Recovering from Rape - Five Phases

Recovering from Rape - Five Phases

 © konradbak #13565221 Adobe Stock

© konradbak #13565221 Adobe Stock

By Stephanie Elaine Cavanaugh -

Rape. It is far more common than most realize. Rape is the monster hiding in the shadows - often too uncomfortable for the general public to openly discuss, and too emotional for the victims of it to talk about. Well I am going to talk about it. I am going to bring attention to this tragedy that, sadly, is not so uncommon and is too often swept under the rug, ignored, or mentioned in only hushed whispers. Particularity with the recent election, it is critical now more than ever that we open our eyes to the rape culture, understand what is really happening, and fight against it.

Did you know, that statistically in the United States, 1 out of every 6 women will be the victim of either rape or attempted rape in her lifetime? And for some, it happens more than once. These statistics actually are likely too low, because so often, it goes completely unreported. But why? It is a little different for everyone.

For myself, I understand both sides of making the decision to report, or not. The first time I was raped it was a gang rape, I was 14 years old, in the wrong place at the wrong time ... and I reported it. What happened? First, I was expected to tell complete strangers the intimate, degrading, and horrifying details of exactly where and how I was touched and abused. Then, I was accused of “bringing it on myself” and that I probably “enjoyed that kind of thing”. For any human being and in particular, for a kid, this is devastating. You go to the authorities believing they are there to help you. Instead, a case is opened and then someone tries to make it seem like you were asking for it and that it was all your fault. Like you deserved to be raped. Sadly, this shaming and blaming by authorities is a common story for rape victims. In my case, the men were never found. So when, later down the road as an adult, I was date raped, going to the police and reporting it was so terrifying and stressful, I decided to not report.

Every rape victim has her own reasons for her decision to report or not. Now I’m not saying this blame against the victim happens every single time. But the reality is it happens a LOT. And we, as a society, have got to stop this rape culture of blaming - “Was her skirt too short?” or “Was she drinking?” or “Was she flirty?”. NO ONE deserves to be raped. And “NO!” means “NO!” Period.

Understanding the recovery process.

1: Shock

The first typical emotion is complete shock. A dazed feeling and a sense of almost being outside of yourself. For some, panic attacks ensue. Inability to even speak. Uncontrollable crying and shaking and difficulty breathing. A dirty feeling and uncontrollable need to shower and scrub the body again and again and again. 

2: Self Blame and Excuses

Next comes a kind of self blame. The rehashing of every detail in slow motion, wondering - “What could I have done differently?” or “If I’d fought harder or screamed louder, would it be different?” or “Is it somehow my fault because it happened?” or “Maybe he somehow didn’t really mean to do it.” These are generally the emotions immediately following the shock, once realization kicks in that it really happened.

3: Fear or Sadness

After all that, fear and sadness show up. Depression and sleeping too much or inability to sleep at all. Loss of interest in things that previously were exciting. Social recession. Fear about potential health issues resulting from the assault or new fear of the attacker himself. Fear of what will happen next or how others will react to it. It is after all this train wreck of emotion, that anger comes along ...

4: Anger

Now it is time for anger to set in. It is fiery and fierce. It is consuming. “How dare he!” and “Who does he think he is?!” and “No one can hurt someone like that and get away with it!” or “I will find my revenge!” Anger is a big step towards recovering. It is a critical part in acknowledging that you were wronged and taking the next steps to moving on.

5: Recovery

Finally, it is time to move towards recovery. It is a long process to get there. Allow yourself to feel. Allow yourself to get through the process. Allow yourself time to grieve. But also, know that you should not grieve forever. Do not allow yourself to let the tragedy get the best of you. Never allow him to have that kind of destructive power over you. Feel shock, feel sadness, fear, and anger. But eventually, let it go. Move on. Recover. And find the fabulous you inside yourself again.

If you or someone you know, experiences rape or sexual assault, it is important to understand the emotional train wreck that often follows. In understanding the process, you can know that, as horrifying as the tragedy is, you will come out on the other side of the darkness again - you will survive, you are not alone, and you have two choices. You can be a victim and let it destroy you, or, you can gain strength from it and use the experience as fuel for your passion to better the world.

Everyone: Let’s come together to fight against rape, assault, and harassment. We must move past this culture of blame and labels of “normal”. We must rise up, together. 

National Sexual Assault Hotline: # 800.656.HOPE

Please feel free to share your stories and experiences in the comments below. You are not alone.

About the Author:

Stephanie Elaine Cavanaugh - Hi, I'm Stephanie ... pleasure to become virtually acquainted. Please note the views and opinions communicated here are my own and not representative of any particular group or organization.

Interests, ever-evolving:  Photography, painting, art, science, medicine, astronomy, yoga, travel, the world, culture, language, education, women's rights, human rights, making the world a kinder, more beautiful place.

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