Yes, you can. Healing and Hope is for you . . .
a message sent to you with our confidence that in the days and weeks to come, you will find within yourself the strength to begin your own passage to healing and renewed hope and a new beginning. We realize that beginning again may seem impossible to you right now and that this passage may be a difficult point on your journey. You may encounter some obstacles along the way, but we want you to know that you do not have to make the journey alone. We would consider it a privilege to walk with you through these hard days if you need us. A compassionate listening ear is only a phone call away. We hope you will feel comfortable calling us anytime, day or night.
Right now you can:
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“There’s more than anger, more than sadness, more than terror…there’s hope.”
– Edith Hornung, 46-year-old survivor
You will have many emotions about what has happened to you. Know that there are many others who are also survivors who have travelled a journey similar to the journey you are now beginning. But we cannot begin to know the pain you are feeling. Your pain – your grief, anger, fear, loss – whatever emotions you feel are very personal. No person ever knows exactly how another person is feeling. Many of us, however, do know what we felt in a similar circumstance. We would never tell you how to feel or how to move forward from your assault. We simply offer ourselves to you as “witnesses” that healing is possible, that hope can be a reality, and that we did not remain victims. We are survivors who have been able to find that, after the trauma of sexual assault, there really is more than anger or sadness or terror . . . there’s healing and hope.
We hope that the information you read here will encourage your recovery and healing, and help you move from being a victim to being a survivor. The image of the rising sun may remind you that there is light after darkness . . . that a new beginning is possible. At times it can seem endless, but healing takes time . . . and courage. We honour your courage to heal, and we want you to know that we are here for you in whatever ways you feel we might be helpful. We hope that what you read here will be empowering to you and to your friends and family members, to all the people who are important to you. Your life has been re-arranged by this violent act, but it has not been destroyed.
- You can begin again. There is healing for you . . . and hope.
- You Are Not Alone
- You may be asking why this has happened to you.
- You are certainly not alone in your questioning.
Survivors of sexual assault often ask themselves unanswerable questions: Why did this happen to me? What did I do to deserve this? Could this have been my fault?
Remember that the assault was not your fault. Why did someone assault you? No one can answer that question. You can remember, though, that you are not alone . . . that there are people who want to help you get through your pain.
Sexual assault is always a deeply painful violation. Survivors often have severe stress reactions similar to those of people who have survived other life-threatening events such as war or natural disaster. Sexual assault can be a violent crime against any person: males and females, adults, teenagers, young children, elderly persons, heterosexuals, homosexuals, persons of every race. According to statistics, one out of three women and one out of six men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. Perpetrators of sexual assault crimes do not discriminate in choosing their victims. Sexual assault is not a sex crime; it is a crime of violence, power, and control.
In the hours and days immediately following the assault, you may feel emotionally out of control. It’s hard to believe the assault really happened and often difficult to understand why. You may feel very strong, disturbing emotions. Crying, shaking, fainting, expressions of anger are all appropriate responses. However, you may feel no emotion at all, a reaction called shock. Shock may leave you feeling completely numb. It can make you seem calm and composed, even cold and detached. Sometimes your emotions are so conflicted that you may find yourself crying in one moment and actually laughing in the next. Your laughter does not mean you are not hurting; it is a result of the body’s reaction to the trauma. These are normal reactions.
During this time of acute crisis, a very common emotion is fear – fear that the attacker could return, fear of being alone, fear of places like the one where the assault occurred or of people who remind you of the assailant. You may also feel angry, depressed or confused. You may feel guilty or ashamed. Some victims even feel “dirty” because they believe the myths that blame victims for the assault. Do not be overly alarmed if you experience these emotional reactions.
You may also experience physical reactions including soreness, pain, nausea, eating and sleep disturbances. You may feel afraid of being touched. Some survivors do not want to be touched after an assault; others want increased physical affection.
You may find that your mind is filled with questioning, constantly plagued with “what ifs.”
- What if I am terrified all the time?
