If you are a survivor, there is not one perfect way to reach out for help. Again, much depends on your unique situation. You just need to start somewhere. The following are some possible starting points, but just remember that you are not meant to do this alone.
* Read. The books you read don’t need to be Christian to be helpful. The library has books on various types of rape.
* Join a recovery group at your local YWCA.
* Write out your story in as much detail as you are able, and let the tears come as often and as long as they need to. It is okay to cry, in fact, it is much healthier to cry when something hurts than to not cry. Chemicals are actually released in the tears that give your body relief. Isn’t that amazing? You were designed to cry over something like sexual violence. It is part of God’s way to help heal you.
* Find a supportive, compassionate friend you can read your story to who will hold you if you need to cry or want to be held.
* Tell your story to a tape recorder. Let that be your listening agent. You can erase taping later if you are afraid someone else might get to it and you don’t want that to happen.
* Find a church with a survivor support group. Ask what training the leader has and if the group is following a book designed for group counseling. Sometimes private therapists will have survivor support groups also.
* Use the internet. Many states have rape recovery websites with local resources listed. The internet can also help you find other survivor groups and therapy resources.
* Look for a church with trained lay counseling available. When the training is good, counselors know when or if they need to refer to a professional.
* Seek a professional therapist. If you choose this option I recommend an EMDR trained therapist (discussed in chapter 6). Any therapist can say they do EMDR as there are currently no requirements on what that means, so ask to see their credentials. Certificates are handed out for levels of training. Ask about their experience treating your issues.
One expert describes PTSD as developing when our normal adaptive response to trauma—the attempt to fight or flee—is not possible or persists over a period of time (as under combat conditions). It occurs also when the victim is left with nothing else to do but freeze in response. [“Dissociation, A Normal Response To Trauma,” Mary Laura English, c. 2002, 2009,
If left untreated it is not unusual for survivors to develop a type of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder described as chronic and may be with delayed onset. “The essential feature of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is the development of characteristic symptoms following exposure to an extreme traumatic stressor involving direct personal experience of an event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury, or other threat to one’s personal integrity ; or witnessing an event that involves death, injury or threat to the physical integrity of another person,; or learning about unexpected or violent death, serious harm, or threat of death or injury experienced by a family member or other close associate.” [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, (Washington D.C.: American Psychiatric Association, 2005) 424] Whether or not you’re aware of an event (appropriate for those who have experienced rape and/or other types of sexual violence, but don’t recognize it as such or it is unconscious), expect reactions and don’t think you must “get over it” quickly.
Symptoms of PTSD:
- The traumatic event is re-experienced as if it is still happening.
- Memories may be triggered by smell, taste, sound, picture, emotion, or all these at one time—even though the current experience had nothing to do with the past trauma.
- Heightened alertness may create a faster heartbeat, cold sweats, rapid breathing or jumpiness.
- Attempts to reduce or avoid contact with anything that might trigger the uncomfortable flashback.
- Refer to DSM-IV for more detailed description.
- Occur when the mind is able to compartmentalize and shut out certain memories and emotions from awareness.
- Ability to function fairly well until something happens to disrupt the status quo such as a work injury, childbirth, a bothersome behavior, or a relationship difficulty.
To move forward in healing, a survivor can and must begin somewhere by doing something. If you don’t like what you start with, try something else. You have a right to shop elsewhere for what fits you.
* Check out your local YWCA Rape Crisis Hotline and recovery groups.
* Go to www.raperecoverycenter.com for free services.
* See what Victim Witness Assistance Program offers.
* Call for personal therapy with a qualified counselor trained in trauma.
* Ask at your church for well-trained lay counseling.
* Look in your newspaper or on Craig’s List for local group therapy and support.
* Journal your heart out: write, write, write your story, feelings and questions. Burn it up afterwards if you wish.
*Counter the lies of how you feel with the truths of Scripture in a daily notebook.
* Educate yourself online by researching sexual violence.
* Ask someone about Model Mugging that promotes self-respect, self-love, self-esteem and self-confidence.
* Pray for a safe and dependable support person and take heart that there is someone who will be there for you.
* Cry as much and as long as you need to: it’s highly therapeutic.
* Remember to tell yourself daily: “It wasn’t my fault. I’m safe now. I have choices.”
