Each survivor copes with rape differently. It is important to remember that there is no right way for a survivor to feel, and there is no set timeline for when a survivor should be feeling better. To heal from rape, survivors need to draw on their individual strengths and skills and find what works best for them.
Rape is a violent crime that triggers a variety of feelings and reactions. Some survivors experience a rush of emotions all at once, while others take longer to process what they are feeling.
Many survivors do share several common reactions to rape. The feelings may be intense at times. Sometimes they seem to go away for a while and then come back again. These reactions include:
Guilt. Many survivors of rape feel guilty. We live in a culture that tends to blame victims, but rape is never the survivor’s fault. No one deserves to have been raped, even if they drank to excess, dressed in revealing clothing, or consented to other sexual activity, like kissing.
Fear. Rape is traumatic, and it is normal to feel afraid after being raped. Some survivors find it hard to be alone at night or in a setting that reminds them of the one in which they were raped.
Avoidance. It is common to avoid or want to avoid anything that is associated with the assault. Many survivors avoid getting assistance because it reminds them of the rape. Although avoidance can initially help in coping, most survivors find that it is not a viable long-term solution.
Anger. Survivors may feel angry - at the rapist, at the people they love, at the world, even at themselves. Feeling angry can be an important part of healing emotionally after rape.
Mood swings. Survivors moods may change rapidly or dramatically. Coping with a sexual assault can be overwhelming, and intense emotional reactions are normal. Most survivors experience many ups and downs in their healing process.
Distrust. It may take the survivor a while to feel like they can trust people again. If a survivor was raped by someone they knew, they may feel like they have lost confidence in their sense of judgment about other people. If they were raped by a stranger, they may feel that they can’t trust people they don’t know.
Loss of control. Rape robs a person of control over his/her body, and many survivors of rape often feel out of control or powerless as a result. One of the most important elements of healing from rape is regaining control.
Numbness. Sometimes it takes a while for survivors of rape to feel anything at all. Going numb is one of the ways some people cope with crisis.
Re-experiencing. Many survivors have nightmares, flashbacks, or intrusive thoughts about rape. This re-experiencing can sometimes feel as difficult to cope with as the rape itself. These disruptions also may make it difficult to sleep or to concentrate.
It is important for survivors to remember, no matter how they are feeling, that they are not alone. If you or someone you care about is experiencing any of these feelings, BARCC’s counselors can help. Contact us to see how we can help you.