About self care after sexual assault

This factsheet explains what self care is, and activities you can choose that may help with recovery and healing after sexual assault.

What is self care?

Sexual assault can have impacts on your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. Self care is any action you take to help deal with those impacts.

Whether a sexual assault happened recently, or whether it happened a long time ago, there are a range of self care activities that may help you feel safer, healthier, and more comfortable. Over time, self care can help you heal from the trauma of what you have experienced.

It is very normal for some people to find self care challenging. It can be hard to find time for it, especially if you have a job or caring responsibilities. But even small actions can be helpful, and professional support is available if you need it.

Remember that sexual assault is never, ever your fault.  

Everyone has the right to feel safe, and to make decisions about their own body. Sexual violence is an abuse of power. No person deserves to be sexually assaulted. A person who commits sexual assault is responsible for their own behaviour.

Why is self care important?

Sexual assault is a deeply traumatic event. Every victim-survivor reacts to sexual violence in their own way - there is no right response or wrong response. But for many people, it is common to experience a range of physical, mental, emotional, and behavioural reactions in response to trauma.  

Some common symptoms and effects of trauma include flashbacks, nightmares, mood swings, insomnia, exhaustion, loss of appetite, over-eating, feeling numb or spaced out, avoidance of people and places, anxiety and panic attacks, depression, risk-taking behaviour, self-harming, or self-medicating through alcohol and/or drug use.

Self care is important because it empowers victim-survivors to cope with the short and long term impacts of trauma. It is a way of reclaiming power, helping you feel healthier and happier, and healing your body and mind from the impacts of a traumatic event.

What are some options for self care?

Self care will look different for everyone. There is no right or wrong way of practicing self care. You are the person who will know what activities might help you feel good. If you’re not sure where to start, here are some examples you could try:

Looking after your body

  • drink water to stay hydrated
  • eat food that makes you feel good
  • take part in gentle exercise such as yoga or walking
  • take a shower or bath
  • commit to good sleep habits
  • spend time outside
  • experiment with deep breathing

Looking after your mind

  • do something creative like writing or drawing
  • read a favourite book
  • watch a comforting film
  • listen to music you enjoy
  • try a mindfulness app or guided meditation
  • clean and tidy your living space so it feels nice
  • say kind things to yourself

Staying connected

  • spend time with friends or family who you feel safe around
  • connect with online communities of people with shared interests
  • talk about how you are feeling
  • ask for professional support, if you need it

What are potential barriers to self care?

Even people who want to practice self care can sometimes find it very hard to do. If you have experienced trauma, it’s very normal for there to be some days when you feel good, and other days when you don’t feel so good.

If you are a victim-survivor of sexual assault, there are many reasons why participating in self care might feel challenging, such as:

  • you might be using other coping methods, such as drugs or alcohol, that are less safe or healthy
  • you might feel shame or guilt about what happened to you and believe that you don’t deserve self care
  • you might be feeling anxious or depressed and not have the energy for self care

Remember that you don’t have to go through this alone. There is support available if you have been sexually assaulted.

Where to get more information?

Rape Crisis England and Wales (www.rapecrisis.org.uk) has put together a list of self-care activities that might help after sexual assault.

RAINN (www.rainn.org) the largest sexual assault support organisation in the United States has a guide to self care after trauma.

VictimFocus (www.victimfocus.com) is a UK organisation focusing on sexual violence. Their free online course, Caring for Yourself after Sexual Violence, supports victim-survivors in exploring how you can care for yourself after being abused, raped, trafficked, exploited or assaulted.  

Reaching out for support can be an important way to help you work through the trauma you have experienced.   Healing is possible and everyone does this in their own way and at their own pace. Despite your trauma, you also have your own resources and strengths that can also help you recover from the impacts of sexual violence.

Self care after sexual assault

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