Keep the conversation going
by Teresia Smith
Every year as we close out Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I find myself wondering if we’ve succeeded in reaching more people and given them knowledge and information to make a difference. It is very important to know how to react when someone confides in you that they have been assaulted. And it is very important that you know your community resources so you can help them reach out. Beyond that, there is another thing that is very important — continue the conversation.
We need to make it okay to talk about rape and sexual assault and not be silenced, to challenge the culture that makes it more shameful to be raped than to be a rapist. We need people to feel able to come forward and not be embarrassed or silenced. We must believe survivors and end victim shaming. And we must teach everyone what constitutes consent and sexual violence and what behaviors are not acceptable. It takes everyone speaking out to promote safety and respect.
We need people who have been assaulted to know that they can overcome this tragedy and reclaim their life. “There is a stigma attached to the word rape that often makes victims feel that if they say it aloud, it somehow means they are tainted or damaged. So let me be clear: While being raped can make you feel you are coming undone, in time it can become a life experience like any other challenge—that is, an experience that allows you to deepen your understanding of yourself and others, helps you grow and develop new skills, and helps you learn that strength and vulnerability are not incompatible. In other words, while being raped can shake your soul initially, with the right help and guidance, it does not have to stay that way forever.” (goodtherapy.org/blog/life-after-rape-5-keys-to-growth-and-healing-for-women-0217155).
How does one move forward in life after such a devastating event as rape? Each person is different but there are some common thoughts on healthy ways to cope. First, one must acknowledge what has happened to them. You may want to pretend the rape did not happen and just try to move on with your life. I wish it were that simple, but there is something in our consciousness that just will not allow that. At first, telling someone you have been raped is scary, so it is recommended that you are selective with whom you share your story so you receive the support you need. If you are not comfortable talking about your rape, consider keeping a journal where you can record your story and your feelings. Sometimes the act of writing down our thoughts can be beneficial in helping us to sort through our feelings.
Secondly, nurture yourself. It is very important to care for yourself throughout this process. Be kind to yourself and be patient with yourself. Self-care is crucial. Ask yourself questions such as how am I sleeping, am I eating properly, am I managing my anxiety, am I making sure to interact with friends and family, do I have someone I can talk to? Choose to do some healthy things that make you feel good such as taking a bubble bath, getting a new hairstyle, taking a relaxing walk, buying yourself some flowers, making lunch plans with a friend, reading a book, etc.
Lastly, some victims find it empowering to educate themselves about rape and recovery. Support groups can also be very helpful but if you aren’t ready for that, we offer individual crisis counseling. There is comfort in knowing you are not alone. It will take time to emotionally work through being raped. It’s important not to focus on it every day, while at the same time not ignoring your feelings. But you can make progress and heal. We are here for you and want to help you. If you or a loved one has been a victim of sexual assault or domestic violence, contact Crisis Services of North Alabama -Jackson County office at 256.574.5826 or our 24/7 HELPline at 256.716.1000.