Healing from sexual assault

Each survivor of sexual assault responds uniquely to that assault, and each person’s recovery process will be different.  Some people may experience reactions immediately after the assault, others may not experience some reactions for weeks, months or even years after the assault.  While there are individual differences in the ways that people experience sexual assault, there are also common patterns of recovery that are normal and natural.

Common responses to sexual assault

  • Sexual assault can be extremely traumatic and can change your life.  It’s important to remember that your responses are normal reactions to an abnormal situation. 
  • However resilient you are, the experience of sexual assault may nevertheless result in psychological crisis.  Initially, you may experience shock and numbness.  Later you might start to have intense feelings of fear, anger, guilt and shame.  You may find yourself blaming yourself for what happened.  You may feel that you have lost control over your life, that people are no longer kind and good, and that the world no longer feels safe.  These are normal feelings to experience after being assaulted.
  • Sometimes people experience physical symptoms of trauma. You may start to have headaches, stomach problems, and changes in your appetite. You may also notice that you are sleeping too much or too little, that you are having nightmares, a desire to harm yourself, memory problems and flashbacks. Again, these feelings are normal. However, if you feelings begin to interfere with you ability to function in every day life, you may want to seek help.

Recovering from sexual assault

  • While the effects of sexual assault can sometimes feel devastating, with support, information and help, a victim can heal from sexual assault
  • You do not have to be alone in recovery.  As a student at GAC you have access to free counseling with experienced professionals at the Counseling Center.  Group therapy with fellow students who are survivors can also be a wonderful source of support and healing. If you would prefer to work with professionals off-campus, the Counseling Center can direct you to resources in St. Peter and Mankato.
  • Tips that may help
    • Recognize that the assault was not your fault. No one deserves to be sexually assaulted.  Feelings of guilt and self blame are often efforts to feel some control over what happened to you.   Surrounding yourself with supportive people who do not blame or judge you can be helpful in dispelling feelings of shame and self blame.
    • It is common for survivors to fear people and to feel vulnerable even when going about normal activities. Make the changes that you need to help you feel safe.  You might want to change the locks, stay with friends or family,  or have a friend accompany you to class or around campus.  Most of these fears will go away or lessen with time.  If fear is getting in the way of your daily life, consider speaking with a counselor
    • Having had control taken from you may lead you to feel disoriented, overwhelmed and out of control in other parts of your life.  You may temporarily lack your usual self-confidence and find it hard to make everyday decisions.   Try to make as many of your own decisions, however small, as possible.  Making small changes but visible changes in your life, such as re-arranging the furniture in your room, or changing your daily routine, can help you regain a sense of control
    • Listen to guidance from someone you trust, but ultimately what you do is your decision.