Part 3: Healing and Self-Care in the wake of sexual abuse/assault | Editorial

By the staff of SAFE San Juans.

This is a 3-part series for Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Many people who are sexually abused discover that their whole person has been affected, and recovery or healing from that trauma is not linear or based on a formula. Powerlessness is communicated loud and clear to sexual abuse survivors by their abusers. Since that message can resonate so deeply, then rediscovering your voice and sense of personal power can also be the foundation of healing. But, before healing can begin, the abuse needs to stop.

At SAFE San Juans (SAFE), one of the first things we do with a sexual abuse survivor is a safety plan to reduce the likelihood of further abuse. Because so much sexual abuse is perpetrated by a family member, friend, or acquaintance, much safety planning includes the basic ideas we teach in our school-based sexual assault prevention program; those include affirming what contact or behavior is/is not appropriate when it comes to your own body, how to set and maintain boundaries, how to say and enforce “no”, and what you can do when someone violates those boundaries. When asked, we help survivors pursue sexual assault or domestic violence protection orders, as well as stalking or anti-harassment orders to create a legal fence around their person. When the survivor asks, we help them report the abuse/assault to the SJC Sheriff’s Office or Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. Because you matter, it’s okay to make choices that protect you from abuse.

As safety increases, the messages communicated by abusers can be addressed. Healing typically starts as you begin to rediscover your voice. Tell a trusted person what happened and how it has impacted you. Name it and call it what it is. Many survivors have never spoken about their abuse. The feelings of shame, guilt, and fear keep them silent. At SAFE, we will listen to your story without judgment or blame, because you need to be able to speak about what has taken place without fear of judgment or rejection.

We will believe you and not tell your story. The mind and emotions can heal as people begin to feel whole. You are a person who matters. It’s okay to take care of yourself. Because of pervasive feelings of guilt and shame, some survivors of sexual violence may not believe they have the right to care for themselves; but, setting boundaries and engaging in self-care practices are okay. Getting medical attention to deal with injuries from abuse is okay. At SAFE, our advocates will accompany you to medical appointments and support you if you need medical care. Our professional counselors can help you process how the trauma you suffered is impacting you, including your ability to make decisions that are compassionate toward yourself. It is not a road you have to walk alone, because you matter.

SAFE San Juans (SAFE) is a non-profit agency serving survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse/assault. SAFE has offices in Friday Harbor, Eastsound and Lopez Village. All of SAFE’s services are confidential, free, and available to anyone who needs them. To talk with someone from SAFE San Juans, call 360-378-8680 or visit us online at SAFE’s 24/7 crisis line is always staffed and can be reached at 360-378-2345. If you are in immediate danger, please call 911.