PTSD Professional Perspective: Acquaintance Rape: A Matter of Consent©, Part 6

The final installment of our ongoing series that began here.

by Dr. Amy Menna & Gift From Within6

6. Educate yourself on the topic of rape and related issues. Knowledge is power. It allows survivors to identify what happened and how it is affecting them. By educating themselves on topics such as “Rape Trauma Syndrome” or “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” they will be empowered and will better understand their symptoms. There are many excellent resources regarding recovery. It is important that they know the symptoms and aftermath of rape. Although every survivor’s recovery is individual, finding common ground may enhance their recovery as they realize they are not alone.

7. Identifying the impact of the rape. Before and after the rape, survivors may have certain thoughts, behaviors, or feelings. These may have changed as a result of the rape. For example, survivors may have had higher self-esteem prior to the rape and now they struggle with positive feelings about themselves. Survivors may be more depressed, anxious, or fearful. Painting the “before and after picture” will validate the impact of the rape. In addition, it shows survivors areas they want to strengthen.

8. Assign responsibility. Rape is the responsibility of the assailant. It doesn’t matter what the survivor was doing, wearing, drinking or what has transpired in the past. Rape happens as a result of the behavior of the assailant. It is NEVER the survivor’s fault. Being angry with themselves is a difficult place to be. Survivors need to listen to people when they validate them and their experience. Survivors need to hear those words and take them to heart.

9. Identify triggers. There are triggers that may remind survivors of the rape and creates feelings as if it is happening all over again. Getting triggered is typically a result of intrusive symptoms. We saw this in Hannah as she saw the fraternity house where the rape happened. This step may also be difficult as it asks survivors to look at components of the rape. It does not have to be an exhaustive list. In looking at where survivors “buttons” are they can be prepared and stay in the here and now. When survivors get triggered, typically they move through the symptoms of PTSD. Survivors may have anxiety, intrusive thoughts, or they may feel as if they need to retreat by leaving the room either physically or psychologically. Remember that to get triggered is normal.

10. Get help with other concerns. It is not uncommon for survivors to have problems that are not associated with the assault. These include physical problems, yearly check-ups, dentist, etc. It is very common for women to neglect going to the gynecologist as it may be too traumatic. It is important that survivors have a “well-rounded” recovery. In taking care of their health, they may be better equipped to deal with additional stress.

11. Empower yourself. It is important that survivors cultivate and regain their power. They may do so by reaching out to others whom have had the same experience, taking a self-defense class, or doing something they have always wanted to do. Realize that some fear is normal. It is important to lean into the resistance and move through life intentionally.

ASSISTING RAPE SURVIVORS

Listen. It is the most important thing that a loved one can do with a survivor. Helping others does not include having all the answers. Family and friends can help a survivor by educating themselves and increasing their own awareness. We can all learn how to be effective helpers.

It is beneficial to bear witness to their healing process. It may be tough to know or hear difficult things, but remember, the survivor is looking for safety. Create a non-judgmental environment where the survivor is welcome to speak about any and all aspects of the rape. It would also help to ask the survivor directly about what they need.

Playing a part in finding resources is also helpful but it is important to let the survivor lead. If they are not ready for these resources, let them know what is available when they are. Suggesting counseling is important when helping rape survivors. Many communities have rape crisis organizations and services that cater to rape survivors. Remember that stepping out of their comfort zone may be necessary but it may take time. Please be gentle and supportive since it is important that a survivor maintain a feeling of safety. If the survivor is a student there are counseling and psychological services available in most colleges and universities. There are also groups and clubs on campus that can help the survivor feel supportive on their healing journey.

CONCLUSION

Cultivating awareness is the first step in eradicating the heinous crime of rape. In doing so, we offer support to survivors and construct a wall of prevention. In bringing rape to light, we can end the darkness so many feel. Silence crumbles and voices build. May the expressions of survivors be heard. May the people who love them stand up. May the world respond to this growing problem. To wage a war is easy, to win it takes perseverance.

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 atamymenna@aol.com

Gift From Within, (www.giftfromwithin.org) 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.

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