- What if I never feel normal again?
- What if I have nightmares or flashbacks?
- What if I can’t control my memories of what happened?
- What if I can’t talk to anyone about what happened?
- What if I am afraid of having sex again?
- What if I can’t stop crying?
- What if I can never walk out of my house alone at night?
- What if I am afraid to leave my house at all?
- What if I just don’t want to live with these memories?
You may have asked all of these questions, or none of these questions. You may experience feelings you have never felt before. Don’t be afraid of your feelings. You have survived a violation of your whole being. Give yourself permission to feel what you feel. Do not ignore your feelings or stuff them down into a hidden corner of yourself. The only way to get past this pain is to go directly through it. So feel your emotions, and then let them go. If you are overwhelmed, find someone who can help – a friend, a family member, a counsellor.
You can get beyond your pain and make this assault a part of your past. You can move on from where you are right now. You will not forget what happened to you, but you can get past your pain. Your passage of getting beyond this pain is much like going up a spiral staircase. The farther you climb up the stairs, the farther away you get from the pain you left at the bottom. But at any time, if you look over the staircase railing to see what you left behind, you will be able to see the source of the pain. You will remember it, and even feel it. But the feeling will not hurt as much as it did at the bottom. Each step you are able to climb moves you farther away from the intensity of the pain.
Climbing stairs can be exhausting. So can the healing work you will do in the days to come.
I Can Never Tell
You do not have to tell anyone, but your silence may give this trauma power over your life for years, even for the rest of your life. Telling, or not telling, is a choice that you have the right to make for yourself. This assault is your story. It is your personal experience, and you can share it with whomever you choose. You will probably find that talking about what happened with a compassionate listener will begin a healing process for you and give you support and encouragement. However, it is normal for you to feel some reluctance to share your feelings with those closest to you. Because you want to minimize their pain, you may try to spare them from hearing about what happened to you.
The people who care about you are experiencing their own pain because of what has happened. They are often called secondary survivors because what has happened to you affects them deeply. They may wish they could have protected you in some way or kept you safe. They may experience guilt. The intensity of their feelings may make them unsure of what to say or how to react to you. They may withdraw from you and not say anything at all. Even though you care about their feelings, you must focus on your own healing. This is their problem to work through, not yours. They may benefit from counselling too.
You may want to talk about the assault soon afterwards; you may also not want to talk about what happened to you. Some sexual assault survivors wait until much later to talk about the assault, and others never feel comfortable talking about it. It is very important for you to find a way to talk about what happened with someone you trust. Rape Crisis staff are available to talk with you 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Trying to hide your emotions will be harmful to you, and your emotions may emerge days, weeks, even years later. Buried emotions will not stay buried inside you without causing problems for you in the future.
If you could simply deny that you have been sexually assaulted, you could go on with life as usual. Many survivors deny any effects from a sexual assault and try to assure everyone around them that things are fine. You may think that everyone in your life is tired of hearing about the assault, or you may want to shut out the pain and get back to “normal.” This passage takes you through a time of denial. You may want so much to put the assault behind you, that you may try to change something about your life. . . your job, your residence, your relationships, your entire lifestyle. Your passage through denial may be brief or it may last for many years. Remember that survivors who continue to deny what happened sometimes turn to harmful things like drugs, alcohol, overeating or over-working to numb their feelings, trying to go on with life as it was before the assault.
What Will Happen To Me Physically?
If you were treated at a hospital following your assault, you were probably given more information than you could take in at the time. All of that information probably seems like a blurred, confusing memory now. Feel free to call Rape Crisis with any questions you have.
You may be very concerned about exposure to sexually transmitted diseases. The hospital probably performed a blood test to screen for sexually transmitted diseases. They also may have given you antibiotics to help protect you against infection and to help prevent some sexually transmitted diseases. However, in six weeks, you should have another blood test (called a VDRL). Even though the hospital tested for sexually transmitted diseases at the time of your assault, syphilis may not test positive for several weeks. This disease is easily cured if detected early. You can have the test done at the hospital or your doctor can run this test.
