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How to Cope After Rape

by Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

My question is how to cope after a rape?

A few weeks back I was raped by a family member (he does not live with me). It happened in my home. Since then I have mainly been numb, I feel at times that I am not real or that things around me are not real, and that I do not exist. I did not tell the police about what happened, because he threatened me during the incident and after the incident. I felt too scared to do anything to protect myself.

I have not done anything yet to make myself feel safer in my home. I have been cleaning a lot and washing sheets, towels, and clothes a lot. I have been able to go to work and college because these things help take my mind off of what happened. Before this happened, I was suffering from depression and I also cut or burned myself — normally my arms. I have not done that since this incident which I find odd. I am just too numb to do that. I have not told my family. I am not sure what would happen. They might take his side.

I do not know what to do. Please help me. Thank you.

What you are describing is a normal reaction to a traumatic experience. You are understandably terrified. Compulsive cleaning, numbing, and distracting oneself are usual reactions to violation. The rapist’s threat must have been convincing indeed. Of course you aren’t able to deal.

I can’t advise you specifically about what to do because every situation is different. I don’t know how dangerous the abuser is or how supportive you can expect your family to be. Not every family does the right thing. It could traumatize you further if you turned to them and they took the rapist’s side. You need love and support, not doubt or blame.

Please, please get yourself the help you need. There are therapists who specialize in helping people who have been sexually abused. Your college probably has a mental health center or a women’s center. People there can help connect you to a therapist who can help you figure out what you need to do to take care of yourself emotionally and to protect yourself from further abuse.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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