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Help and Healing

If you've been sexually assaulted… Remember that it was not your fault. Whatever happened, you did nothing to deserve it. Sexual assault can happen to anyone and it is never the victim's fault.

Visit Western's Together Against Sexual Violence website for important resources and steps you can take if you have been sexually assaulted.

Guidance for Preserving Evidence

What is a Forensic Exam?

How to Help a Friend

Healing and Recovery

Being sexually assaulted can be a very traumatic experience. Feelings of violation can evoke many reactions. This page is designed to assure survivors that they are not alone and their reactions are normal.

An individual who has experienced trauma may respond in a wide variety of ways. Whatever you feel is a natural response to the sexual violence or violent crime.

Some Natural Responses

Fear of the assaulter

Because of direct threats made by an assaulter or because media stories sensationalize sexual assault, it is likely that a victim felt that they would either be brutally injured or killed during an attack. Normal fear responses may be quite generalized or specific. The victim's fear may be particularly strong if the assaulter threatened to harm them again, as often happens if the rapist suspects the victim will report to the police. Fear of re-attack under any circumstances is a normal human fear. The survivor is not crazy or paranoid to be fearful. They need positive reassurance from those around them that life is worth living and they need to explore alternate ways of coping with the attack. Help the survivor express and specify their fears. Encourage them to list all the things they can do to protect themselves. Whatever they decide, their plan should be clear in their mind and simple to put into operation even when they are emotionally upset.


The survivor's feelings of guilt are difficult for them to deal with and will likely have an effect on their decision to contact the police. Many survivors have internalized the prevalent mythology which emphasizes the idea that victims are to blame for having been assaulted. It is important to let them talk and to help them define in precise terms what they might have done "wrong" - and what they might have done differently. Talk to them about victim blaming and help them to place responsibility for the assault to whom it belongs-the offender.

Loss of control over their own lives

The assaulter has forced the individual to submit to something they did not want to do. Possibly, they harbored some ideas before the assault that assault couldn't happen to them, that they would be able to resist or that they could take care of themselves. Since the assaulter overcame their resistance by force or fear, they no longer feel sure of anything about themselves and their self-determination. Sometimes even little decisions like whether to have a cigarette or whether to eat become momentous things. The survivor practically has to repossess themselves after the assault took possession by force. They have to reassert the value of doing things for themselves. They have to insist to themselves that they are worthwhile and that they still have willpower and can control their lives.


The survivor may be embarrassed to discuss the physical details of the assault. Our bodies and sexual activity have always been regarded as private and their privacy has been savagely stripped from them by another. Telling anyone at all, including medical and law enforcement personnel, may be painful.

Wondering, "Why me?"

Some survivors wonder why the assaulter chose them. What is it about them that separates them from others? These feelings arise from the common mistaken belief that sexual assault happens to people who "ask for it", or who in some other way made themselves noticeable. It may be helpful to them to know that this is a common, normal feeling of survivors and that anyone can be sexually assaulted. Commonly, an assaulter will manipulate a situation so that it leads to sexual assault. For this reason, a survivor should be reminded that the assaulter made the decision to harm them.


This can be one of the more healthy feelings felt by survivors, yet it is not commonly seen immediately after an assault. When it is seen in the early stages of the healing process, it is often misdirected anger (directed at family, the system, or generalized to all men, if it was a male perpetrator). If the survivor is directing their anger at the assaulter, they should be encouraged to express it freely. If they are misdirecting their anger, try to help them understand what they are doing, and help them to identify the person with whom they are really angry. It may be, also, that the survivor is angry at themselves for getting into the situation; this is a form of misdirected anger.

Page Updated 01.07.2016