Support Options for Rape Recovery in Tarrant County Texas
Rape. The very word can overwhelm us with emotions. We may feel anger toward the perpetrators, or sympathy for anyone who has been a victim. Some may still be in fear of it happening to them or to a loved one. Others may still be dealing with the trauma and shame of sexual violence. And many people may have a mixture of these emotions—and more. Regardless of the emotions, sexual assault is a difficult subject to discuss. And that is why it is so important to also discuss rape recovery. Here’s how people move from being victims of rape to survivors.
How Common is Rape and Sexual Assault?
Unfortunately, sexual violence is frighteningly common in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the following statistics:
- Nearly 1 in 5 women have experienced completed or attempted rape during their lifetime.
- About 33 percent of female rape victims experienced it for the first time between 11-17 years old.
- Around 1 in 38 men have experienced completed or attempted rape during their lifetime.
- 25 percent of male rape victims experienced it for the first time between 11-17 years old.
The CDC notes that the official numbers are likely underestimated because many cases of rape and sexual assault go unreported. This is because the victims may be ashamed or embarrassed, and afraid to report it to their family, friends, and the authorities.
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Why Don’t Victims of Rape or Sexual Assault Report It?
- A desire to protect the attacker or fear of retaliation
- Distrust of law enforcement or fear of not being believed
- Pressure from others or feelings of shame
The Center gives one more important reason why the victim may be hesitant to come forward: Fear of being blamed.
Why Do We Blame the Victim for Rape and Sexual Assault?
Although it should be common knowledge by now, it still needs to be said: The victim of a sexual assault is never to blame for the violence—ever. What was the victim wearing? What time of night was it, and was the victim drinking? Why didn’t the victim put up more of a fight, and why did the person wait so long to report it?
None of these questions are relevant, or even appropriate. If someone breaks into your home and robs you, we don’t make excuses for the criminal: He wouldn’t have done it if you hadn’t had all those nice things, or if you had a better security system. We blame the criminal.
Some psychologists believe we blame the victim because it helps us view the world as fair: Bad things only happen to bad people. It also helps us feel better about ourselves: We would never have let this happen. These ideas may be comforting, but they also are misleading.
Almost anyone can be the victim of rape or sexual assault. Consent must be given freely and knowingly, and a person can change their mind at any time. So we should say it again: The victim of a sexual assault is never to blame for the violence—ever. Understanding this is the first step on the road to rape recovery and healing.
How Can I Recover from Rape?
If you have been the victim of sexual violence, there are several steps you can take to begin the process of healing:
Acknowledge what has happened.
Tell a trusted family member or friend what has happened. Report it to the police. If the assault has happened in the last 10 days, you should go to the hospital for a rape exam.
For immediate, confidential assistance, you can contact a rape crisis center. In Fort Worth, The Women’s Center rape crisis hotline number is 817-927-2737. Nationally, The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) has a 24-hour rape crisis hotline number, 800-656-4673.
Try to understand how you are feeling.
People who have been sexually assaulted respond in a variety of ways. You may be feeling shock, shame, anger, guilt, or isolation. You may be feeling completely devastated—or completely numb. Maybe you are feeling a mixture of all these emotions. And you may be wondering if you will ever recover. Remember that there is no “correct way” for the victim of sexual violence to feel. The important thing is that you find support.
Share how you are feeling.
There are several ways you can do this, including talking with trusted friends and family members. You can also journal about it. One of the most effective things you can do is find a skilled therapist who is experienced in helping people who have been sexually assaulted. You can also look for support groups that meet in person or online. Some therapists suggest writing a letter to your attacker (although it usually is not a good idea to mail the letter).
Learn about sexual assault and rape recovery. (RAINN) has assembled several stories from women and men who are survivors of sexual violence. You also can find a number of books that discuss sexual assault and recovery, as well as this short Handbook for Survivors of Sexual Assault.
Be kind to yourself.
Do not minimize the trauma of what you have been through: Someone who has been the victim of sexual violence needs time and patience. Therapists suggest you do healthy activities that can help you feel better, like taking warm baths, gentle exercise, or spending time with friends. Be sure to get plenty of rest and have a good diet. Look for the things that work for you, and remember that healing is a process, not an act.
Prepare for flashbacks and upsetting memories
Rape victims do not become rape survivors immediately; it takes time to get past the trauma. Part of the process is being prepared for the possibility of “flashbacks.” For example, the anniversary date of the assault can be an emotional time. Survivors also can struggle when they encounter people, places, sights, and even smells that trigger upsetting memories.
It can be helpful to be aware of the common symptoms of a flashback. You may feel tightness in your chest or throat, and some difficulty breathing. In these cases, trying to slow down your breathing can help. An experienced therapist can offer additional insights.
How You Can Help Someone Who Has Been the Victim of Rape or Sexual Assault
A key part of rape recovery is having the support of friends and family. If you know someone who has been the victim of sexual violence, HealthPartners has several suggestions on how you can support them:
- Acknowledge how difficult it is to talk about the incident. Give the person credit for having the courage to speak about it.
- Don’t discredit the person’s story. Be supportive and be patient.
- Encourage the victim to report the crime. If the sexual assault occurred in the last 10 days, offer to take the person to the hospital for an exam.
- Ask if there is anything else you can do to help.
Things you should not do:
- Say, “I can’t believe that person would do such a thing,” or minimize what has happened.
- Ask for details or ask “why” questions.
- Try to “fix” it.
Instead, thank the victim for being willing to trust you with this information. And remind the person: “This was not your fault.”
Rape Recovery is Part of Maintaining Mental Health
The process of healing from a sexual assault can be slow. But with time, work, and support, you can move past it and regain your life. This also is part of protecting your mental health.
If you or someone you know has been the victim of rape, sexual abuse, or some other form of sexual violence, we encourage you to take action today. One step at a time, anyone can move from being a victim of sexual violence to a survivor.