Prayers of the heart are the way to see more clearly—not only our own needy, distorted, and anxious self, but the caring face of our compassionate God. When that vision remains clear, it is possible to move through our tumultuous inner world with peace and serenity. Before we speak a word, the Spirit of God is praying and will make His presence known.
The following short simple prayers are an introduction to prayer after a violent experience. You may only be able to pray one word at first. Then, you can add words requesting God’s presence or aid.
* Lord, help.
* Lord, have mercy.
* The Lord is my Shepherd.
* O God, come to my assistance.
* Jesus, Master, have mercy on me.
* Lord, with your great goodness cleanse me.
When police arrested a high school coach on suspicion of the rape of a 14-year-old girl he lured through MySpace.com, the girl believed she’d been corresponding with female model. The woman suggested the girl contact her agent, offering his cell number. The suspect lured the girl to a parking lot and then drove her to a residence under the pretense of signing papers. Once in the home, he forcibly raped the girl. Later, by coincidence, she saw him at a public event and learned he was the boyfriend of an acquaintance. She reported it to police.
*Monitor the way your children use the Internet. HOW SO?
* Speak frankly about sexual predators and other criminals who use it to find victims.
* Maintain a healthy respect for the diabolical creativity of perpetrators.
* Get all the best safety nets and protective software you can for your computer. WHAT ARE SOME OF THESE?
* Educate, protect, and hold accountable your children for safe use of online resources.
* Take the elevator instead of stairs; stairwells are not good places to be alone.
* If on an elevator, someone makes you uncomfortable, get off as soon as possible. Use your instincts, look men straight in the eye and make a comment about the weather.
* Stand near the front of the elevator, by the doors so you can make an exit if necessary.
* Stay alert and intuitive when visiting public restrooms. Try to wait until you see another person entering before you go in. Avoid parking lots at night; see tips for car safety—the attacker usually wants to get his victim to a second location.
* If followed into an elevator, a garage, or stairwell, turn and look the stranger in the face, then ask for the time. The idea is to see their face and intuit the situation so you respond on the defensive.
* Don’t be the one who closes a business down at night. If you must, require that someone be with you; this is a job for a man or a group.
* Make sure hallways, garages, and grounds are well lit.
* Keep your garage door closed at all times.
* Have your key ready to open the door.
* Install timers on lights in the house or leave a couple of lights on.
* Use devises that turn on a radio or television at a certain time of evening.
* If you suspect someone in your home before you go in, leave and call police.
* If you hear a suspect noise, call out to your “husband” even if he is not there.
* Don’t depend on your dog to be an alarm. Predators may come armed with poison meat or let the dog out.
* If you hear someone outside your home, turn on all outside lights and call the police.
* Keep opaque draperies and shades drawn at night, covering your windows completely.
* Be cautious of a casual acquaintance visiting unannounced. Many rapists know their victims and carefully plan their timing.
* Don’t allow small children to open the door—ever.
* Don’t allow anyone into your home to make an emergency call; offer to make it for them.
* Never depend on chain locks; deadbolt locks with one-inch bolts are a necessity.
* Entry doors should be solid-core wood or metal.
* Never leave windows or doors unlocked when you leave home.
* Trim bushes and shrubbery around your home and place gravel under windows.
* Don’t spend time in apartment laundry rooms. Have someone you know accompany you.
* Install a home alarm system.
* Leave spare keys in an unsuspected place, not under a doormat or over the door.
* Don’t feel obligated to answer the door if you are not expecting anyone.
* Ask for identification of any unexpected service people, and check it carefully.
* Instruct babysitters never to tell callers they’re the babysitter.
* If you’re home alone when packages arrive, instruct they be left outside.
* List only your last name or initials on mailboxes and in the phonebook.
* Be aware where you give out personal information; use business contact info only.
* Don’t participate in telephone surveys; callers may be gathering personal information.
* Hang up on anyone saying things that make you uncomfortable.
* Picking up a call that’s a wrong number, don’t give out your own number. Ask what number they’re trying to reach and verify it’s not you.
* Don’t allow young children to answer the phone.
* Keep emergency numbers handy. Know the emergency code for your area.
When we become aware of sexual assault of anyone of any age, we can be love to these people. Let her pain touch your heart. This is to be Jesus’ ears, arms and hands. The following are practical ways to meet her needs in individual situations.
