and the support you receive during your healing. Many survivors find it helpful to meet with a counselor to share their thoughts and feelings, as well as to get needed support, understanding, and reassurance. In addition, trained counselors can provide information about available resources. Counselors are available at Missouri S&T in the Counseling, Disability Support, and Student Wellness office (204 Norwood Hall, 341-4211).
COPING AFTER A SEXUAL ASSAULT OR RAPE
The period immediately following a sexual assault is often traumatic and confusing. Initially, it may be difficult to determine what to do next, let alone what course of action you want to take overall. Even when you can begin to clarify what you want to do, it may be difficult to get started. The pamphlet, What to Do If You've Been Sexually Assaulted, provides important information about medical, emotional, and legal issues for you to consider and specific resources to contact.
Other survivors have found the following helpful:
- Contact people you trust to listen and spend time with you.
- Ask friends or relatives to stay with you, or allow you to stay at their home, for a few days.
- Add locks to doors and windows, if appropriate. Check to make sure they are secure.
- Keep your living area well lighted.
- Consider reporting the incident to law enforcement officials to lessen the risk that the offender will commit future assaults.
- Eat healthy food regularly.
- Participate in some form of physical exercise to reduce stress and to increase feelings of confidence.
- Listen to soothing music, watch TV, or read for pleasure at bedtime if you have difficulty sleeping at night.
- Learn relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or visualization.
- Discuss any sexual concerns with your partner or a trained counselor.
- Maintain a comfortable social life.
- Read If You Are Raped by Kathryn Johnson; Coping With Date and Acquaintance Rape by Andrea Parrot; and Recovery by Helen Benedict.