(pdf) after sexual assault: a recovery guide for survivors
24-Hour Hotline: 212 227 3000 SAFE HORIZON hopes this guide will help the recovery
of anyone whose life has been affected by a sexual
assault. The Rape Crisis Program at Safe Horizon provides
individual and group counseling, workshops, support,
practical assistance, and information to victims of sexual
You Have Survived a Trauma . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Survivor’s Bill of Rights . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
Facts about Sexual Assault . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
What to Do to Help Yourself . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
Your Response to Sexual Assault . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Counseling . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
Some Additional Information . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
Survivor’s Measure of Growth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
How to Contact Safe Horizon . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
Rape and sexual assault are traumatic experiences that
may interrupt your life at home, at work, and at school,
affecting your relationships with friends, family, and co-
This guide can help you to begin sorting out your
emotions and concerns and to understand the facts sur-
You have survived, and now you can begin to
recover. Although this process is often slow and confus-
ing, with understanding and persistence you can accom-
plish a great deal. You have control over how you
The reassurance and support of friends, family, or
significant others is very important during this time, but
their reaction to your experience may not be what you
anticipate or would like it to be. People in your life will
react in different ways; some may express blame, others
may give you their full support. If you feel ready, you
should allow those who offer their support to help you
through this period—it will aid you in your recovery
process. But the decision to talk about your experience is
a personal choice. You do not have to share your expe-
rience with anyone until you feel ready.
When you are ready, Safe Horizon can help. Call one
of our rape crisis programs listed at the end of this guide,
or the Rape, Sexual Assault, and Incest Hotline at 212 227
3000. Our counselors are available for private, confidential
You have the right to be given the same credibility
You have the right to seek and receive help.
You have the right to courteous, efficient treatment.
You have the right to be treated with dignity and
respect, without prejudice against race, class, lifestyle, age, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or occupation.
You have the right to accurate information, presented in
You have the right to ask questions.
You have the right to make your own decisions.
You have the right to change your mind.
You have the right to get help and support from others.
The first step in recovery is to know the facts. “Sexual
assault” is a general term that includes: rape, incest, child
molestation, marital rape, date rape, sexual harassment,
sodomy, sexual abuse, voyeurism, and indecent exposure.
Sexual assault is a violent act committed primarily by
a perpetrator who needs to feel powerful and in control
by forcing someone else to participate in unwanted sex-
Often, the victim fears for his or her life or physical
well-being and feels that there is no choice but to do
what the attacker wants. But submission does not equal
consent. If you submit, it does not mean that you agreed
to or accepted the situation. A victim is never responsible
for being sexually assaulted. The responsibility for the
Sexual assault can cause significant trauma and disrupt
your physical and emotional health. Your recovery path
will take many stages, but the important thing is to take
IMMEDIATE ACTION AFTER BEING SEXUALLY ASSAULTED
After you have been sexually assaulted, it is important to
see a doctor before washing or taking a shower so that
physical evidence can be collected. Even though you
may not feel ready at this time to consider pressing
charges against your attacker, the physical evidence will
be preserved in case you decide to press charges at a
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF PHYSICALLY
The idea of seeing a doctor may seem unpleasant, but it
is important for you to see a medical professional.
Medical attention will help your immediate physical
health and may prevent further damage to your health.
You don’t have to go alone. Having a family member or
friend with you during the examination can help you
feel at ease during the procedures. Your Rape Crisis
Program counselor may also be able to arrange for an
Ask your medical professional to explain what he or
she is doing before the examination so that you know
what to expect. Make sure your doctor understands your
situation. You may be more sensitive than a person who
hasn’t been assaulted and may need more time and reas-
surance during medical procedures, no matter how rou-
tine. You have the right to interrupt or refuse any medical
procedure you do not wish to undergo.
You can get treatment for your physical injuries and
be tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), includ-
ing HIV, either at a hospital or by your private doctor.
Early detection of STDs is very important. Discuss any
medical concerns you have with your doctor or coun-
selor, but do not let concerns and fears prevent you from
receiving the medical treatment you need and deserve.
Many rape survivors find that receiving medical
attention helps them to regain a sense of control over
For more information concerning your physical
health, contact your local Planned Parenthood affiliate at
1 800 230 PLAN or www.plannedparenthood.org. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF EMOTIONALLY
Many rape survivors feel isolated in the aftermath of the
assault. In order to reduce those feelings, reach out for
support to those who are close to you: call family mem-
bers, friends, or a Rape Crisis Program counselor. It might
help you feel better to have someone to talk to, and you
might want people around you so that you feel safe.
Consider professional support or counseling. Having
someone to talk to about how you are feeling may help
you to deal with the emotions you are experiencing.
Additionally, a counselor can help you express your
needs to others and learn how to get those needs met. CONSIDER YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS AND KNOW WHAT SERVICES ARE AVAILABLE
One of the most important decisions you may struggle
with is whether or not to report the crime to the police.
Whether or not you decide to press charges, you deserve
support and should know about the range of services
available to you. You may report the crime and still decide
not to prosecute. You have the right to be notified of judi-
cial proceedings against the accused if you decide to pros-
ecute, and you may submit a victim impact statement
when the defendant is sentenced.* The New York StateCrime Victims Board may be able to reimburse you for
your direct out-of-pocket expenses caused by the crime.
