It is important to recognize and deal with your own feelings so you can be of help to the woman or man who was sexually assaulted. This information will help you understand how the survivor feels, how to cope with your own emotions, and how you can help the recovery process.

The Survivor's Feelings
Sexual assault represents the ultimate loss of personal power. A survivor of sexual assault can be left with both physical and emotional injuries. After an assault, a survivor begins a difficult personal struggle to take back control, to recover the losses, and to heal the unseen injuries to the mind and soul. Survivors can experience a wide range of emotional and physical reactions immediately following an assault. A survivor may feel fear, anger, powerlessness, panic, guilt, self-blame, or embarrassment. Or she/he could be in shock and feel nothing. A survivor may even laugh, appearing almost unaffected.

Later, she/he may go through a time when she/he wants to forget the assault ever happened. She/he may not want to talk about it. She/he may completely block the experience from her/his memory and have no idea that she/he was ever assaulted. This could last for months or years. At some point, an event may re-stimulate the survivor's memory of the assault. At this time she/he may re-experience the feelings of crisis. It may seem as if the assault has just taken place. If a survivor has no memory of the assault, she/he may feel "crazy", wondering what is happening to her/him. At this point, with the help of a counselor trained in sexual assault issues, she/he can resolve the feelings that remain and assimilate the incident into her/his life.

It is natural for you to want to help the survivor recover as quickly as possible, but there are no set timetables. Each survivor will heal in her/his own way, and at her/his own pace. Your support, concern, and understanding are important factors in her/his healing.

Here are some things you can do
- Believe her/him.

- Reassure the survivor that you love her/him, that her/his feelings are normal, and that you know the assault was not her/his fault.

- The most common feeling experienced by a survivor of sexual assault is powerlessness. The best thing you can do is encourage the survivor to make her/his own decisions and then to support them - whether you agree with those decisions or not. If you try to tell her/him what to do or to make her/his decisions for her/him, she/he will continue to feel like a victim - weak and vulnerable. Enabling the survivor to make her/his own decisions is the best way you can help her/him gain a sense of control over her/his life.

- Don't underestimate her/his pain even if it did not seem like a physically violent rape. It is not in her/his best interest to encourage her/him to "forget it and get back to normal." Remember that everyone deals with sexual assault differently and recovers within their own time frame.

-Encourage but don't force her/him to talk. Don't probe for details of the assault. She/he will tell you what she/he wants you to know, when she/he wants you to know it. Since many people are misinformed about the true nature of rape and blame the survivor instead of the perpetrator, it is difficult for the survivor to confide in someone whose reaction she/he cannot confidently predict. Some survivors refuse to talk about the incident for some time even if their listener is sympathetic. This is their way of putting it out of their minds so that they can cope with the trauma. If she/he doesn't want to talk about it, be patient. Her/his reluctance to talk with you is not a sign of failure on your part. She/he may feel ashamed or embarrassed, or more likely, she/he doesnŐt want to upset you because she/he cares about you. Explain that it is important to express her/his feelings, and that you are there to listen and support her/him when she/he is ready.

-Give feedback and validate her/his feelings and behavior. Reassure her/him that only she/he could know what to have done in the assault situation and that her/his reactions were appropriate. Whatever she/he did to survive the assault was the right thing to do.

-Be sure she/he understands the necessity of getting medical attention, even if she/he thinks she/he wasn't hurt. Going through the medical and legal system can feel like further victimization. It will help the survivor to have a supportive friend or relative and a Rape Crisis Advocate with her/him during the medical and legal proceedings.

-You may feel guilty or angry at yourself for having been unable to protect the survivor and prevent the assault. The survivor may also blame herself/himself or feel that you are blaming her/him for the assault. It is important to absolve yourself of your own guilt so that you can listen and respond to he survivor's needs. It will be helpful to remind yourself that even if a survivor may have practiced poor judgment, no one ever "deserves" to be assaulted. It is the assailant who committed the crime and only he is responsible.

-You may be tempted to be overly protective and not allow the survivor to go out alone, or to attempt to take care of her/him by doing everything for the survivor. Although perfectly understandable, this response may make it more difficult for her/him to return to her/his previous lifestyle. You cannot guarantee her/his safety by locking her/him up and she/he probably does not want to be treated "specially" as if she/he were sick. The survivor needs to know that you want to help and that she/he is still capable of caring for her/his own needs. Teenagers might interpret restrictions on going out as punishment for having done something wrong. Continue your regular routine with any changes the survivor suggests.

-Showing affection is important because it reassures the survivor of your love and concern; however, she/he may avoid physical contact. This does not mean that she/he is rejecting you, but being touched may stimulate flashbacks of the assault. It could be weeks or months before a survivor feels comfortable with intimacy. She/he should be treated with patience and understanding.

-It is common and natural to feel rage toward the assailant. It is important to find healthy ways to express your anger without further traumatizing the survivor. It is also normal to want revenge on the assailant. However, it is important to remember that it is not appropriate to act on that desire for revenge!

-Encourage her/him to take a self defense class, but don't insist. A self defense class may build her/his confidence in her/his own strength and help her/him be more assertive. Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center teaches a four hour workshop monthly.

-Respect the confidentiality of the survivor. She/he is the only one to decide who knows about the assault, and what they know. It is important to respect her/his wishes about not sharing the information with other friends and family members.

-TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF! Whether you are a partner, spouse, parent or friend of a sexual assault survivor, it is natural for you to go through similar stages of trauma. When you need support or information, CALL OUR HOTLINE (564-3696) and talk about it. Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Advocates, both female and male, are available 24 hours a day to provide counseling, emotional support, legal and medical information, accompaniment, and advocacy to YOU as well as to the survivor. All conversations are confidential.

You are helping the survivor of sexual assault just by reading this information and by recognizing that sexual assault is a traumatic, often life-threatening, experience. Your continued, caring support is probably the most important factor in guaranteeing a speedy recovery and resumption of a normal life for the sexual assault survivor.

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