The desire to tell one’s story is not unique to rape survivors. Unfortunately, telling your rape survival story can bring harm instead of healing. Who you tell, when you tell, and how you tell your story can dramatically affect your psychological recovery from the experience.
Rape survivors, provided that they didn’t need medical attention, are more likely to confide within their social support network rather than through formal channels such as hotlines. A study on the use of sexual abuse hotlines have shown that 30% of women call for help within 72 hours of the incident while 35% of calls only occur three of more years after the incident. Women who call hotlines usually only do this when they feel overwhelmed or when they seek skilled support that their family and friends cannot provide. There are often concerns about not being believed when calling a hotline.
Second victimization in formal channels
Women who disclose their account to medical and law enforcement services often report their experience as a hurtful, second victimization. In fact, women who disclose their rape survival experience to formal sources are more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and to receive negative social reactions than those who only confided in informal sources. The sad thing is that law enforcement and medical service personnel are often unaware of the effect of their actions.
The importance of self-blame
Self-blame plays a big part in recovery from sexual assault. Most victims place most of the blame on the rapist, but due to social myths that rape victims “asked for it”, a lot of women blame themselves as well. There are two ways in which rape victims blame themselves for what happened to them: They either blame their actions or a part of their character. Both cases lead to poorer recovery. If the victim blames part of her character when she tells her story, she is more like to receive a negative response from their confidants. This leads to PTSD, depression and substance abuse.
It’s best to tell your rape survival story
However, there is a bright side to telling your rape survival story. Women who do not tell their story at all are at the greatest risk of developing PTSD and depressive symptoms. When you confide in someone with whom you have a close relationship, sharing will strengthen the relationship. it is important that you trust that your confidant has your best interest at heart.
Strength in a time of trauma is a marker of resilience. It’s associated with a willingness to survive, to prevail and to regain a sense of self-worth. If this happened to you, it is critical that you tell your story to someone you trust and to remember that you are not to blame in any way. Some rapist pig put you in this situation and you can’t let him keep on controlling your life.
Tell your story and take back your power.