Acquaintance Rape: A Matter of Consent©, Part 5

Acquaintance Rape: A Matter of Consent©

Guest post by Dr. Amy Menna courtesy of Gift From Within


After a year, Hannah’s mother suggested she go to counseling for her depression. Hannah agreed and proceeded to find a counselor and tell her about her anxiety and depression. She did not mention the rape. Hannah did not talk about the rape. After all, the counselor never asked.

Hannah spent a few sessions getting to know the counselor. It was going relatively well but Hannah continued to have flashbacks. Finally, Hannah took the initiative and told her counselor of her symptoms and that she had been raped. From this, the counselor explained how her present symptoms could be related to the rape. Hannah talked a great deal about the rape. Shortly there after they started talking about it, Hannah’s flashbacks started to go away.

Healing starts with talking about the assault. Without disclosing their struggles, survivors limit the amount of help they can receive. Talking about the experience is the recommendation of virtually every survivor. Without shedding light on their experience, many survivors feel as if they remain isolated in the darkness of their pain.

The suggestions below are not linear. They are about validating the experience of rape and working through the symptoms associated with it. When Hannah began talking about her experience, her counselor validated the fact that it was not her fault.

These are just a few steps toward recovery. Undoubtedly there will be other steps survivors will uncover as they continue on the journey. It is important that a survivor is issued unconditional positive regard and that she is gentle with herself in recovery. Remember it is progress, not perfection.

It may be an extremely difficult path; one survivor’s may not want to take alone. It is recommended that survivors have assistance in their recovery. It can be friends, family, a trained counselor, or any other person whom the survivor deems to be safe, trustworthy, and understanding. Although survivors may feel a great deal of isolation, it is important to know that they are not alone. Remember that this is a process where the survivor needs support and guidance.

Take these experiences as suggestions instead of demands set in stone. This may be a messy process, survivors may feel better at times, and worse at other times. This may be an introduction to recovery or enhancing the progress of recovery survivors have achieved in the past.

  1. Get a support system in place. Survivor’s need a strong support system in order to work through rape. However, they should be selective in the process. Survivors need someone who is understanding and nonjudgmental. The idea here is to feel safe. Support can also come from Internet support groups and different websites available to assist survivors of rape.
  2. Get a counselor. Although this may not be feasible, it is important that survivors have professional support. There are at least two litmus tests to see if the counselor is a good match. The two components are training and “chemistry.” The counselor should have experience treating trauma. If a survivor is somewhat comfortable, she may want to make an appointment. Survivors shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions either on the phone or in the session. It may take a few sessions, and they may not be 100% comfortable with any counselor.
  3. Identify strengths to build on: It important to know what the survivor is doing right or she will focus on what she’s doing wrong. Survivors should be mindful of their assets. It is helpful to write them down and place them on the mirror, refrigerator, anywhere they can be seen on a regular basis. Knowing the strengths to build upon will create the very foundation needed to work through the experience with rape.
  4. Identify ways to self-sooth. Anxiety and depression may be side effects of working through the ramifications of rape. Part of the foundation of recovery is to be able to soothe yourself when you are feeling anxious or just “out of sorts.” This can be difficult for survivors as they may feel that they are amidst a life under fire. This may not be easy, but it is important that they cultivate skills that are calming and can bring them back to center. Without these, the anxiety may pile up and the depression may become greater.
    It is important that they are able to find relief in something healthy. Drugs and alcohol will only complicate matters. Self-soothing can involve journaling, talking to a friend, going for a walk, meditating, or anything else that is not hurtful to the survivor or anyone else. Remember that the goal is to have a healthy outlet which calms anxiety, depression, and fear.
  5. Finding your story. When survivors keep things to themselves, they deny themselves help. This suggestion is difficult as survivors have to face their fear and have what may be the hardest conversation they will ever have. Many survivors think that if they don’t talk about it, it didn’t really happen. Suffering in silence is a struggle. “I was raped” may be the most difficult sentence they can utter. By voicing and validating their experience, they can open up to what is ahead. Although there may be things that they cannot remember; memories may come as they continue on this journey. Some may never come back. This is normal.

Amy Menna has a Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision, is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, and Certified Addictions Professional. She has over 10 years of experience treating survivors of sexual assault and has published on the topic of Rape Trauma Syndrome, resiliency, and childhood sexual abuse. She is in private practice and lives in Tampa, Florida. She is available by email at[email protected]

Gift From Within, ( is a non-profit organization dedicated to those who suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), those at risk for PTSD, and those who care for traumatized individuals.

The opinions in this post are solely those of the author. To contribute to ‘Professional Perspective’ contact Michele.

Photo acknowledgment 

Acquaintance Rape: A Matter of Consent©, Part 1

Acquaintance Rape: A Matter of Consent©, Part 2

Acquaintance Rape: A Matter of Consent©, Part 3

Acquaintance Rape: A Matter of Consent©, Part 4



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