skip to content

Counseling & Health Center

Recovering from Sexual Assault is a Process

Getting back on track

It is important for you to know that any of the feelings after being sexually assaulted are normal and temporary reactions to a traumatic event. Fear and confusion will lessen with time, but the trauma may disrupt your life for a while. Reactions might be triggered by people, places, or things connected to the assault, or they might seem to come from “out of the blue.”

Talking about the assault can help you feel better, but it may be really hard to do. In fact, it’s common to want to avoid conversations and situations that may remind you of the assault. You may have a sense of wanting to “get on with life” and “let the past be the past.” This is a normal part of the recovery process and may last for weeks or months.

Eventually you will need to deal with fears and feelings in order to heal and regain a sense of control over your life. Talking with someone who can listen in an understanding and affirming ways — whether it’s a friend, member of your place of worship or community, family member, hotline-staff member, or counselor — is a key part of the healing process.

Recovering from a sexual assault is a gradual process that is different for everyone. Victims/survivors may have different needs and coping strategies, so there is not a set timeline for healing. There are many decisions to be made and many feelings to be expressed. Not all of the decisions or feelings will need to be handled at once, but rather as recovery progresses. This is a brief outline of the recovery process that many, but not necessarily all, victims/survivors go through.

I just want to forget what happened

You may go from feeling emotionally drained, confused, and out of control to trying to forget what happened. You may begin distancing yourself from the sexual assault and outwardly appear “recovered,” but friends and family members’ support is still needed.

I’m so angry and depressed. I can’t seem to get control of my emotions.

Regardless of how hard you may try to keep the sexual assault from impacting your life, no matter how much you may deny its importance, the experience has had a profound influence. You may experience anger, depression, shame, anxiety, and feel that everything is falling apart. Recurring nightmares and flashbacks are common during this time.

Depression may cause a change in sleeping or eating patterns, and anger may be directed at the perpetrator, loved ones, or yourself. It may be difficult, at first, to feel comfortable with intimacy, including trusting people, exploring new relationships, and enjoying sexual activity, if you choose to be sexually active. Understand that this may take time. Resist being pressured to be sexually active before you are ready.

Many victims/survivors seek assistance from trained professionals who can help to put their lives back together and recover from stress related to the assault.

Life goes on and I can handle it

You have resolved a lot of the anger and depression. The sexual assault may have changed your life, but it now plays a smaller role. You feel more in control.

Ways to take care of yourself

  • Get support from friends, family, and community members. Try to identify people you trust who will validate your feelings and affirm your strengths.
  • Talk about the assault and express feelings. Choose when, where, and with whom to talk about the assault, and only disclose information that feels safe for you to reveal.
  • Use stress-reduction techniques. Exercise by jogging, doing aerobics, walking and practice relaxation techniques such as doing yoga, listening to music, and meditating.
  • Maintain a balanced diet and a normal sleep cycle as much as possible and avoid overusing stimulants like caffeine, sugar, nicotine, or alcohol or other drugs.
  • Discover your playful and creative self. Playing and creativity are important for healing from hurt.
  • Take “time outs.” Give yourself permission to take quiet moments to reflect, relax, and rejuvenate, especially during times you feel stressed or unsafe.
  • Try reading. Reading can be a relaxing and healing activity.
  • Consider writing or journaling as a way of expressing your thoughts and feelings.
  • Consider counseling. Our Counseling and Health Center and the Local Sexual Assault Center are available for counseling and support services.

Adapted from UHS Website @UW- Madison 7/14