There are many other general rights that a victim has, and
you should explore these with a counselor or someone
you trust who knows the law. Refer to our hotline or pro-
grams listed at the end of this brochure as a resource.
* The Rights of Crime Victims, New York State Crime Victims Board (1999)
Your response to an assault may cover a wide range of
physical and emotional symptoms, even some that may
not seem to result directly from the attack. Learning to
recognize these responses will help you gain control of
them. You may experience these symptoms immediately
or later in your life, or you may never experience any of
them. Every survivor responds differently. You may even
experience some symptoms that are not on this list. POSSIBLE PHYSICAL RESPONSES AND SYMPTOMS POSSIBLE EMOTIONAL RESPONSES AND SYMPTOMS
Sexual assault can change your feelings about yourself
and those around you. You may not feel the way you did
before the assault—physically, emotionally, socially, or
sexually. Counseling can help you deal with these issues
Safe Horizon’s Rape Crisis Program counselors will listen,
clarify, support, and explore options with you. Individual
counseling sessions with a supportive counselor can help
you identify issues you would like to resolve surrounding
the assault. Together, you will develop appropriate and
Group counseling will give you the opportunity to share
your feelings with other survivors, and although each
person recovers at a different pace, group counseling
provides an environment in which survivors can share
their experiences along with their techniques for recov-
ery. Many group members find inspiration and motivation
in the stories of other victims and get a unique kind of
support that helps them return to the lives they led before
If you have experienced a sexual assault, you may be left
with painful wounds that are invisible to others but very
real to you. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can
occur when people experience terrifying situations that
they cannot control. In cases of sexual assault, symptoms
can include all of the responses listed previously. These
symptoms can intrude into your daily life and prevent
you from working, maintaining relationships, or complet-
ing everyday tasks. If you feel this is happening, you may
want to seek help. A counselor can help you identify and
overcome PTSD, which is a normal reaction to a violent
VICTIMS WITH PTSD MIGHT ENCOUNTER:
• Intrusive flashbacks, dreams, dwelling on the assault
• Persistent or intense distress, anxiety, panic attacks,
stress, sleep disturbance, irritability, fear, including
anger, apprehension, indecision, difficulty in
concentrating, being easily startled, heightened
• Feelings of detachment, feeling like you are a
• Persistent avoidance of people, places, things
• Ambivalence or uncertainty about the future
• Reliving the event as if it were still occurring
The following list may help you feel better about your
• Accept that many of your responses are normal even
• Coping means different things to different people.
Develop a routine that is comfortable for you and that
has a positive outcome. Having a routine can be very
stabilizing in the face of traumatic stress.
• Recognize that your assault will also affect others
around you and that their reactions may vary.
• Take care of your health. A regular diet can lead to
well-being. Sugar and caffeine can increase your
stress level. Alcohol and drugs may delay some reac-
tions and ultimately make them worse.
• If you find you are abusing alcohol or drugs, you
• Allow time for adequate amounts of rest and relaxation.
Some techniques to consider are meditation, deep
breathing, listening to music, reading, religious rituals,
or anything that focuses and relaxes you.
• Physical activity is a great stress-reducer, even a short
walk. Try to work some exercise into your daily rou-
• We all need people. Social contact can make you feel
less isolated and more connected. Supportive listeners
can include friends, family, religious leaders, teachers,
professional counselors, or counseling groups.
Recovery takes time. Patience and understanding are
important in the recovery process. In addition to the sup-
port of friends, family, and loved ones, there are also pro-
fessional counselors and Rape Crisis Program personnel
who can assist you. Safe Horizon’s Rape Crisis Program
has trained counselors who can play an important role in
Use the checklist below to measure your recovery and to
help you develop your own list of goals.
■ I acknowledge that something terrible happened
■ I am beginning to deal with my feelings about the
■ I am angry about what was done to me but
recognize that my anger is not a constant part of myfeelings. It intrudes into other parts of my life in anegative way.
■ I can talk about the assault experience with a
■ I am beginning to understand my feelings about
■ I can give responsibility for the assault to the
person who attacked me. The responsibility isnot mine to accept.
■ I could not have prevented the assault, and I
recognize that I did the best I could to getthrough it.
■ I am developing a sense of my own self-value
■ I am comfortable with choices I make for myself.
■ I am developing a sense of being at ease with
■ I recognize that I have a choice about whether
■ I recognize that I have begun to get back
control in my life, that the assailant does nothave power over me.
■ I recognize that I have the right to regain
*From the New York City Task Force Against Sexual AssaultSAFE HORIZON is the nation’s leading nonprofit victim assistance, advocacy, and violence prevention organization.
With a staff of over 800, Safe Horizon offers 75 programs
throughout New York’s five boroughs. Our programs in
community offices, shelters, courts, police precincts, and
schools help over 250,000 New Yorkers every year.
Rape, Sexual Assault, and Incest Hotline 212 227 3000 (24 hours a day) 718 933 1000 718 827 4700 718 291 2555 718 720 2591
The SAFE HORIZON Rape Crisis Program is supported with funds from the New York State Department of Health and New York State Crime Victims Board.
24-Hour Hotline: 212 227 3000
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