If you are female, you may have been given medication to help prevent pregnancy. While this medication may cause cramping and menstrual irregularity, you must take every pill as directed. This medication may also cause mild nausea, but it is important to take all of the medication. Call the hospital or Rape Crisis if you are experiencing persistent physical problems.
For females, another concern is that your menstrual cycle may be irregular for a few months. Your entire body may seem “out of balance.” You may also feel sluggish. Give yourself plenty of rest and sleep. Try to eat nutritious foods and drink plenty of water. Learn to relax and take frequent breaks from your routine. Warm baths may help alleviate the soreness and calm you down.
Male survivors of sexual assault may experience soreness as well and find that they feel lethargic and fatigued. Physical check-ups are very important. Try to learn to relax and get some physical exercise doing something you enjoy. Seek out a trusted friend or family member to spend time with. Try to do things, at work and in your leisure time, that help restore balance to your life. Try to strengthen your close relationships so that you will feel more connected to the kind of support you need. Don’t be afraid to let yourself consider the emotional aspects of what has happened to you. Support for male survivors of sexual assault is available for you. Call Rape Crisis at any time for help.
In three months and again in six months after your assault, you must be tested for AIDS/HIV again.
Be good to yourself. You have been violated and abused, and you will need time to heal. Pay close attention to your emotional well-being, reach out for support if you need to, and be sure to see a doctor if needed.
What About Legal Concerns and Safety?
After your assault, you, or a family member or friend, may have contacted the police. The police are responsible for investigating a reported incident and gathering evidence to present to the prosecuting attorney. An officer will need to ask you the details of what happened. Reporting your sexual assault to the police does not mean that you have to prosecute. You can make the decision to prosecute later; that decision does not have to be made immediately after the assault. If you report the assault promptly to the police, medical evidence can be collected. You may be concerned about how the case will proceed from this point. Rape Crisis staff are also available to assist you in moving through the criminal justice system. If you fear for your safety we can also help you get an interdict against someone. A good option would also be to join HERLAW so you have an attorney on call 24 hours a day while you go through this. Joining HERLAW costs R60 per month and you can call 021 556 5550 to join and for any questions. Remember that the legal system determines innocence or guilt based upon the physical evidence presented and testimony given. If you should lose your case, it does not mean that no one believes your story. Losing your case may simply mean that there was not enough admissible evidence to convict “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Shouldn’t I Be Over This By Now?
Some survivors identify a passage they call suffering. It is a time when the reality of the assault sinks in and makes its home in the very deepest part of you. You may feel depressed or aimless, with a deep sadness. You may feel grief or loss. You have now reached the passage where you will mourn a loss of your life as it used to be – even a loss of your self – because you feel you will never be the same person you were before the assault. You may be feeling disappointed in yourself because you feel you should be over the pain of what has happened. And yet, on some days, your pain is almost unbearable and the memory of the assault very fresh.
Don’t expect too much of yourself. This passage called suffering is a very difficult time, perhaps the most difficult time you have experienced in all of this. Often, it takes time for the stark reality of what happened to you to sink in. But when it does, your emotions seem very raw and you feel as if you are right on the edge of despair.
Remember that all of your emotions represent passages on your journey. You do not have to stay in this place called suffering. This is a passage you can get through. Remember also that any life event changes us. No, you will not be the same person you were before the assault; you will grow and change. You can choose to move toward healing and hope, and in the end, find that you are stronger, more empowered, more courageous than you have ever been.
In this passage called suffering, you may feel as though your sense of security and control over your life has been destroyed. You may experience fear, nightmares, changes in sleeping and eating, sexual problems, physical aches and pains, difficulty concentrating. You may lose interest in all of your usual activities. Anger, guilt, shame are common. You may have disturbing memories of the assault. You may also experience “flashbacks,” and actually believe that the assault is happening again. Your moods may swing from one end of your emotional spectrum to the other. It is not unusual for survivors to misdirect anger towards loved ones or towards themselves.
