A female patient began therapy after she started having flashbacks of a date rape in college. She thought the rape was behind her, but when her high school-aged daughter came home with college applications, the memory was triggered.
Regardless of the time elapsed since a sexual assault, even the smallest of triggers can lead to an increase in fears, stress and relationship problems. But utilizing the right recourses, like individual or group therapy, can help with physical and emotional symptoms.
A 2002 World Health Organization report estimated that about 1 in 4 females worldwide may experience sexual violence by her partner at least once in her lifetime.
A 2011 WHO report found that up to 11.5 percent of women reported sexual violence by a non-partner.
Depending on the country and study, these estimates can vary widely. Bear in mind that many sex-related crimes go unreported.
Survivors behind these statistics are real people dealing with lifelong consequences: short- and long-term physical symptoms, psychological symptoms and relationship problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Another patient had been working with multiple physicians regarding physical symptoms of a high school sexual assault: migraines, chronic pelvic pain and severe jaw pain from clenching her teeth. After years of minimal progress, she started therapy. She says all of her physical symptoms have gone away or decreased.
Here are important tips for survivors to keep in mind:
• You are not at fault. Sexual assault is a decision only the perpetrator can make. An assault is not caused by what a person is wearing, alcohol or any intimacy or relationship prior to the rape.
• You deserve help. Consequences of sexual violence can be extreme and long lasting. Find a trained therapist, a doctor to review physical symptoms and a support network. The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) is a good place to turn.
• You can find peace in survivorship, a choice one can make after being victimized. Strength, hope and peace are possible after sexual violence.
Know somebody who has been sexually assaulted? Here is some advice:
• Believe them. Less than 2 percent of sexual assault claims are false.
• Visit an emergency room within five days of an assault. Trained professionals called SANE/SART (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners/Teams) are educated to collect evidence, treat symptoms and advocate for the victim immediately afterwards. It’s best not to shower after the assault, and be sure to bring any clothing worn during or after the assault.
• Suggest therapy and/or a support group. Therapy can help survivors identify and move beyond fear, anxiety, anger and self-sabotage while also learning to reconnect with and trust others. A certified sex therapist can help people overcome sexual dysfunctions, fears of intimacy or intercourse and any relationship problems related to sexual violence.
Sexual violence is temporary. Survivorship lasts a lifetime.