Unfortunately, sexual violence remains a very real threat in our society.
If it happens to you or someone you love, it’s important to know you’re not alone, and that it is possible to recover and live a full, happy life.
Find out how to heal from sexual trauma, including three types of sexual assault cases, and what special considerations should be made in dealing with a victim of sexual assault.
Sexual Trauma Overview
Sexual trauma is the residual physical and psychological impact of being sexually touched without consent or being coerced to engage in a sexual act against your will.
Sexual trauma can be the result of a single incident or the exposure of ongoing inappropriate behaviors.
Whether the perpetrator is a stranger, or someone you know like a family member, friend, or partner, any kind of unwanted sexual activity is abuse.
Sexual assault can happen to anyone, so here are five ways to heal from sexual trauma.
5 Ways to Heal from Sexual Trauma
1 - Seek Professional Help
Promptly seeking both medical and psychological help is an important part of how to cope with sexual trauma.
Medical help is necessary to protect against sexually transmitted infections and prevent pregnancy, as well as to collect evidence that will be needed to report the assault to the authorities.
Sexual trauma is often accompanied by shame, fear, and a feeling of isolation. Survivors will often struggle with anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and depression.
You may find it difficult to trust others, have stressful flashbacks, or lose sleep due to vivid nightmares about the attack.
But fortunately, there are licensed professionals who are trained to help you address these conditions.
2 - Connect With Supportive People
Aside from medical and counseling professionals, it’s important to connect with supportive people who understand what you’re going through.
Although being open and vulnerable can be terrifying, you don’t have to go through this trauma alone.
Depending on your situation, you may not feel comfortable telling your family or others close to you.
But it is important to share the information with someone you trust to be supportive and empathetic.
If you don't have this option, you can also reach out to a sexual assault hotline.
Sexual assault is shockingly common, which means that sadly, many people have gone through this.
Often the social worker at the hospital will be able to direct you toward peer support groups. If you feel more comfortable being anonymous, there are support groups available online.
3 - Report Sexual Assault
Many sexual assaults go unreported due to survivors being ashamed, afraid they won’t be believed, or feeling like it was somehow their fault.
No matter how scary it may feel, it is very important to report sexual assault so that you can help reduce the chances of the same person doing it again to you or someone else.
Medical care is the best route for documenting and reporting evidence of sexual assault, and you should do so within 24 hours for evidence collection.
According to best practices, victims of sexual assault should be examined and treated for any physical injuries by an emergency physician.
Then, the survivor should be assessed by a social worker or rape crisis advocate if available, and be offered the option of evidence collection.
You will be asked to describe what happened during the assault and it may be necessary to take photos to document evidence. If you haven’t yet contacted the police, the health providers may offer to do so on your behalf.
In some places, you have up to 6 months to decide if you want to report your assault, but it’s important to collect evidence right away.
4 - Take Time to Heal
Being sexually violated can leave you feeling vulnerable and powerless. It’s important to remember that this is completely normal and that it will take time to heal.
Helping others can help you cope and regain your feeling of strength and confidence, so consider volunteering in ways that are meaningful to you.
Take the time to let your body and mind rest and recover after sexual trauma. This may mean taking time off work or creating a relaxing environment for yourself.
It’s best to avoid consuming alcohol or drugs as you recover. Even though it may be tempting to self-medicate, these substances may worsen symptoms associated with sexual trauma.
5 - Show Yourself Compassion
After a traumatic experience, it is normal to have recurring flashbacks, nightmares, and feelings of stress or anxiety. This can be extremely frustrating because it may feel like things will never be normal again.
Be patient with yourself and try to engage in self-care to help yourself feel better. This means eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and doing regular physical exercise to stay healthy.
Try to recognize triggers for negative feelings so you can anticipate them and calm yourself down using breathing exercises.
Learning how to use grounding exercises is also an effective way to stay present rather than get caught up in traumatic memories or flashbacks.
Some survivors find massage therapy an effective way to reconnect to their bodies and feelings and feel comfortable with human contact after an assault.
Pain Management for Sexual Assault
Survivors of sexual assault may experience severe acute pain during and following their assault. A condition known as stress-induced hyperalgesia may cause high sensitivity to pain after an assault even when physical trauma is limited.
Despite the presence of pain, one study found that only 13% of women survivors received any pain medication (McLean et al., 2012).
This demonstrates that the gender pain gap extends to pain management for sexual trauma. If you experience a sexual assault, it is important to ask your doctor about pain management strategies to help reduce your suffering.
FAQ About How to Get Over Sexual Trauma
What is the Best Way to Reduce Sexual Assault?
Blaming the victim is all too common, so it’s important that you don’t obsess over what you could have done differently to avoid being assaulted. It’s. Not. Your. Fault.
The only person responsible for sexual assault is the person committing it. To reduce sexual assault, complex changes need to happen at the community and societal level, including increased education around consent, bodily autonomy, and violence prevention.
Final Thoughts on How to Get Over Sexual Trauma
Sexual trauma is a terrible thing to go through. When it comes to how to get over sexual trauma, remember to be patient and know that things will eventually get better.
If you follow the five tips given for how to get over sexual trauma, you’ll be well on your way to healing.
Editor: Lanna Last & Thomas Sauls
Scientifically Reviewed By: Mali Meibod