In this section, the word “survivor” will be used instead of “victim” as a way of recognizing the strength and the incredible courage needed to overcome such an experience.
YES ! People who survive a sexual assault go through one of the most trying… but not insurmountable ordeals.
The next section is a brief overview of the steps that she may go through in her recovery process :
The survivor may experience all these steps or just a few :
- Decision to heal : Acknowledging the effects of the sexual assault in her life, she decides to make a serious commitment to healing. She is ready and willing to make changes in the hope of living a more healthy and happy life.
- The emergency stage : The memories and emotions related to the assault can upset her everyday life. It is at this time she may start remembering, in a brutal way, what happened to her. She may start feeling the emotions related to the events. Although the emotions may sometimes feel overwhelming, feeling them more intensively is a good sign; they are surfacing because she now has the strength to face them. When the sexual assault took place, she may have repressed them in order to protect herself, to keep sane.
- Remembering : Many survivors “forget” completely what happened to them. Some remember the incidents related to the sexual assault, but do not remember the emotions felt at that moment. The recovery process can involve, in part, remembering details, emotions, feelings or sensations.
- Believing it happened : The survivor often doubts her perceptions. In this part of the process, she recognizes not only intellectually but also emotionally that the sexual assault really did happen and that it hurt and affected her.
- Breaking silence : She may have kept silent and can, at one point in her recovery process, want to talk about it with trusted people. These people can be a therapist/counsellor, other victims, friends, family members. This can end up being an important step of her recovery because it breaks the silence that was often imposed by the perpetrator and even sometimes by the relatives.
- Recovering from shame and guilt : The most harmful effects of sexual assault are probably the shame and guilt that the survivor feels deep within. She may believe that the assault was, somehow, her fault. In that step of the process, she starts realizing that she is not responsible for the assault, that she is not a “bad” and worthless person; she is a victim. She is also aware that she acted Information correctly at the time of the assault. By understanding not only intellectually but also emotionally that the perpetrator is the one to blame, her feelings of shame and guilt will start losing their influence on her.
- Recovering from shame and guilt : Dans sa lutte pour survivre, elle n’a jamais pu reconnaître entièrement toutes ses pertes. Maintenant, elle les identifie et les ressent. Elle vit sa peine, sa tristesse et ses deuils. Pleurer est une façon de se libérer de ses souffrances, de les laisser aller et de s’orienter vers le présent.
- Trusting yourself : The recovery process permits her to start learning to identify, believe and trust her own perceptions, her feelings and her intuitions. She reconnects with her inner strength and power.
- Confronter : Elle n’est pas obligée de confronter l’agresseur ou la famille…, mais cela peut constituer pour certaines, une étape libératrice et de reprise de pouvoir.
- Grieving and mourning : In her fight for survival, she never fully recognized all her losses. Now, she identifies and feels them. She experiences her pain, her sadness and grief. Crying is a way of alleviating her suffering, letting it out and focusing on the present.
- Feeling the anger : Many people say that feeling and expressing their anger is a powerfull and liberating force in their recovery process. The victim can choose different means of expression: express her anger directly at the perpetrator, air her feelings, hit things, write or do exercise. This step is very important for her recovery.
- Confrontation : She does not have to confront the perpetrator or the family… but it can, for some, be a liberating step and one of empowerment.
- Making the connection between the sexual assault, her behavior and her relationships : she understands how the sexual assault has and still can determine some of her protection mecanisms, some of her reactions and therefore affect her life and relationships.
- Moving forward and progressing : Elle renoue avec son corps; elle apprend à l’habiter avec plaisir. Elle est à l’écoute des signaux et des messages qu’il lui envoie et est en contact avec les sensations qu’il lui procure. Elle aime son corps, le respecte et en prend soin.
- Forgiving : She is by no means obliged to forgive the perpetrator; that is not essential to her recovery. If she feels in part responsible for the sexual violence of which she was a victim, forgiving herself is the only forgiveness necessary.
- Self-esteem : She learns to love herself, to accept herself with her qualities, her flaws, her strengths and her vulnerabilities. She is a human being, so “imperfect”. She acknowledges the steps she has accomplished and her continuing process.
- Integrating her body : She reconnects with her body; she learns to integrate it with pleasure. She listens to the signs and messages it sends her and is in contact with the sensations it brings. She loves her body, respects and nurtures it.
- Regaining intimacy : She learns to reveal herself more and more with people she has confidence in. She opens, little by little, her heart and her mind, she throws away her masks, she lowers her guard and shows her true self.
- Rediscovering sexuality : She rediscovers a healthy and creative sexual life without fear, control, guilt, shame and aggressiveness. She learns to abandon herself to this vital flow of wellbeing.
- Resolving and taking action / Living in the present / Realizing your dreams : She can not erase her past, but she achieves profound and lasting changes. She gives herself the right to live, to be happy and to appreciate who she has become. She acknowledges her immense potential, and she is ready to live a new life. Although we do not pretend to have answered all your questions or to have appeased all of your worries, we hope this information guide has helped you in your role of supporter. If you feel you need more support, know that most resources helping victims of sexual assault also offer services for relatives and those supporting them.
Remember that there is no « right » way to do this, no specific order and no « normal » length of time for a recovery process.
Although we do not pretend to have answered all your questions or to have appeased all of your worries, we hope this information guide has helped you in your role of supporter. If you feel you need more support, know that most resources helping victims of sexual assault also offer services for relatives and those supporting them.
As a supporter, be proud of your courage and your determination in accompanying a victim of sexual assault in her recovery process.