Rape is a traumatic experience that takes time to recover from. Survivors commonly experience some or all of these emotions:
- Anger at themselves or others
- Powerlessness and vulnerability
- Fear and loss of trust
- Shame, embarrassment and a sense of being dirty
- Guilt or responsibility for what happened
Survivors often feel detached from the people around them and feel a desire to get away from anything that reminds them of the rape
Losing interest in sex is also common.
Depression and suicidal thoughts are not unusual reactions.
Rape survivors can experience an inability to concentrate, flashbacks, nightmares, changes in sleeping and eating habits, as well as fear of being touched by the people around them.
Feeling like this can be overwhelming but it is important to remember that it will get better with time.
Tips for Dealing with the Experience
- It’s important to remember that you are not to blame
- Understand that you did the best you that you could under the circumstances. You may think or others may tell you about what you could or should have done to make things different. This won’t help you
- It’s normal to think a lot about what has happened. Talking about or writing your thoughts down will help you to process them.
- Take care of yourself by eating and dressing properly and bathing regularly, no matter how you feel on any given day. Some days will be better than others.
- If you feel unsafe, ask someone to walk with you when you go out, or do what is necessary to make your home environment safer, like putting bars on your windows if you do not have them
- If you do not feel like having sex, or being touched, others need to respect your feelings. Explain to them that you are not rejecting them, but that you need time to work out what is right for you.
- Communicating with the people in your life about what you are feeling helps them to be sensitive to your needs. Shutting others out will lead to misunderstandings, but if you feel that they don’t understand, talking to a counsellor is a better option.
- Specialised Organisations exist to help rape survivors. This link to takes you to the page with their contact details
How Family and Friends Can Help Rape Survivors
- Being available to listen, telling the survivor that you believe them and don’t blame them
- Telling a survivor to get on with their lives as if nothing happened is not helpful. It takes time for a survivor to process the experience
- Don’t suddenly change your routines and habits. Familiar habits will help a survivor to feel a sense of continuity in their lives.
- A partner must realise that it will take time for a survivor to feel safe and trusting and wish to be touched, or have sex again.
Family members may also feel guilt or anger themselves and professional counselling can be helpful for everyone close to a rape suvivor.
Parents of a child that was raped shouldn’t avoid speaking about the rape to other family members, or siblings of the child, if they know what has happened.
Brothers or sisters need to discuss and work through their feelings as well. This shouldn’t be done in front of the child survivor.
Organizations that work with Families and Children are found on our Help page