Put the Focus on Victims
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Recognize Signs of Recovery

Some victims emerge from sexual assault feeling enhanced rather than diminished. They speak of spiritual development, stronger personal relationships, greater personal strength, deeper appreciation of life, and clarity about priorities.22

Most people are familiar with the concept of posttraumatic stress disorder, which is the recurrent experience of psychological, psycho-physical, and/or social symptoms resulting from trauma or crisis. Posttraumatic growth, on the other hand, is the experience or expression of positive life change as an outcome of a trauma or life crisis. For example, some victims report that they have developed a keener sense of discernment, acquired enhanced motivation to make things better, developed new insights on life, acquired a stronger sense of independence that includes skills for maintaining safe boundaries, and increased their abilities to solve problems creatively.

Some victims have also reported more23

  • Creativity and humor—strategies developed to process trauma.
  • Assertiveness—the ability to take risks for their beliefs and rights.
  • Sustained faith—an appreciation of the value and integrity of faith in difficult situations.
  • Courage—a stronger sense and belief in their inner strength.

Healing occurs when symptoms are brought within manageable limits. Healing also brings with it a restored sense of self-esteem and the ability to reestablish important relationships.24 This is a self-defined process, and for many victims of sexual assault it is life-long journey.

As part of the Michigan Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence's Outcome Evaluation Strategies for Sexual Assault Service Programs, staff conducted interviews and focus groups with adult and teen survivors. Survivors were asked how they defined healing and how they will know when they are healed. A synopsis of their responses follows:25

What healing feels like:

Teens: Feeling safe, strong, confident, joyful, and happy; having high self-esteem.

Adults: Feeling hopeful, strong, confident, and freed; experiencing a sense of justice; feeling able to support others; accepting what happened; refusing to live in denial; withholding blame; feeling real and authentic; having a sense of self-worth; working to make sense of the experience; connecting to others.

How you know when you are healed:

Teens: Enjoying life the way it is; handling other's reactions assertively; being able to trust; crying less often; not believing everything bad happens to oneself; believing that one can overcome the trauma; feeling more comfortable around males; feeling passionate again; knowing the incident was not one's fault; wanting to live again.

Adults: Finding that victimization becomes a smaller part of who one is; coming to terms with the trauma; reconnecting with one's surroundings and community; controlling one's addictions; pursuing goals; speaking out to others; embracing healthy sexual intimacy; living in the present; honoring one's feelings in relationships.