* Be a good listener. Encourage her to talk and express her feelings. Remain silent while she answers. Ask questions, knowing you can’t fix the damage, but you can believe her story and weep with her.
* If a legal process is initiated, walk through it with the survivor. Make phone calls for her, drive her to court and to the rapist’s parole meetings to keep him from being paroled.
* Check in with her on a regular basis, visit once a month and keep in touch by phone at least once a week for up to a year.
* Provide resources. Read books and rape-crisis material, pass them on to her or read them together with her. Search online for help for emotional, medical or financial needs. Offer phone numbers of counseling centers, locations, fees and other pertinent information.
* Pray with her. A liturgical forum can also be helpful to release grief and anger. Help her find a safe environment in a church. Some African-American churches offer a service where a godly man acts as stand-in for the abuser, listens to her heartbreak and responds in humility, asking forgiveness.
* Accompany her the first time she begins venturing out in public. Take her out for coffee or shopping for a break from her loneliness and fear.
* If she desires it, honor the anniversary date of the assault with her by meeting to pray or even to dress up and go out for dinner. This will be a life-giving honor for you and a gift of validation for her.
* Communicate support for her credibility. Even in the extremely rare cases where there is a false accusation, nothing can be lost by this approach.
* Pack away your judgment. Guard your heart against any blame or need to explain why this happened to her. How can you possibly know? Put away expectations of how she should heal. She will find her own way. Someone who is starting to deal with childhood abuse, triggered by a rape, may be as present with the pain and damage as if it has just occurred.
* If you are a family member, you, too, have been emotionally raped. Just like airline emergency victims are asked to get oxygen for themselves before offering it to children, get counseling for yourself.
* Fear: being alone, being in crowds, of the rapist returning, of places, people, things that remind her of the assault, of others finding out and what they will think of her, of men in general, of having to report or go to court, of her children being assaulted, of her own rape, of going to sleep, of recurring nightmares.
* Guilt: for having caused the rape, for not resisting more, for resisting too much, for being stupid enough to get into that situation, for all the reactions she is having, for not being able to nurture others at this time, for cultural /religious implications of having sex.
* Anger: at herself for “letting it happen,” at significant others for not understanding or protecting her, at society and the system, at the assailant and the total disruption of her life.
* Shame/Embarrassment: feels dirty, despoiled, humiliated, feels everyone knows by looking at her.
* Betrayal: by assailant even if it is someone she trusted, however briefly; by God, by reactions of significant others and/or society and the system.
* Lack of Trust: of her own ability to make judgments, of men in general.
* Powerless and Depressed: feels she has lost all control over her body and her life, it will never get better, totally victimized by the assault and by being a woman in society.
These guidelines are adapted from the YMCA
* Bring a change of clothing with you; the police may collect underwear or outer wear for evidence (semen or blood stains).
* Be sure the doctor notes any soreness or tenderness since bruises won’t appear for several hours or days after an injury.
* Ask for instruction on care of injuries, venereal disease follow-up information, or medication information if prescribed. Since many victims have difficulty sleeping, you may want to ask for a low-dosage sleeping medication or tranquilizer.
* Read the medical report or have it read to you; request important changes or additions.
* If police request you to come to the station for further questioning after the medical exam, you have the right to meet them at another time. Read the completed police report carefully and make any needed additions or corrections.
* Write down telephone numbers and names of the examination doctor, police contacts, investigative officer, detective who will be handling the case, and counselor.
*Contact a hotline or mental health center for counseling and advocacy before or immediately after leaving the hospital or police station. Make an appointment for the next day, or earlier.
* Arrange transportation from the hospital to a place with family or friends for the night. Police may take you to your destination.
* Once in safe surroundings, take a long bubbly bath, wash your hair, eat a good meal and try to get some sleep. Keep soothing music in the background.
* In coming days, allow some of the shock to ease a bit for the first couple of weeks before beginning normal routine. Individual needs and coping styles will vary.
* For a thorough description of law and resources in your area contact your county Criminal Justice Board and/or County Bar Association, and your local YMCA.
Survivors and their family members and friends keep the following in mind at all times:
* We hold the violator responsible for what happened.
* No one wants to get raped. No one asks to be raped.
* I am not responsible.
* I’m safe now.
* I have choices.
* The truth about ourselves and the truth about God are the two focal points that heal us.
* Sometimes the process hurts, but the process itself is healing.
