“Rape and sexual assault can be truly devastating and life-changing events.
But, many victims do find ways to heal from the trauma and become survivors.
If you’re a survivor, we want you to help us help victims by telling us how you made the transition from victim to survivor. It may be useful to think about it this way: What advice would you give to your younger self, if you could back in time? What do you wish had been said to you?”
Towards the end of January, we posted the above message on our Facebook page, asking survivors of sexual violence what advice they would like to give to other victims.
We had some truly remarkable and inspirational replies.
If you’re a victim of sexual violence, we hope you find their advice useful.
However isolated you may feel, please remember that you are not alone, and that things can get better – the brave rape and sexual assault survivors who answered us are proof of that.
They healed, they went from being victims to being survivors – and you can too.
Tamsyn’s advice: “There is no right or wrong way to deal with this. Lots of people never want to talk about it, and lots of people find talking helps. Don’t ever listen to anyone who says you’re handling it wrong, or that your choice to talk or not to talk about it somehow minimises your experience.
Your feelings are valid and can fuel you to do amazing things, but remember to take care of yourself. Try to eat and sleep. It’s easy to overlook these things when dealing with trauma.
Find what works for you. For some people, carrying on as normal is enough. Others might need some sort of outlet, maybe writing or another hobby.
I personally found that I had a lot of problems (especially immediately after my attack) with really bad muscle tension all the time, to the point where I was constantly in pain with cramps, etc, and I couldn’t sleep and had to be prescribed sleeping pills. Try to find a way to help yourself relax. Hot baths are good. Also, I have a friend who has a box full of things that make her feel better. In it, she has pictures of pretty landscapes, fabrics that she likes the feel of, etc. Some people also get a lot from meditation. Find what works for you, and do it as much as you need to. If it feels like nothing is working, try not to get frustrated and blame yourself. It’s okay to be tense and anxious and on-guard. It’s okay to not be able to relax.
Finally, remember that you’re not defined by your trauma. You’re not broken, not unloveable, not damaged goods. You are whole. You are just a human being that a really awful thing happened to, and it sucks, and it might affect you for a really long time. But it’s not going to break you, because you’re not made of glass or crystal. You’re not going to shatter. Eventually you’ll heal and flourish, and you’ll start to feel like yourself again.
In the meantime, don’t give up hope.”
Kirstein’s advice: “Don’t be afraid to admit that you hurt and ask for help. It doesn’t make you weak, it makes you stronger. And when you have recovered enough to tell your story (NOT before), don’t be ashamed to tell it. You have no idea how many victims you will help, and how many potential rapes you might prevent just by making someone think and understand and learn from what you have been through. You are amazing to have survived. Tell yourself that every day. And remember that at least 1 in 10 of us have experienced it, probably more. So if you DO speak up, you will never, ever be alone. And, if you can accept them, *hugs*.”
Emily’s advice: “It’s really difficult to come to terms with what’s happened to you, it feels impossible. I felt like I just wanted to go back to the person before, who was innocent and happier. It took me a long time to realise that I couldn’t do that. You are no longer that person, it takes time to grieve that. I know that I am still angry, furious with myself, him and everything else. But it does get easier, it does become the past, it does get better. It takes time and a lot of work you should never have to do. You will discover your worth is more than what happened to you. You are incredible. You can survive this.”
Rachel’s advice: “Tell someone. However scary it is, that’s nothing compared to how scary it can be to go through something like this alone. Tell someone, because to have someone look you in the eyes and tell you that what happened to you was cruel and that nobody deserves that; that can be worth more than you think.”
Mandy’s advice: “Believe in yourself and your own strength. You will have good days and bad ones and that is OK, but the important thing to remember is this: if you give in to the fear, give in to all the voices telling you that it was your fault, that you didn’t fight hard enough – if you give in to those voices, then the rapist wins… The biggest way to make him fail, to let him know that he did not accomplish what he set out to do, is to not let him win. If you don’t break, if this doesn’t break you, then you come out of the other side a better, stronger person than before and he is left an impotent loser.”
Charlotte’s advice: “Don’t go over and over it, because eventually you may doubt it was rape. The doubt wasn’t put there by you. Think about what you would say if it was somebody else, and they told you they didn’t give consent.”
Chrissy’s advice: “Don’t blame yourself. Don’t let guilt eat away at you. You don’t deserve to punish yourself. Don’t replace the emotional pain for physical pain. Be kind to yourself. Remember that not everyone is out to hurt you. It’s a grieving process, and with time and support, you can move forward.”
Kate’s advice: “Never blame yourself. No matter what people say when they find out what happened, remember that without consent what happened to you was rape/sexual assault.”
Michaela’s advice: “Whether you were a man or woman, boy or girl, when you were raped it was never your fault. The only person who is responsible for the rape is the rapist and this rapist can be a man or a woman. So if you were raped by a woman and you are left confused, forget the legal definition of rape* which is too restrictive and know that forced sex is rape and is wrong. You deserve to name your experience. You will recover. You will move on. Things will get easier and you are strong, brave and courageous when you speak out and receive support, and just as strong, brave and courageous if you don’t speak out. You don’t need to be alone as there are people out there who will understand you and walk the path of recovery with you.”
*Note: Rape is legally defined as the non-consensual insertion of the defendant’s penis into the victim’s vagina, anus or mouth. Therefore, only men can commit the legal crime of rape. For more information on the law on rape, click here.
Stephanie’s advice: “Know that your rape doesn’t define who you are as a person. You aren’t less whole, you don’t have anything missing. It’s a trauma that you experienced; it doesn’t have to become your identity.”
Tracy’s advice: “Always remember you are a SURVIVOR. You are no longer a victim. Replace the word “victim” with “survivor”. It was not your fault. The strongest thing you did was survive. Always a survivor.”
Image credit: Flickr / jenosaur