How does a sexual violence survivor recover during the pandemic?
The journey to recovery from sexual violence can feel lonely for the survivor, as the people around them most times find it difficult to understand what they are going through and therefore do not know how to be of help. Having a support system is one of the major needs of a sexual violence survivor. The support system could be made up of family, friends, doctors or therapists
However, giving the times we are in, a sexual violence survivor may find it even lonelier. This is due to the fact that with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the social restrictions, some survivors may be afraid to go out and seek help, due to the fear of contracting the virus.
For others who appreciate physical presence, they may find it lonely not to be able to have the physical presence of members of their support system, due to the social restrictions.
Recovering from sexual violence takes time, and the healing process can be painful. But you can regain your sense of control, rebuild your self-worth, and learn to heal. In spite of the current social restrictions, and heightened feelings of loneliness, you can still work towards your recovery journey, making use of other strengths and resources at your disposal.
Having to admit to being sexually violated can be very difficult. There’s a stigma attached and it can make you feel dirty and weak. You may also be afraid of how others will react. Will they judge you or look at you differently? It therefore seems easier to downplay what happened or keep it a secret.
But when you stay silent, you deny yourself help and reinforce your victimhood.
The first step to healing is to reach out to someone you can trust. There’s a tendency to feel that if you don’t talk about rape, it will go away like it never happened.
However you can’t heal when you are avoiding the truth. As scary as it is to open up, it will set you free. It is important to be selective about who you tell, at first.
Your best bet is someone who will be supportive, empathetic, and calm. If you don’t have someone you trust, talk to a therapist or call a rape crisis hotline. If your trusted person cannot be physically present, video and audio calls can help, given the current state of events worldwide.
It may take time and energy to heal after you have been sexually assaulted. Don’t expect yourself to feel better right away. Be patient with yourself and give yourself the time you need to figure out how this experience has affected you.
You will experience a range of emotions and it is important that you recognise that the emotions you are experiencing are part of the healing process. These reactions can help you to understand how the sexual assault has affected you. Taking the time to understand these reactions is an important part of the recovery process.
You may be having feelings of shame and guilt and possibly blame yourself for what happened. These feelings are normal, but however need to be challenged. Irrespective of what led to the event, you are NOT to blame for what happened. The perpetrator is COMPLETELY responsible for his actions towards you. It’s important therefore that you continually remind yourself of this anytime the feelings of guilt and self-blame arise.
There are times you might have flashbacks or nightmares about the traumatic event and it feels very real like you are re-living it. In order to manage this, you can apply a technique known as Grounding.
Grounding is a tool that helps you remain in the here and now and not feel like you are reliving the trauma. You can look around your environment and call out what you see. This will help send a message to your brain that you are in a familiar place and not in any danger. It’s important to remind yourself that you are safe and not re-living the trauma.
Sometimes, flashbacks and nightmares could be triggered by events around you. It is therefore important try to identify and avoid triggers as much as possible.
One major trigger is the constant reports of sexual violence cases by the media on a daily basis. Sadly, the lockdown contributed to this rise in the cased of sexual violence and other forms of domestic abuse. In order to protect yourself, you need to shield yourself from these reports as much as it lies within your power.
Trauma has a way of making you feel helpless and vulnerable. It is therefore important that you find ways to challenge your feelings of helplessness and isolation. You need to remind yourself that you have strengths and coping skills that can get you through tough times.
One of the best ways to reclaim your sense of power is by helping others: volunteer your time or resources, reach out to a friend in need, or donate to your favourite charity.
Helping others always makes us feel good because it gives us a sense of purpose and usefulness.
Joining a support group for other rape or sexual abuse survivors can also be very beneficial. Support groups can help you feel less isolated and alone. They also provide invaluable information on how to cope with symptoms and work towards recovery.
If you can’t find a support group in your area or are afraid to go out because of the ongoing pandemic, look for an online group to join. We are glad to let you know that WARIF in collaboration with She Writes Woman (SWW) is currently running both group and individual virtual sessions for survivors of Gender Based violence. Some survivors have taken advantage of this opportunity and are the better for it.
If you have been raped or you know someone who has, please visit us at The WARIF Centre: 6, Turton Street, off Thorburn Avenue, Sabo, Yaba or call our 24-hour confidential helpline on 08092100009.
If you would like to be a part of the WARIF-SWW Virtual Group sessions please use this link to register: bit.ly/SWWxWARIFsupportgroup.