* The brain tries very hard to heal itself just as the body does. Sometimes it needs help.
Daily affirmations for the Survivor:
* “I am dirty” becomes “I am innocent, clean, pure, etc.”
* “I am used goods” becomes “I am loveable and innocent, valuable,etc.”
* “I am no longer a virgin” becomes “I am a virgin.”
* “I should have run, fought back, avoided it somehow,” becomes “I am a survivor, I did exactly the right thing because I am still here.”
* “I am powerless”, becomes “I always have choices even when I don’t feel like it.”
* “I am worthless” becomes “I am worthy. God chose me to be his own.”
Exercise for Healing:
Do this exercise every week and notice the change!
Make a list of the negative things you are aware of that you now believe. Look up scripture that refutes your internalized belief. List each lie you believe, and next to it list the countering belief from scripture. Throughout the day, keep speaking the truth. Do this for one week
Examples of Scripture affirmations:
“I am a saint, chosen, predestined, adopted as his child.” Ephesians 1:1-5:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11:
Here are ways you can be helpful in the crisis of your survivor:
* Be supportive. Listen closely and tenderly. Indicate you care and appreciate her feelings.
* Don’t pry or ask for details and specifics. Give her the opportunity to talk about her feelings, fears and reactions in her own way.
* Recognize your own limitations in support. Her feelings and needs are most important right now. If she finds it difficult to talk, just be with her.
* Don’t tell her what she must or must not do. The decision to report or not is hers alone.
* See that she gets sensitive and competent medical attention and counseling. Seeking assistance doesn’t mean she must file a police report or press charges.
* Seek professional help for yourself. Find someone you can talk to about your own feelings in helping the survivor.
* Give the survivor the benefit of the doubt. Prejudgments can shut out new messages.
We hold ourselves responsible for what we do with our anger. We must feel it, acknowledge it, be glad of it, and treat it as a clue that something is wrong.
Here are some things you can do with your anger:
Assess your anger, what it is telling you, and then decide if it is important enough to do something about.
Remind yourself that you have a choice. If your anger warns you that you’re irritated because you’re being slowed down by someone else; you can accept what you cannot change.
Tell the person with whom you’re angry how you feel and why. Express it appropriately using “I feel angry when you_________.” statements. You’ll get better as you practice.
Allow the anger to go deeper and grieve at the damage done.
Let the anger rise and shout it out to God; He knows it’s there anyway. He is faithful; He isn’t going to leave you because of it.
Write out your feelings about yourself and your experience, God, the people involved, your family and friend. If you don’t want anyone to see it, you can burn it afterwards.
Ask a safe someone in your circle of support to hold you as you express your feelings to her.
Cry if you need to. When you cry tears of pain a different chemical is released than when you cry in joy or laughter; this chemical needs to be released. Notice how you feel afterwards.
Commit to growing in your ability to stop being defensive, blaming, attacking and in other ways hurtful to others and yourself.
* Use body language to communicate: If threatened by another presence, stand straight, keep your head up, swing your arms, walk confidently and firmly.
* Pay attention to your instincts. Don’t discount odd behavior. Get yourself to safety if threatened by another’s presence.
* If grabbed around the waist from behind, pinch the attacker—hard!—either under the arm between the elbow and armpit or in the upper inner thigh.
* Go for the groin. This is very painful and threatening to the attacker, for though he may be angered, he is looking for someone not likely to cause trouble.
* Grab his first two fingers and bend them back as far as possible if attacked with hands to your face. Use as much pressure pushing down on them as possible.
* Use your elbow where possible; it’s the strongest point on your body.
* Do everything you can to avoid being taken to another location. If you’re driving, immediately crash your car while going as slowly as possible. If he is driving, find the right time, and gouge his eyes hard with your fingers while he is watching the road; choose an unsuspecting time. While he is in shock, get out of the car and run.
* If he has a gun, run if you can. Even police have only about 40 percent accuracy when shooting 3-9 feet. A running target has a mere four percent chance of being hit, and then not likely in a vital organ. The goal is to do all you can to keep from being taken to what may become a crime scene.
* Poke him hard in the eyes with your fingers or offer a very hard kick in the knees, either the most vulnerable parts of the body. You may be given a gift of time to get away.
* Find an obstacle such as a parked car and run around it, like Ring Around the Rosy. Some women have reported that doing this helped save their lives.