If you have additional questions or need to have support, please contact the Center for Women Students at (814) 863-2027.
Reactions to Violence
Any person who is a victim of violence will have both physical and emotional reactions to the experience. It is important to remember each survivor of violence will have a unique reaction; however some of the more common feelings are listed below:
Shock and Fear
In the hours and days following the event, shock, denial and withdrawal are common reactions. It may seem hard to believe that the violence occurred at times and the survivor may alternate between strong emotional reactions, such as crying, laughing, angry outbursts, shaking, and periods of flatness or numbness. At times there may be terror that the perpetrator will return or fear of being in places similar to where the violence occurred. Rape Trauma Syndrome, which is a form of post-traumatic stress, is the name given to the complex experience that a victim of sexual violence experiences.
Often the survivor of violence will deny that the experience has had a serious impact and may repeatedly reassure others that it is over and everything is fine. Some do this because of a belief that no one wants to hear about the assault anymore or in an attempt to shut out the pain and return to 'normal.' This denial period can last for a brief time or for years. During this time, some people will turn to dangerous coping techniques to manage their discomfort, including drugs, alcohol, disordered eating, or other types of self-injury. It is important to continue encouraging the survivor of sexual violence to express her reactions and feelings long after the event has occurred.
Feelings of Loss
Once the impact of the violence becomes a reality, there may be profound feelings of loss, sadness, grief, and even depression. Specific reactions can include nightmares, changes in social activities, eating and sleeping disorders, physical complaints, and relationship difficulties. "Flashbacks," or disturbing memories of an assault, may disrupt daily life and the ability to concentrate on work or school. It is not uncommon for mood swings to occur and for feelings of anger to be misdirected at people they know. As a support person, it is important to be patient and understand that this is part of the healing process.
Important Ways You Can Help:
Be clear that the crime was not the survivor's fault.
Using violence is a conscious decision made by the perpetrator. No one asks to be raped or assaulted.
Believe the survivor.
She has to overcome many obstacles to be able to speak out about what has happened. Allow the survivor know you are open to hearing about her feelings and experiences.
Do not question or judge what the survivor had to do to survive.
Victims are forced to make decisions which should not be criticized. Survivors may not always scream or fight back. They handled it the best way they could.
Be respectful of the survivor's decisions.
Often a survivor will not want to report the assault. Respecting and supporting the survivor is very empowering, enabling her to control her life-- a feeling that was taken way during the assault.
Validate and protect the survivor's feelings: anger, pain, fear, shock, and denial.
These are natural responses to traumatic experiences. Protecting the survivor's confidentiality of anonymity is an important step in gaining her trust.
Express your compassion.
Share your own emotions with the survivor; but not to the point of overwhelming her.
Encourage the survivor to get support.
You can help find someone whom she (and/or you) can talk with. Familiarize yourself with the resources listed in the directory.
Resist seeing the survivor as a victim.
Continue to see her as a strong, courageous person who is reclaiming her life.
Accept that there may be changes in your relationship with the survivor.
Patience on your part is crucial to her healing process-- it is a slow process that cannot be hurried.
Resolution and Acceptance
Each individual will eventually accept that the assault took place and that the effects are undeniable. Working through this process can be one of the most painful parts of the healing process. As a support person, it is important to remember that each person will suffer setbacks and vary in the ability to reach resolution about the experience over time. Being able to integrate the event into one's life story does not mean that it will be forgotten or that the impact will be diminished, but resilience will mean acknowledging that this occurred and being able to continue with life goals and relationships.