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Recovering from Rape (Or Helping a Friend Who Has Been Sexually Assaulted)

by Lauren Tharp
by Lauren Tharp

I was raped when I was twenty-two. I was robbed of my virginity in the most heinous way possible.

After nearly ten years of living with severe PTSD, I'm fully recovered from the ordeal thanks to Prolonged Exposure Therapy.

However, if you've just gone through the same trauma – or know someone who has – then this post is for you…

If You've Just Been Raped…

You May Want to Withdraw

My reaction to rape was to withdraw from all of my other social activities. I wanted alone time to figure things out and just couldn't stand to be around people. I didn't want to answer questions or, well, deal with anything or anyone. It was my way of coping.

Wanting to withdraw is perfectly normal, and you don't have to feel bad or guilty about it. But, speaking from experience, please try to get back to your normal social routine as soon as you feel ready. Spending all that time alone with your thoughts can be really depressing, and friends can help (even if you don't tell them what happened right away).

Your Attitude Toward Sex May Change

Personally, I didn't want to go anywhere near having sex after I was raped. I felt uncomfortable with anything even remotely sexual. I didn't even want to masturbate!

This is a normal reaction to rape. However, if you can find someone who is willing to show you affection – hand-holding, hugging, etc. – without insisting you go all the way, then they can help you ease back into your sexual game.

Others may attempt to cope with what happened by going in the opposite direction: Having sex with a lot of people right away – attempting to have sex on their own terms to regain control. If you go this route, please be careful. This is also a perfectly normal reaction; however, it's slightly more dangerous, especially if you don't use precautions/protection.

Your Body May Change

I put on quite a few pounds after I was raped. I began stress eating. And I didn't actively work to lose the weight because it made me feel powerful. I would tell myself, “No man can control a woman he can't get his arms around!” It was my padding against the bad people in the world. Fortunately, “fat” is temporary, and you can lose the pounds you gain if you try hard enough.

Others may lose weight. Stress can have a crazy effect on your body! However, if you see that you're losing a lot of weight, you may have to check with yourself and make an honest assessment: Have you developed an eating disorder? If so, seek help as soon as you can!

Remember: Not All Men Are Evil

When you've been raped, everyone – especially men – can look like your next potential attacker. But, remember: Not all men (or women) are evil! Just the person who did this to you.

You have male friends, family, co-workers, and passersby in your life who are good, stand-up guys. Don't judge them by the actions of your rapist. And, when you're ready, let them help you recover.

If You Know Someone Who's Been Raped…

Don't Push

Listen, but don't push them for details. They've been through a hugely traumatic experience and they likely won't want to relive it.

And don't push them to go to the authorities either. Yes, ideally, they'd turn in their attacker and the piece of @#$% would end up being punished for his crime. However, if your friend doesn't want to turn him in – or, more likely, can't bear to – then don't push it.

Going to the cops means having to relive the experience over and over again through questioning and legal processes. Your friend may not have the strength to go through all that.

Try to understand and forgive them if they choose to keep their pain to themselves.

Don't Expect Them to Get Over It

It took me nearly a decade to get to the point where I can openly talk about what happened to me. And, even now, it's still a bit painful.

Don't expect your friend to get over their trauma right away. In fact, there's a chance that they may never fully get over it. And that's okay. Just be there for them. But…

Be There for Them on THEIR Terms

This goes along with “don't push.”

Your instinct may be to take your friend out to all the greatest parties and social events of the season to cheer them up; however, if their instinct is to withdraw and spend time in the comfort of their own home: Let them.

Simply ask them how you can help and be supportive – they'll let you know. Don't assume what they need. You'll have to trust that they'll come to you when they're ready.

Don't Judge

My rapist was a guy I was dating. He drugged my drink, took me to a secluded area, and did the deed.

Now, you could make a lot of judgments here:

  • Why were you dating that jerk in the first place?
  • Why did you accept a drink from him?
  • Why didn't you fight harder to get away when you saw he was taking you to a sketchy area?

Believe me. I asked myself all of those questions and then some! And your friend likely has similar questions swirling around in her (or his) mind. Having you make judgments and ask pointed questions is not going to help them recover.

Be patient. Be loving. Be there for them.

And if you're going through this trauma yourself: I feel for you. I promise, things will get better. When you're ready, seek out professional help. Therapy completely changed my life, and it could change yours for the better as well.

You are a survivor, not a victim. It may not feel like it now, but that strength will carry you through. Just hang in there!