Sexual assault touches everyone, whether it has happened to you or an acquaintance. With the prevalence of rape in mind we must ask ourselves, Can we settle for the way victims are treated?
It took me these four weeks to decide whether or not to share this with you. Actually, it took me this whole semester. As soon as I heard there were topic blogs I knew that I wanted to cover sexual assault in more depth, what I couldn’t decide was if I was comfortable sharing something so personal. However, due to the nature of my previous posts which aimed for victims to share their stories and speak out, I don’t think it would be fair for me not to share a piece of my story.
I have struggled daily, for over three years, to move forward with my life. You took more from me than anyone else ever has. I struggle to function in the most fundamental ways. Since the assault, I have become an insomniac. Most nights I need pills to fall asleep, without them I lay awake unable to stop my mind from retracing that night. If I do manage to fall asleep, I wake up screaming. I rarely eat. When I lost control of everything in my life food turned out to be the one thing I could control. I started focusing on the few things I could control and gave up on the things I had learned I couldn’t. Following the assault, I have been diagnosed with depression and anxiety. In January of 2012, I was admitted to the hospital after overdosing in an attempt to end my own life. For the first time since the assault I have been able to stop self-harming, yet to this day I have well over 100 scars that were self-inflicted. For the rest of the time I lived in that town, I lived in fear. I spent the rest of my teen years alone in my room, every time I went somewhere I risked running into you or your friends.
The first year following the assault remarkably changed my life. I dropped from an honors student to failing classes, getting suspended, and eventually, I was expelled. I started fighting, lying to my family, breaking rules and laws, and eventually turned to substance abuse to help me deal with my problems. I jumped from relationship to relationship relying on men for protection and comfort, but it never lasted due to my lack of trust. Every day I fight for a healthy life, to move past this without letting it haunt me to the extent it has in the past.
Nothing can give me back what you took. No one should face the daily struggles that I burden. I’m not writing this to get back to whom I once was, but rather to show that this cannot be accepted. You had a choice, what you did was something you had complete control over. I chose to go there with my friend, while drunk and put myself in a vulnerable position. For the rest of my life, I will deal with the consequences of my decision. However, the events that occurred once I got there was not my choice but yours. I am broken, but you can no longer keep me quiet. For the longest time, I wished you had killed me. When you were choking me, I wanted it to never end, because when you stopped, I knew I would never be able to escape from the violations you inflicted. I was only fifteen. You were adults who should have known better. You were my neighbors, and you ignored me telling you no. I don’t deserve what you put me through. I have grown, I have gotten help. Slowly I am taking back my control…. MY LIFE. You ended the person I was without even a second thought, but I won’t let you keep me trapped in this hole. For so long I would dream of justice, but it never came. You were let off on one of the worst crimes a person could commit. You may not have been punished for your actions, but I can’t let this consume my life. This letter isn’t to seek vengeance. It is not to give forgiveness. I hope you can see that this letter is simply to tell you the impact your decision had on every aspect of my life. I will never forgive what you did, but I will not let this consume me any longer.
So now that you’re more aware of what sexual assault is and some of the ways we can better help victims, we can discuss the final chapter of this overview, and that is treatment.
So how can we turn the victim into a survivor?
While we’ve covered the first response to a disclosure, to wrap up this topic, we must also examine the ways in which sexual assault trauma can be treated to help turn a victim into a survivor, someone who is now able to cope and continue moving forward without the negative ramifications from the assault.
Psychological interventions are meant to reduce distress, symptoms of PTSD, and rape trauma. These are usually treated with a mix of counseling, structured and unstructured interactions, treatment plans and training programs. The most common approach often involves cognitive behavioral therapy and experiential therapy. Treatment for sexual assault often has two primary goals: reduction and prevention of psychological disorders such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, and other psychopathologies, as well as, improving self-esteem and social adjustment. Psychotherapeutic treatments often rely on two essential components:
- Develop and maintain trust with the therapist -This is often achieved through time and confidentiality. The trust one has with their therapist may develop at different paces and depends on a multitude of personal factors.
- Recall of the assault as to help the therapist understand and assist the individual overcome any debilitating aspects of what happened.
Therapy is one of the most effective treatments for the impact of sexual assault. However, there are things that one can do individually to help improve their state post-assault, these include:
Journalling- keeping a journal about your feelings post-assault can be very helpful in aiding in one’s healing.
Music- Music has been known to be very therapeutic and can also aid in healing, writing songs can also help aid in personal healing as it depicts what you’re going through. An excellent example of music assisting in personal healing is this song by Brother Ali written about his girlfriend’s experience.
Put you first- focus on your physical and mental health and safety.
Learn- Knowledge about others experiences and healing processes can help you overcome your own struggles and show you that you are not alone. The more you know about sexual assault, the easier it is to move forward.
Practice Rational thinking- Irrational thoughts are often a cause of guilt and depression following an assault. Learn to write, speak, and think the rational thoughts over those that are irrational. Remember you are not to blame.
Silence the critic in you- Along with the irrational thoughts we are our own worse critic. Learn when you are telling yourself things won’t get better and replace it with a more positive viewpoint, for example: “it may be hard, but it will get better.”
Identify things that you may blame on someone else when it deserves to be put on your attacker- It may be hard sometimes but often if we pay close attention we put the blame on others more than we focus on the blame that should be placed on the attacker. For example, blame the rapist for doing what they did instead of focusing blame on a bystander.
Write a letter to your attacker- Just as I did above, writing a letter, whether it is an open letter, a victim impact statement, or a personal letter no one ever reads. can be very therapeutic and aid in your own healing.
While there are many things that can aid in one’s healing, the important thing is to take it day by day. Every single step forward you take brings you closer to becoming a survivor. Stay strong and remember you are not alone.
The Rape Recovery Handbook: Step-by-step help for survivors of sexual assault; Matsakis, Aphrodite; New Harbinger Publications, 2003