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Gift From Within - PTSD Resources for Survivors and Caregivers
Finding Support After Sexual Assault
© Amy Menna, Ph.D., LPC
When a world shifts, one needs support to manage the changing of the tides. Survivors of sexual assault especially need support to address the many challenges that go along with such an act of power, aggression, and violation. It is important for survivors to navigate through their journey and find support that is useful to them. This article will address how a survivor can get her or his own needs met when it comes to gaining support in his or her recovery. Certain pitfalls will be highlighted as well as how to deal with them. Suggestions on how to gain support will be provided.
Please note, since the majority of survivors are women, the pronoun "her" will be used in this article. Many men have also been assaulted and also go through the challenges of finding support, so this article applies to both genders.
It is so important that, as a survivor, you have support through your journey. However, some find it hardest to reach out while going through this process. It is strongly encouraged you not to take this journey alone. Finding help may be a difficult step to take but it provides many benefits.
Some sources to consider are:
Sexual Assault Centers. Many areas have crisis centers set up for survivors of sexual assault. They often offer individual counseling as well as support groups. In addition, many sexual assault centers offer workshops and empowering community events which may be helpful to both in your own recovery as well as useful to others. Workers are trained to support sexual abuse survivors and can provide assistance in different ways.
Individual Counseling. Often survivors find it helpful to see a trained counselor on an individual basis. Counselors can provide you with many different methods of support and assistance with moving through the challenges. It is important that you be very intentional about finding a counselor. Putting work into finding the right one may be time consuming but it will produce many benefits.
There are two very important things to consider when seeking counseling. The first is to ask questions about their training specific to sexual assault survivors. You do not have to go into this blindly. It is encouraged for you to ask as many questions as you need. It may be helpful for you to put your concerns out in the open in the initial phone call or consult. Whatever they are, address them at the beginning.
Another important issue in finding a counselor is simply "clicking." It is important that you find a counselor with which you feel comfortable. This is where you trust your instincts. It is important that the energy you get initially is positive. Having said that, you may not feel completely comfortable with someone right away but it is important that, if you feel something negative or as if you just won't gel, you listen to that inner voice. Finding the right counselor depends on both the training and clicking. Having one without the other may not produce the best experience.
Friends. It is helpful to find support in those who are around you most. Friends can be a source in which you may be able to call on in different ways. This can be in the form of spending time with them, talking, having them assist in finding additional support, or simply having someone to go out with when times are getting hard.
It is important that you are honest with your friends yet also find the right one who will assist you in the way that you need. There may be several friends who fit this category or it may be just one. Either way it is helpful if someone close to you knows what you are going through.
There are some circumstances with friends that you may come into contact that might cause you to want to shut down. These instances can stunt your growth as it may lead to a feeling of isolation. Again, these instances are more often misguided attempts at support rather than intending to harm.
You may seek support through friends and not get exactly what you need. Friends may inadvertently minimize your experience as they do not fully understand the nature or impact of sexual assault. Friends are not bound by confidentiality and there may be times that you feel betrayed. It is important that, whatever the issue is, you continue on your journey. It may be frustrating but it is helpful to see the problem for what it may be, which is your friend's discomfort with the subject.
Online Support. There is a great deal of information online about sexual assault and recovery. It can assist you with understanding your experience and with some issues that may arise in your recovery. There are also many sites that may connect you with other survivors where you can receive support.
A word of caution, however, that there may be some difficulty with this as well. Remember that the individuals with whom you come into contact may have a different experience than you. Sexual assault impacts each individual differently. It is important to be selective and remember that, if you don't feel right about something, listen to your intuition. It will serve you in the long run.
The Legal System. The legal system can assist you with justice. There are advocacy groups out there as well as different assistance on an individual level. When dealing with the legal system remember that you are your own advocate. It would be helpful to ask someone to support you in this advocacy and provide assistance through the legal process. Asking questions about the process and making sure that your questions are answered is essential. Many times, it is helpful to have friends or family members assist you with phone calls or contacts with law enforcement, lawyers, and other legal matters issues.
Although the legal system is there to provide justice and protection, it may fail from time to time. There are times that the police may not be sensitive to the situation by asking questions that communicate doubt about the accuracy of the information. In addition, there may be assailants with lawyers who paint the survivor in a negative light. Finding advocates in the community, through rape crisis centers or other social justice agencies, will assist with the process. It is important that you stand in your truth despite the outcome of the legal system. It is helpful to remember that recovery may not be contingent on justice.
Creating a safe space.
Sexual assault may rob you of feeling safe. It is important that you create a space around yourself where you feel safe. This can be done in different ways. Remember that things may not feel entirely comfortable but it is important to address the discomfort directly. You are your own best advocate. In addition, you are also the one that can best meet your needs, even if it is asking for them to be met, as you are the one who is most aware of them.
There are ways to create a safe space around you. It is important again that you listen to your own inner guide and find a balance between moving through discomfort and walking away from things that don't feel right. Remember that your feelings matter most. Creating a safe space is important for both empowerment and relief. Below are couple suggestions on creating a safe place.
Physical space. Some survivors find it helpful to set up a place where they feel comfortable in their surroundings. At times, it is a room in their home. Other times, it may be a safe place near them such as a park or the woods. Your physical surroundings are very influential in your recovery. Take the time to find out what you connect with and puts you at ease. This may be in the form of an animal, candles, a certain place set up nicely in the house, or even a coffee shop where you can get lost in reading. Finding that place where you feel as if you can leave things behind is very important.
Psychological safety. Finding support through the community, friends, reading, journaling, or other activities can assist one in feeling more grounded and safe. Remember to use your internal guide on this one. There are individuals and situations in your life which may produce anxiety and ones that put you at ease. It is important to gravitate towards these so that you can get some reprieve. Remember that it is not just about being safe, it is about feeling safe. At times, survivors find it useful to write down the circumstances they feel safe in as reminders of what they can do to find support and relief.
This is about where you are, what you are doing, and who you are with, that makes you feel safe. This may change from time to time. It is important to recognize and notice when you are feeling this and more importantly, when you are not feeling it and need to take care of yourself.
Remember that asking for help is a sign of strength. It is a sign of resilience to utilize all resources. Surviving sexual assault may be a long journey and it is different for everyone. Support comes in the forms of love, comfort, and strength. Finding and accepting support for your journey is one way that you can provide love, comfort, and strength to yourself in a time you may need it most.
Amy Menna has a Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision, is a Licensed Professional Counselor. She lives in North Carolina and is available by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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