This passage can be very painful; please don’t travel it alone. Call Rape Crisis when the passage called suffering becomes more than you can handle. Someone who is caring and compassionate will be available to travel this part of the journey with you, through the darkness, and eventually into the light of hope.
I Think I Might Just Make It
When you begin to feel even a tiny twinge of hope, you may well be moving into a passage called resolution. This is a very good place to be. This is a place where you will begin the process of resolving your feelings about the sexual assault, the attacker, and yourself. In this passage, you will move from “victim” to “survivor.” You will integrate the sexual assault as an accepted, though very painful, event in your life. This passage is a long-term process. It may last throughout your life, but it is a place where inner peace grows and resolution replaces pain.
Remember that every person who has been sexually assaulted travels through these passages, not necessarily in a smooth and timely way, not necessarily in any order. You may find yourself in two passages at the same time. You may return to a previous passage for a time, even more than once. You may get temporarily stuck in one place. Perhaps this feeling “stuck” can be a very important time for drawing yourself inward and spending some time alone with your thoughts. This passage can be a time for you to think about beginning again, a time when your suffering is being replaced by a sense of peace, and your fears displaced with the courage to move on with your life. Try not to be afraid of the dark places along your journey.
Facing the darkness . . . going right through the centre of it will lead you to a place of light, a place where healing and hope can be reborn in you. It may seem impossible to you right now. You may feel as if you have a very long and treacherous journey ahead of you. Believe in yourself. Honour your persistence and your courage to heal. And know that there really are brighter days ahead.
We are here to help you with support, compassion, counselling, and information. The journey to healing and hope is not an easy one, but know that you can call us when you need a friend to walk with you.
- … that you did not deserve what happened to you.That the sexual assault was not your fault. That no matter where you were, what you were doing, what you were wearing when the assault occurred, you did not cause it. Your attacker committed a terrible crime against you.
- … that you survived the assault.You are alive. You are a survivor with the courage to heal.
- … that you have permission to feel exactly what you are feeling. Cry if you need to. Laugh, scream. Kick the walls. It’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to feel whatever you are feeling.
- … that every person is unique and that everyone copes with trauma differently.After you were sexually assaulted, you may have told a family member or a friend, a police officer or a doctor. You may have talked with a Rape Crisis advocate. If you never told a single person, remember that this is your experience to tell, whenever you feel you can. And remember that holding the secret inside can be harmful to you.
- … to be very kind and gentle with yourself.Your body has been violated and you will need time to heal . . . physically, emotionally, spiritually. It is important for you to feel safe
- … to find safe places to be and safe people to be with.
- … that you did not have any control over your assault, but you have all the control over your recovery.
- …that the darkness may be a good and safe place . . .
A place for learning about beginning again. . .
A place to gather your courage for the journey ahead . . .
A place where you learn to walk again in the light . . .
To a place far beyond where you are at this moment,
To a place of healing . . . and hope.
If you are a survivor of sexual assault, you are not alone. Each individual reacts differently. Many people commonly have experienced the following thoughts and questions:
- I can’t believe this happened to me.
- My feelings are distressing. I am terrified.
- My mind is filled with questions.
- I don’t think I could ever tell.
- What will happen to me physically?
- What about legal concerns?
- Shouldn’t I be over this by now?
- I was assaulted weeks ago. Why am I feeling so devastated now?
- I think I just might make it.
Every person who has suffered the violation of sexual assault needs to hear a message of hope, hope that he or she can be a survivor with the courage to heal. The Rape Crisis Center exists to serve survivors of sexual assault, as well as their non-offending family members, through compassionate crisis intervention and continuing support.
Sexual assault is a violent crime that holds the power to devastate individuals, families, and communities. Both men and women can be sexually assaulted . . . adults, very young children, adolescents, even elderly persons are sexually assaulted in our communities.
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