How to Deal with the Effects of Sexual Trauma

The statistics regarding sexual trauma in the U.S. are staggering. Most recent reports cite that while the rate of sexual assault has fallen since 1993, 1.6 people in 1000 will experience sexual assault in their lifetime. In one year:

  • 321,500 people age 12 and older are assaulted or raped each year
  • 18,900 military personnel experienced unwanted sexual contact
  • 60,000 children were victims of sexual abuse
  • 80,600 inmates were assaulted or raped

We know, however, that sexual assault is the most underreported crime despite these statistics. Whether due to fear, shame, or lack of understanding how to report; the failure to report and to get treatment has effects far beyond the physical. Many individuals who fail to report the crimes also fail to receive treatment, leaving them experiencing anxiety, depression, intrusive memories and difficulties with intimacy. With today’s heightened awareness of the problem, however, it is important to learn more and realize that there are other people who experienced this trauma and there are ways to deal with the effects and there is help available.

Myths and Facts about Sexual Trauma

For the individual who suffered sexual trauma, one of the most important steps to healing is to realize that what he or she feels after the event has occurred are a reaction and not reality. It is important to begin to look at these feelings and understand they are not real. This article lists the myths that many victims believe and facts to counter them.

  • Rapists cannot be identified before the assault occurs, many assailants are friendly and charming people.
  • It is common to freeze during an assault and not fight back.
  • No one “asks” to be assaulted, the assault did not occur because of the way a person acted or dressed.
  • Most date rapes occur by repeat offenders. The rapist has done it before and if not stopped, will probably do it again.
  • A person who has previously consented to sex with the assailant has been raped if they did not consent this time.

How to Start Healing

Once the victim begins to understand these myths, then it is time to start the healing process. Begin by reframing what happened and understanding who is at fault can help. It is important to talk about what happened with a trusted friend or advisor and avoid isolation. Victims commonly experience “flashbacks” or upsetting memories. Learning to anticipate triggers and deal with these can help the victim work through these times. Breathing exercises are some of the best coping mechanisms at this time. Learning to reconnect with the body is another way of coping. Meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, dance and even massage can help with healing and relaxation. Self-care and nurturing are especially important at this time. Just as a person would take time to recover from a serious illness, allow time to recover from sexual trauma. A victim should seek professional help as soon as possible for assistance with these healing steps and further dealing with the trauma. The statistics around the negative effects of failing to seek assistance are nearly as staggering as those of sexual assault.

Getting Treatment

There are many effective modes of treatment for the victim of sexual assault.  (ART) Accelerated Resolution Therapy’s brief modality allows victims to make significant progress in as few as three to five sessions. Each mode of therapy is slightly different but each offers positive outcomes to help the victim move past this trauma and move forward with their lives.  Professional therapy can teach the victim resources to use to calm themselves when traumatic memories resurface and reduce recurrence of these thoughts. It can help fight depression and anxiety that are common after sexual trauma and can help rebuild confidence and regain quality of life.

ART benefits victims in that it involves several treatment disciplines working to direct the way in which distressing memories and images are stored in the brain so that they no longer trigger strong physical and emotional reactions. To learn more about this revolutionary therapy or find a provider contact us. We look forward to helping.

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