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Seeking Help as a Survivor of Sexual Violence

Seeking Help as a Survivor of Sexual Violence Bahman Farzad
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Rape, abuse, and sexual assault are crimes that overwhelmingly target women, so I will be speaking primarily about women who have survived these things, and from my own experiences as a woman who has been assaulted. Through this series of articles, I hope to provide survivors and their supporters with resources, wisdom, and understanding, using myself as an example.

  Damaging Myths

Like everyone else, I grew up on the myths that women would only be exposed to assault and abuse if they made bad decisions, such as walking home alone at night, wearing too short a skirt, or drinking too much at a bar. With all the rape cases in the news lately, I know it has been said many times, but it bears repeating: It is never the victim's fault. There is nothing that you can do to "cause" a rape. The only thing that causes a rape is the presence of a rapist, and since they don't exactly walk about town with neon signs over their heads declaring their intentions, you may not know until it's too late.

It is not your fault. Ever.

If you are reading this as someone who has been subject to abuse or assault, know this: You did not deserve it. You did not do anything wrong. Your feelings are valid, and no one has the right to silence you.

There are several options out there for you to consider. And again, these are options. None of them are mandatory steps that you must take in order recover; they are suggestions, alternatives, stepping stones, and jumping-off points. You are not limited to picking only one of these options, either - you may do whatever you feel is necessary, and whatever you're ready for.

  The Legal Route

You may attempt to prosecute your rapist/abuser(s). This will usually entail spending a large amount of time going back and forth with police, and eventually, perhaps, court officials. You can call your local station anonymously and give "tips" about the perpetrator(s), or you can go down to the station yourself and give a formal statement about what happened to you. Sometimes, the officers will be very accommodating and come to you, instead, so that you don't have to leave your house if you're afraid to do so. The laws vary by state (this is assuming you are American, like myself), so you would have to check and see if there is a statute of limitations in place - that is, if there is a certain window of time you have between the incident itself and when you can pursue legal action for it. I spoke to my local police station about this briefly and was told that it is never too late to report.

However, it is also important to realize that 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail, and that the legal process in the United States is very slow and drawn out; it could be very taxing on you emotionally to have to attend hearing after hearing, with a potentially unfavorable outcome. For some women, this doesn't matter; attempting to take an abuser to court can, in itself, be a cathartic and helpful thing.

  Documentation and Medication

You may seek help from a hospital or doctor. If the incident happened very recently (as in, within the past few days), they will likely ask you to have a "rape kit" done, which may also be helpful if you intend to legally pursue action against the person who harmed you. If you have visible bruises, pictures will be taken and each injury will be documented in great detail by the professional who is attending to you. If possible, ask for a female practitioner; even if you feel that you would be comfortable with allowing a male practitioner to handle it, many women find that it is easier to explain sensitive issues to other women, especially if they were assaulted by a man in the first place.

You may also be interested in trying medication. This can be anything from medication to help you cope with physical pain, to psychiatric medications intended to ease mental anguish. If you are looking into psychiatric medications, then I strongly recommend seeking out a counselor, as well. This way, the counselor will be able to communicate closely with your doctor/psychiatrist and they will both be able to make more informed decisions on how to treat you. This is especially helpful if you have developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of the assault.

  Therapy and Counseling

Counseling is an option that many people are put off from trying, but it is my personal favorite, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. You can find a therapist or counselor in your area by contacting your health insurance provider - their phone numbers are listed on the back of your insurance card - and asking for a list of eligible practitioners in your area.

If your health insurance plan does not cover mental health treatment, or you lack health insurance completely, you can call the women's shelters nearest to you and ask them to refer you. Calling a women's shelter and asking for aid is a great idea regardless of whether you want to pursue therapy (of which there are many kinds, from talk therapy to art therapy and everything in between), as they have extensive knowledge and access to dozens of ways to help you. That is their job, after all, as a shelter for women. You do not need to physically stay in said shelter in order to utilize their services, but if the abuse you've endured is ongoing and you need protection, they will certainly find you a place to stay and keep you safe from harm.

There are numerous hotlines you can call, but since many people have great difficulty talking about their troubles in person or over the phone, there are also various online forums for support which can be infinitely helpful.

IM Alive, for instance, is an organization that will allow you to talk to a trained individual in real time and discuss your problems in that manner; they are also a great option if you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or ideation, as they can talk you down from that point of view and refer you to offline help.

Pandora's Project is a website featuring a collection of resources for survivors, but is perhaps best known for its active forum, where you can talk about your experiences, participate in healing activities, and attend meetings and workshops that take place via chatroom.

  You Will Flourish

If you have even the slightest inkling that you may need professional help - in ANY capacity - then you are entitled to that. Do not feel guilty or stupid for taking care of yourself. You are here now, and you are a survivor. You may not hear this often, but you do need to hear it, because it's the truth. You have been hurt. It doesn't matter if someone else "had it worse" or if you're not really "sure" of what to call what happened to you. It doesn't matter if you don't know if it "counts," or if it was "real." Whatever happened, happened, and you deserve every resource available in order to recover from that.

Survivors don’t hear it enough that they can take all the time they need, so don't rush yourself on the road to recovery. If you stumble, that's alright. It might be difficult, but it is absolutely worth it. You can do it. You will triumph. I believe in you. Every person on this planet who has survived these horrors and has come out thriving, they believe in you too. You will flourish. A lotus blossom is a lovely flower that sprouts from the mud and muck at the bottom of a pond, rises above it, and blooms brilliantly on the surface. We, as survivors, are no different. We are tough, we are resilient, and we are every bit as beautiful.

Often times, “healing” is viewed through our ability to return to "normal" and distance ourselves from our trauma. Some of us can do that. Others will be forever changed. The one thing I do know for certain, though, is that help is out there, that your distress can be managed, and that you deserve the very best.

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Comments

Edeneve  

it took courage to share your story - thank you.

06/18/2013

very brave

06/20/2013

Ah, thank you for sharing this article. I was sexually assaulted by a long time childhood friend, and when I told people I was called a liar and a slut. I didn't have the courage to take legal action- why would the police believe me when my own family didn't? I'm still angry over it, and several relationships have been damaged from it. I am sharing this because I want others to hear that it's ok, and that they aren't alone.

07/13/2013

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