When understanding how to cope with sexual abuse, one must understand that what happened is not something they have to get over. In truth, there are no surefire ways to help someone overcome the pain they may be experiencing after surviving an act of sexual violence. But, that doesn’t mean one can’t work toward recovery.
There are many ways survivors may choose to cope with sexual abuse; unfortunately, not all methods are healthy. Here we offer eight tips to point survivors in the direction to seek the help they need and the justice they deserve.
Tips for How to Cope With Sexual Abuse
Learning how to cope with sexual abuse can be a challenge but these tips from experts and fellow survivors may be able to make the process a bit easier.
- Report the Crime: At first, it may be difficult to discuss what happened. If you report the crime to the police and press criminal charges, you may feel a growing sense of empowerment. “I honestly think the thing that got me through it was telling the police right away,” said an 18-year-old survivor from Illinois.
- Seek Counseling: There is no substitute for professional counseling. A trained crisis counselor will know the best coping practices, given your unique situation. Speaking with a compassionate expert is particularly important if you experience fear or PTSD.
- Consider Psychotherapy: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy is a unique form of psychotherapy that uses eight phases to resolve psychological trauma, phobias, anxiety, panic disorders, and body dysmorphic disorders. “I’m blessed to have an amazing therapist. With his guided therapy, I should be capable of conquering my PTSD,” said a 28-year-old survivor from Colorado.
- Learn Self-Defense: If you were the victim of date rape or a stranger attack, it’s common to experience fear. Self-defense training is an increasingly popular complement to therapy in restoring confidence and a sense of control.
- Find an Outlet: Even if you’re not ready to open up to another person about what happened to you, exploring your feelings through writing can be a powerful way of releasing negative emotions. Reading can also guide you to a better understanding of what has happened and what you can do about it. Some survivors delve deep into a form of art like painting, drawing, dance, or community theater to find release and healthy ways to explore their feelings. “There is something truly profound when you can let go of your pain, mentally and physically, through speech and movement onstage,” explained a 21-year-old survivor from Nevada.
- Advocate for Reform: Find a place where you can vent and channel your emotions into meaningful action that could potentially help others. “Exorcising that anger and hate allowed me to venture on the path toward healing,” said the founder of Natasha’s Justice Project. “The amazing people I’ve met on this new path have filled me with joy and gratitude,” she added.
- Find Your Purpose: “If I can offer anyone any words of healing, I would say: find your purpose. Anything that hurts you has an equal opportunity to advance you. I’m now a yoga teacher who specializes in trauma-informed yoga for abuse survivors, and I obtained my degree in human services and [a] Masters in psychology. You may feel alone, but you’re not. You’re on a journey. Healing takes time and what was meant to break you will make you,” said a 41-year-old survivor from Ohio.
- Seek Litigation: Pressing criminal charges isn’t the only way to seek justice. Even if you decide to press criminal charges, you can also file a civil lawsuit to obtain a recovery for damages suffered or losses incurred as a result of the sexual abuse.
Bay Area Resources for Sexual Abuse Survivors
There are many organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area that can be a resource for survivors of sexual abuse, including:
- Victim Services Division of the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office: for emergency assistance, victim compensation, criminal court help, and referrals
- Cooperative Restraining Order Clinic: if you are a victim of domestic violence or are fearful of your safety following sexual violence in the Bay Area
- Rape Treatment and Trauma Center: where to go to get a sexual assault forensic medical exam (rape kit) done by trained professionals, as well as counseling services
- The Children’s Interview Center (CIC): a safe, therapeutic environment for children to discuss what happened with specially trained law enforcement and therapists, and a resource center to educate parents on what to do next
- Child Abuse, Listening, Interviewing, and Coordination Center (CALICO): a resource center of law enforcement, child welfare workers, attorneys, and mental health counselors, focused on the emotional needs of the family
- The Office for Victims of Crime: a resource that may help you obtain limited reimbursement for medical services, lost wages, and relocation expenses
- The Joyful Heart Foundation: an advocacy group that provides holistic healing retreats to help survivors find a greater sense of peace and wellbeing
- Equal Rights Advocates: an advocacy group empowering women to fight for gender equality, as well as an end to discrimination and sexual violence in the workplace
- The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN): a hotline and resource to connect survivors with health facilities, counselors, and long-term support service providers
Bay Area Attorneys Know How to Help You Cope With Sexual Abuse
There is no time limit on the effects of sexual violence. Even if the abuse you suffered happened years ago, sexual assault attorneys may be able to help. An experienced attorney will be able to let you know if your claim falls within the state’s statute of limitations, if there are sufficient grounds to sue for compensation, and where you can find local assistance with your recovery.
Filing a civil lawsuit for sexual abuse can help you cope with sexual abuse and help you obtain:
- compensation to pay for counseling, substance abuse treatment, medical care, or relocation
- time off work—without financial worry—to focus solely on healing
- assistance in the investigation of your case, which can help in criminal proceedings
- compassion; knowing that someone hears you, believes you, and advocates for you
- justice; knowing that responsible parties have been held accountable for wrongdoing
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