Healing After Rape

By Getty M. Bailey,

Coordinator, Victims of Sexual Trauma
Erie County Crisis Services

I was raped by an acquaintance many years ago. I never told anyone, and never thought that it affected my life very much at all. Since I became the Coordinator of the Advocate Program for Victims of Rape and Sexual Assault at Crisis Services of Erie County, many things have surfaced and many other things have become clear. In the nation, 1 out of every 3 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. The incidence of child sexual assault is alarming, especially when one considers that, until very recently, this was an issue unknown to the general public. It’s not that it wasn’t happening, it was that children were made to keep secrets, and those who chose to speak out were not believed. We all continue to find it hard to believe what people can do to each other to gain control. It represents a serious societal problem with many victims feeling caught in the middle.

Through my experiences working with rape survivors, my own experience has taken on new meaning. We all feel that, if we can just forget about what happened to us, we will be fine. Unfortunately, it is not like forgetting a bad date or a relationship that was painful, or a time when we were hurt physically in some way. It is not as easy as that, and we fool ourselves believing that it is.

As a supervisor and a rape crisis counselor, I see the damage inflicted on survivors by family members, friends, the legal system, and the media. Well-meaning folk often minimize the experience by saying, “You’re young, you’ll get over it,” or, “Time heals all,” or, “You have to get this guy before he does this to someone else,” or, my favorite, “Don’t you think that sometimes women ask for it?” It is at these times I remember that education is important and I try to do just that, when really what I want to say probably can’t be printed here. It is up to all of us survivors to educate and explain the extent to which those kinds of comments demean and degrade us and our experience. Everyone needs to know the extent to which we survivors felt powerless and confused, and the lengths to which we went to justify our actions and feelings about ourselves.

The healing process can be long and arduous. For those of us who didn’t think it was rape, the realization that it was can be devastating. Many people would say that, if we didn’t know, then how could it be rape, and why should it be bothering us now? It’s hard to answer these questions without defending my right to feel the way I do, which is often painful and insulting at the same time. Can you ever think of a time when someone told you something and you believed him and made decisions based on that information, only to find out later that it was not true? Magnify that feeling a billion times and maybe then you can come close to the feelings of betrayal, stupidity, responsibility and mistrust that one will feel after realizing what really happened.

For those who are very clear about what happened, there are still the questions and the judgments that can cause even the most stalwart survivors to waver in the belief of their innocence. The “what ifs,” the “if onlys,” and the “I should have knowns.” These self-defeating comments are often repeated with family members and friends nodding their heads in silent support of the victim’s shared responsibility for the assault. Others in society would like to make victims responsible for their assaults, because then there is something that all of us can do to prevent the possibility: “I won’t wear clothes like that; I won’t date men like that; it can’t happen to me because I’m careful; I can take care of myself.”

I have to say that there is hope and it’s in the form of trained rape crisis counselors who do nothing else but work with survivors. We know the ins and outs of the police investigation and the district attorney’s prosecution. We also provide individual and group counseling, as well as a 24-hour hotline. The unique thing about what we do is our belief in the power of the survivor to integrate the experience, and move on. We are there, through the difficult and triumphant times. In my case, as with many others who were raped and never sought help, I have learned many ways to cope with traumas in my life. Many coping mechanisms are negative and only cause more harm. The self-defeating things like, always expecting the worst, not accepting constructive feedback because it seems so personal, not asking for what we want or deserve because we feel that somehow we would be disappointed. Are all of these behaviors caused by the assault? Of course not! They are, however, exacerbated by an assault experience, and are often perpetuated because of the lack of self-confidence and control we feel after an assault. How we look at the world changes, too. We no longer trust so easily, awareness can make us feel paranoid and cynical for awhile. These feelings will pass if you talk with someone, especially someone who will listen, without judgment, and with empathy.

There are things that we can do for ourselves that will be important to our healing. Take care of what is important: our health, both physical and mental, and our relationships, improving and cultivating positive interactions in our lives. We need to examine who we are, and if we don’t know, we need to find out. Most of all, we need to be gentle with ourselves and remember that there is only one of us, and how truly special and important we are. We must not let what happened to us in an instant dictate what happens for the rest of our lives. I will close with something that we, as survivors, should read every day:

“People say, what is the sense of our small effort. They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has the right to sit down and feel hopeless. There’s too much work to do.”
—Dorothy Day.
Back to top
Back to Health

Last edited by patricia obletz. Based on work by Tyler Schuster.  Page last modified on July 12, 2011

Legal Information |  Designed and built by Emergency Digital. | Hosted by Steadfast Networks