How can you overcome sexual assault or rape?

A sexual assault can cause serious psychological consequences. Therefore, it is necessary to take certain steps to move forward on the road to recovery.

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 31 January, 2022

A sexual assault is one of the most painful and traumatic experiences that a human being can face. When suffering from it, physical and moral integrity are put in danger, the body’s alert systems are mobilized and the mind wanders confused between terror, rage, shame and guilt. And after that? Is it possible to overcome sexual assault or rape? In the following lines, we address the answer.

First of all, it is important to mention the high prevalence of this type of event. The data estimates that 1 in 5 women has experienced complete rape or attempted rape. Likewise, child sexual abuse affects approximately 20% of children and in more than 80% of cases the aggressors are people known and close to the victim.

These figures are alarming, especially if we take into account the serious impact that these events generate on a psychological level. Mental disorders, relational and sexual problems accompany the victims in a large part of the cases, especially if support and treatment are not obtained. So how to overcome an event of this nature?

Raise awareness about sexual assault and rape

Some behaviors of sexual abuse can be normalized and, therefore, are not detected immediately.

Each person who has experienced rape or sexual assault reacts differently and all of them are lawful. There are those who seek help and immediately decide to file a complaint. But there are also those who share what they experienced only with their closest circle and there are those who, for various reasons, keep what happened a secret.

The problem is that, in addition, on many occasions the person is not even aware that they have been abused. Either because it comes from someone close or because certain types of behavior are normalized. Therefore, it is first necessary to define these concepts.

A sexual assault is one of the most serious manifestations of sexual violence; this designates any act that violates the sexual freedom of another person. Therefore, it applies to any non-consensual sexual contact or behavior that is coerced or intimidated.

It is important to emphasize that sexual assault can occur within a couple or marriage and this does not detract from its validity. It can take place even if the person initially agreed to the approach and later withdrew their consent. In fact, it is still considered sexual assault if it is the victim who is forced to sexually touch the aggressor and not the other way around.

It is necessary to clarify that bullying does not always take place in a physical and violent way. Psychological coercion carries enormous weight and is frequently used by the aggressors. Thus, it is possible that multiple cases of sexual assault have not been recognized as such for not taking into account the above considerations.



What consequences does it have on the victim?

Overcoming a sexual assault or rape implies dealing with a series of serious psychological consequences. After the event they can appear symptoms of anxiety and depression, insomnia, suicidal ideation and an increased risk of falling into substance use.

They are usually present various negative emotions such as anger, guilt, shame or distrust and a wide variety of fears can arise. These mainly affect the relational plane, making the victim afraid of being alone, of being touched by others or of being close to people who may remind them of the aggressor.

Difficulties in establishing and maintaining an affective relationship are very common and various sexual dysfunctions can arise. But above all, in many cases symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder appear.

Among the main ones, nightmares, flashbacksintrusive memories and a pressing need to avoid everything reminiscent of the trauma… All these manifestations cause great discomfort and significantly limit the person’s day-to-day life.

How to overcome sexual assault or rape?

To overcome rape or sexual abuse, family and psychological support is necessary.

Overcoming sexual assault or rape is possible; however, it is an arduous path that takes time to travel and often requires great support. Some of the measures that can be taken in this regard are the following:

be aware of what happened

An essential first step is become aware that you have been the victim of an assault. As we have mentioned, it is not always easy to identify these situations and, in many cases, denial appears as a defense mechanism against an impact that cannot be tolerated. Therefore, the victim must give themselves time to process and accept what happened.

It does not matter if the event took place a few days ago or several years ago, if it was perpetrated by a stranger or by a trusted person and if the seriousness of the situation was realized at the time or if it was realized later. In all cases this reflective and introspective process is crucial.



get social support

Social support is a highly relevant factor in coping with sexual assault. Count on the accompaniment and understanding of friends and family it can help ease suffering and help you get on the road to recovery. Unfortunately, the close environment is not always willing to accept and recognize what happened and validate the victim’s feelings.

In these cases, it is essential to surround yourself with people who are truly willing to support and do not make room for those who try to blame the victim, downplay what happened or try to have the event hushed up or forgotten.

Communities and victim support groups (whether online or in person) can be a valuable resource. This is because they are safe spaces where the person knows that they are surrounded by other individuals who can understand their experience.

professional accompaniment

Not everyone who has experienced rape or sexual assault feels ready to seek professional help; however, this is one of the best steps that can be taken.

First, because a psychotherapy consultation offers a space designed to listen, empathize and accompany in which the facts can be reported with greater freedom than perhaps the immediate environment allows. But, above all, because a professional offers the tools to deal with the emotions, symptoms and limitations that have arisen as a result of the trauma.

There are various psychological approaches that have been shown to be effective in this type of case. For example, cognitive-behavioral therapy helps relieve or eliminate post-traumatic stress symptoms, emotional disturbances, and sexual avoidance.

To do this, it helps the victim to understand the physical and mental reactions of their body to the attack, allows them to restructure some dysfunctional ideas such as guilt and provides relaxation tools and coping skills to be able to resume daily life.

On the other hand, EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy is also an excellent alternative. In this case, the person is helped to process the information of what happened in an adaptive way and to integrate the perceptions, emotions, beliefs and derived sensations.

In any case, it is important Contact professionals specialized in the treatment of trauma and partner violence if the aggression has taken place within a relationship.

Despite the initial resistance that may be felt to go to therapy, taking this step will prevent the symptoms and disorders from worsening and perpetuating themselves over time. Overcoming sexual assault or rape is possible, but there is no reason to face this difficult process alone.

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