Recovery From Sexual Abuse/Assault
Methods of RecoveryMoving on with one's life after an assault is perhaps the most difficult challenge facing victims of sexual assault and childhood sexual abuse.
It must be recognized that there is no universal solution that works for everyone - not everyone will benefit from the same type of recovery technique. Have an open mind, but don't feel too pressured to follow in the footsteps of others. Instead, ask yourself what feels right and pursue those methods first.
Our goal is to enlighten you to various options that have helped other people, and inform you that it's your choice as to what you feel would be beneficial. One thing is certain: only you can make this decision.
Here, we help to shed light on some of the more popular approaches:
Criminal ProsecutionPROS: The therapeutic benefit of the criminal process is mainly derived through a sense of justice in that the individual who has wronged you has been punished and also that the process brings closure. A plea or a finding of guilty also aids victims in truly accepting that they are not at fault for what happened. Some also feel a sense of accomplishment in helping protect others from the assailant's abuse.
CONS: Many victims do not want to testify and reopen the wounds of their victimization. The prospect of other individuals being forced to testify before the court and the idea of making a spectacle of what happened is also a possible consequence of a criminal prosecution. There is also fear that the accused will be acquitted. The fact that a criminal prosecution is a public event also is a con for many victims who feel embarrassed and perhaps ashamed of what happened.
OUR TAKE: Obviously, we promote criminal prosecution of sex offenders. For more information on the process, see our criminal prosecution page here. For the latest information on sex-related sentences in Canada, see our sentencing table.
Counselling and TherapyPROS: Talking to a counsellor, therapist or other mental help professional can help victims understand and come to grips with what happened to them. Many victims are not comfortable talking with family members about the abuse/assault and thus prefer to talk to a neutral third party. Talking to a counsellor is also relatively confidential.
CONS: This may be expensive depending on the victim's insurance coverage and financial situation. There is also no guarantee that counselling will help at all. For some victims, the idea of seeking professional help may further feelings of inadequacy.
OUR TAKE: By and large, we encourage victims to at least try talking to a counsellor or therapist to see if they find the process beneficial.
Communication with Family/FriendsPROS: Talking about what happened with family and friends makes some victims feel better in that they are no longer keeping what happened bottled up inside of them. This can have an enormous benefit to a person. Moreover, it allows victims to be reassured that their family and friends believe and support them with regard to what happened. This helps quash feelings of isolation and gives victims the necessary support to partake in a prosecution.
CONS: There is a risk that the reaction you get from a family member or friend will not match your expectations. You also heighten the chances that people will gossip or discuss your circumstances with others who perhaps you are not as comfortable telling. Depending on the relationship between your family and the assailant there may be significant tension or fighting that happens as a result of you telling the story.
OUR TAKE: We think communication is great, but we want to caution people that it can also be problematic. Victims should be very careful about who they share their story with and proceed carefully.
Getting involved in the community/helping other victimsPROS: Getting involved in the community and helping other victims of sexual assault can promote a feeling of "purposefulness" in the sense that the victim is turning a negative experience into an opportunity to help others. Helping other people often makes people feel good about themselves and what they are doing, which is beneficial.
CONS: It may be emotionally difficult for victims to involve themselves personally with other victims. Also, this may lead to unwanted attention to the victim's own circumstance.
OUR TAKE: Do what feels right. If you're comfortable with it, do it. Sometimes it takes time for a victim to feel ready to take this step, so don't rush yourself - you'll know when you are ready.
Research and EducationPROS: Knowing the facts can help victims realize that they are not at fault, which can bring comfort. Many also find inspiration to get involved and promote awareness. There are many myths surrounding sexual assault that need to be publicly dispelled.
CONS: For some, research is simply a reminder of something they want to forget.
OUR TAKE: It's probably good that you have a realistic understanding of sexual assault, despite the fact that learning about it may be difficult for you.
ForgivenessPROS: Many find forgiving the assailant to be highly therapeutic in that it allows the victim to release a lot of anger that is built up inside of them. Some find closure through forgiveness which gives them a feeling that they can truly move on with their lives.
CONS: Not everyone is capable of forgiving their assailant (and there is nothing wrong with those people in this category). Some will see forgiveness as a sense of condoning the activity itself.
OUR TAKE: This may be very helpful, for -some-. We don't rule this out, but also feel it is not appropriate or feasible in many situations.