Emotions you may experience
At other times you may experience many emotions. These could include:
It is very unfair, but for this particular crime it is the victim who often experiences guilt, rather than the criminal. This is because we have been brought up to live our lives in a certain way, taught to be careful about where we go and with whom, even what we should wear. We are taught to be aware of attack. So if we are raped, other people may ask questions that seem to point the finger of blame at us, for example 'Why didn't you lock the door?' or 'What were you doing there?'.
Many victim/survivors of rape search within themselves for a 'reason' for the rape, when the only reason is that someone decided to rape you.
'it is extraordinary the lengths to which we go to blame ourselves for perfectly normal behaviour rather than blame the man for his violent and criminal act - an act which he chooses to commit.' [London Rape Crisis Centre 1984: Ch. 2].
In the words of one victim:
'I kept going over the whole thing again and again. Looking at every detail for what I did. I was convinced it was my fault ... that if I had not gone to the party, had not had a few drinks, had not talked to him, it would not have happened ... It took me a long time to see that I didn't do anything wrong.' [Unsourced photocopy, Loddon Campaspe CASA. 'Psychological Impact of Sexual Assault']
If the person who sexually assaulted you is someone you trusted, betrayal is another common feeling for victims of this crime.
'Trust is the main issue here, trust betrayed often by those they believed had their best interests at heart.' [CSV booklet: p.4].
After being sexually assaulted, it is natural for victim/survivors to feel differently about their bodies. Some feel that their bodies are dirty. They spend a lot of time washing themselves and, if they were raped in the home, cleaning their home.
Nightmares may be another response to sexual assault. They may occur immediately after the rape, and they may last for many years, sometimes reappearing as a 'flashback' which seems to take you back to the event and re-live it.
'Flashbacks' are like nightmares, though they happen while you are awake. They are a re-experience of the sexual assault that has happened to you. One survivor has described flashbacks as:
'like viewing slides in a slide show. When the slide goes by too fast, but slow enough to give you some parts of the image.' [Northern CASA]
There are usually signs that a flashback is coming. They are like the signs of an anxiety attack, and include things like your heart racing and pounding, feeling like you are going to have a heart attack, feeling a sense of creeping doom, feeling like you are going to black out, feeling trapped. But don't despair, the feelings always pass, and you are not going mad.
Workers at your local CASA can explain ways to help you through these flashbacks. Some of these may include 'going with' the flashback rather than trying to avoid it, then once it has finished, focusing some activity around it - write about the flashback, or visualise a beautiful place you know, and feel your body relaxing as you imagine you are there. Other helpful ways of dealing with these feelings are to listen to relaxation tapes or soothing music, cuddling your teddy bear, asking a trusted friend for support, or taking some physical exercise such as a long walk.
Feeling helpless, powerless or isolated can lead to you feeling depressed. Feeling depressed is commonly associated with sexual assault. It is, however, depression with a cause. Once you recognise it, say to yourself 'this is depression and I am feeling depressed for a good reason' [London Rape Crisis Centre 1984: p. 19]
Not wanting to be touched
Victim/survivors very frequently feel that they do not want to be touched once they have been raped. This is easy to understand, however it may make living in a sexual relationship with another person difficult. Your partner may or may not be understanding of the trauma you have gone through. There are counsellors at a CASA or community health centre that can assist your partner with their thoughts or feelings.
Not surprisingly, anger is one of the strongest feelings many Victim/survivors feel about the assault. The anger may not be immediate, but once it comes, it may last for years.
Girls and women in particular may fear their feelings of anger. They can be unsure about how to express it, or whether to express it at all. It is often bottled up inside. Women have 'traditionally' been brought up not to express their feelings of anger. They may also be afraid that if they express their anger they may be physically or verbally abused in return, or that a relationship that is important to them will break down.
Anger can also be a feeling that will help you to heal.
"Anger does not have to be an uncontrolled, uncontrollable phenomenon. As you welcome your anger and become familiar with it, you can direct it to meet your needs - like an experienced rider controlling a powerful horse." [Bass & Davis 1988 - p. 127]
Anger can empower you; it can give you a sense of relief and release. Working with a counsellor can assist you to more fully express these feelings.
It is important to remember that the only cause of the assault was its perpetrator. Your friends, family or partner cannot know exactly what you are going through, and will probably be inexperienced supporters. They may lack the necessary information which will help them to support you. They may also need support for themselves.
If you would like any more information on any of these feelings, your local CASA will be happy to discuss this with you. To contact a CASA worker ring the Sexual Assault Crisis Line (Victoria) on 1800 806 292. Australia wide 1800 RESPECT.