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Support for Victims of Sexual Assault

Following a sexual assault your first concern may be for your own safety. Once you are out of immediate danger you may want to call someone for support.

This could be a friend or family member or a crisis line. You can contact a victim service unit or agency or a sexual assault centre. Most sexual assault centres have 24-hour support lines. The front of your SaskTel phone book has contact information for abuse help lines, shelters and counselling and support services in your area. You can also go to sk.211.ca to find information on supports available in your area.

There is no “normal” reaction after you’ve been sexually assaulted. Every person reacts with a different combination of symptoms and at a different rate of time. Symptoms may be experienced in the short or long-term.

Just remember that what YOU feel is real and it’s NOT your fault.

Myth: Only “bad” people get sexually assaulted.

Fact: No other crime victim is looked upon with the same degree of suspicion and doubt as a victim of sexual assault. Although there are numerous reasons why society has cast blame on the victims of sexual assault, a major reason found in studies is that of a feeling of self-protection. If one believes that the victim was responsible because they put themselves in an unsafe position, such as being out late at night, drinking alcohol, dressing in a certain way, or “leading on” the offender, then we are able to feel safer because “we wouldn’t do those things.” But, the basic fact remains that no means no, no matter what the situation or circumstances.

Possible Reactions

Myth: Unless someone is physically harmed, a person who has been sexually assaulted will not suffer any long-term effects.

Fact: Sexual assault can have serious effects on a person’s health and well-being.

You may feel...

  • shame
  • guilt
  • a sense of worthlessness
  • fear
  • grief
  • self-blame
  • denial
  • anger
  • depression
  • anxiety

Physically you may have...

  • pain from an injury directly related to the assault
  • fatigue
  • abdominal or gastric upset
  • pelvic pain
  • headaches
  • muscle and/or joint pain

You may experience...

  • shock
  • poor concentration
  • tensions and conflict with your partner or family
  • eating disturbances
  • change in sleep patterns
  • sexual dysfunction
  • isolation from friends/family
  • flashbacks or intrusive thoughts
  • nightmares
  • mood swings
  • loss of trust
  • suicidal thoughts

These symptoms are referred to as “Rape Trauma Syndrome” and for some can last for a very long time. You may find it hard to get out of bed, leave the house, carry on with normal day-to-day activities or go to work. Some survivors try to cope by drinking, using drugs or overusing prescription medications. It is best to stay away from drugs and alcohol during your recovery as these substances only intensify your reactions, can cause problems of their own and can interfere with the healing process.

What Survivors Can Do

Interpersonal Violence Leave

If you have experienced sexual violence you may be entitled to up to 10 days leave from work to do things like going to see a doctor, counsellor or a victim services agency for help. This leave can also be used to relocate or to participate in a court case about the incident.

One of the most important things for survivors of sexual assault is knowing that they are not alone and that there is help available. Every survivor is unique and will need the help that is right for them. Professional counselling, support groups, friends and family can all play a part in assisting a survivor in the aftermath of an assault.

Self-care is also very important for survivors. Survivors struggling with feelings of shame and worthlessness, and other feelings that may arise after a sexual assault, can find it very difficult to take good care of themselves. However, self-care can be a vital part of the healing process.

What self-care looks like will be different for each person. Self-care means looking after your physical and emotional needs. It can be as simple as eating nutritious foods and getting enough sleep and as involved as developing supportive relationships and finding meaningful ways to spend your time.

Friends and Family

Sexual assault of someone close can impact family and friends as well. You may experience many of the same symptoms as the survivor. It is important to practice good self-care and perhaps seek professional help or talk to a friend to assist you in dealing with any trauma symptoms and to assist you in providing support for the survivor.

Having information about responses to sexual assault can help you normalize them for the survivor. If you are going to be a support person for the survivor it is important to consistently be there for them. Let them know that you are willing to actively support and listen to them. If the survivor wishes to talk about the sexual assault, believe the survivor and accept what happened in a non-judgmental way. Don’t push them to speak about it. Let them know that any reaction that allowed survival was the right thing to do.

Allow the survivor to make their own decisions. During the assault, power was taken from them and regaining control of their lives is an important aspect of healing. This could include allowing them to decide whether or not they want to report to the police. Remember that every survivor will be unique in their reactions and respect their decisions about what they most need to heal.

Offer practical support. This might involve accompanying them to appointments or walking with them to the corner store.

Touching and/or sexual intimacy may be very difficult for a survivor. Allow them to decide what kinds of physical contact they are comfortable with. Showing affection in non-physical ways is important.

Encourage them to seek medical care and counselling. Accompany them if they wish.

Continue to relate to them as more than just a survivor. Remember, this is your friend, your partner, your parent, etc.

Things you can say to a sexual assault survivor...

I’m sorry this happened to you.

It wasn’t your fault.

You survived – so you did the right thing.

Thank you for telling me.

I’m always here if you want to talk.

Can I do anything for you?

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PLEA gratefully acknowledges our primary core funder the Law Foundation of Saskatchewan for their continuing and generous support of our organization.