Each year, there are 450,000+ reported victims of rape and sexual assault. The total number is likely much higher. Dealing with sexual trauma is incredibly harrowing, and the physical, mental, and emotional damage caused by it can last a lifetime. According to the CDC :
- More than 33% of women and 25% of men have experienced sexual violence involving physical contact during their lifetime.
- Almost 1 in 5 women have experienced attempted or completed rape during their lifetime.
- Roughly 33% of women and 25% of men who were rape victims experienced it for the first time as children.
Sexual assault survivors navigate the complexities of their trauma while trying to maintain balance in their lives, as Michaela Coel’s HBO hit I May Destroy You shows us all too well. No matter your experience, you need to find ways to manage your pain in a healthy and constructive manner. It’s the best way to cope with the horrible experience you or a loved one has endured. Here’s how to deal with sexual trauma:
Understanding Sexual Trauma
Sexual trauma can stem from many types of sexual crimes, as defined by federal law. These include, but are not limited to:
- Sexual harassment – Any unwelcome conduct of a nature that creates a hostile, offensive, or intimidating environment.
- Forcible/unlawful touching – Intentional physical contact with a person’s private body parts without their consent.
- Sexual violence – Any type of sexual harassment or discrimination, including nonconsensual sexual contact, stalking, dating violence, and domestic violence.
- Stalking – Intentional, repeated harassment or following of another person, making them fear for their safety.
- Aggravated sexual abuse – Any type of sexual penetration on another person against their will and without their consent.
Many sexual assault crimes are considered felonies, depending on where you live. Here are Massachusetts current sexual assault laws.
Why Doesn’t Sexual Assault Get Reported?
Many victims of sexual assault avoid seeking treatment and find their own ways to cope. Here are a few reasons why these incidents go unreported: The assault was “too minor” or insignificant. If someone grabber your butt or touches your genitals without you wanting to and without your consent, it’s still sexual assault. However, many people won’t want to pursue charges or seek help because it’s “not a big deal” or “happens all the time.” The assault “happened a long time ago.” While there are statutes of limitations on sexual assault crimes, the perpetrator of your assault may be a repeat offender. Either way, there’s no time limit on getting the help you need. If you were sexually assaulted as a college student and still suffer from PTSD, we recommend seeking professional help. The victims are ashamed or too embarrassed to say anything. No one wants to admit to being a victim of sexual assault. However, if you don’t tell your loved ones, a therapist or physician, or attend a sexual assault survivors support group, you may end up suffering in silence. Unfortunately, the suffering is very real. Survivors of sexual assault are often at risk for mental health issues, including:
- Increased stress and anxiety
- Eating disorders
- Increased drug and alcohol use
Tips for Improving Your Wellness
Everyone’s experience and sexual trauma is different. Here are a few tips for helping you cope with yours: Find a coping strategy. Take on a hobby that calms your physiological response to trauma, like yoga or meditation. Focus on your breathing whenever something triggers feelings or flashbacks of your assault. Slowly inhale your breath for four seconds, hold it for four seconds, and then exhale for four seconds. Repeat this to slow your heartbeat and return to homeostasis. Talk to your loved ones. Telling your loved ones will be a painful experience for both you and them. However, your friends and family know us best and can provide you with an amazing support system. Sometimes even just talking about your experience can be therapeutic. Join a support group. Talking to your loved ones about your experience can be difficult. Sometimes it’s easier to talk to strangers first, especially those who have also experienced sexual assault. Explore cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is rooted in the idea that how you think, feel, and act is all interconnected, and that you can manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave. With CBT, you can alter negative thought patterns about you can your surroundings to treat symptoms related to your experience. Take it slow. You can’t rush getting better. Everyone’s healing process is different, so move at your own pace. Mind your body. Sexual assault may affect your body image. Survivors often are at increased risk of self-harm and may experience self-loathing. If you have these feelings, you need to address them immediately. Find an in-person or online community of people practicing body positivity. Love yourself first. Sexual assault can lead to intimacy issues. You may not want to be touched by a partner or loved one. Reintroduce intimacy by first working on yourself. This can be through masturbation, taking a warm bath, or other forms of self-pleasure. Remember to take things slow. You can’t rush your feelings.
Final Thoughts on Sexual Trauma
No one deserves to endure sexual trauma. Unfortunately, it happens often, and many victims suffer in silence. No matter your experience, you deserve to reclaim your sexuality, heal, and move on with your life. If you’ve experienced sexual assault and need support, send us a message . Our practice has an open door and an open heart.