Coping strategies are used to manage stress. Sexual assault victims respond with strategies that they are accustomed to using, particularly if the strategies have brought them relief in the past. Unfortunately, traumatic experiences can overwhelm a person's usual coping strategies. As a result, victims may turn to more destructive strategies to numb or distract them from emotional pain.
Unhealthy coping strategies such as the following can compromise victims' safety, health, functioning, and well-being:7
- Self-medicating with alcohol and other addictive substances.
- Compulsive shopping.
- Eating disorders (e.g., overeating, starving oneself, binging, purging).
- Compulsive sexual activity.
Healthy coping strategies that some survivors have found therapeutic include the following:8
- Talking with friends or family.
- Praying or meditating.
- Engaging in expressive arts such as drama, music, and dance.
- Seeking assistance from the justice system (pressing criminal charges, obtaining protective orders, filing lawsuits, and pursuing restorative justice to hold offenders accountable).
There may be barriers to using some or all of these coping strategies. For example, victims of minority ethnic populations, individuals living in poverty, and victims of same-sex sexual assault may not trust the criminal justice system. Others may lack awareness of the options available to them.