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Dealing With PTSD After Sexual Assault

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Sexual assault and sexual violence is perpetually stuck in our news cycle, as evidenced by the Bachelor in Paradise allegations, Billy Cosby's outrageous mistrial, or a President who thinks "grab her by the p*ssy" is normal locker room talk.

But while one out of every six women in the U.S. has been the victim of attempted or completed rape in her lifetime, not even close to one out of every six news stories covers the scope of sexual assault and rape in our country.

From victim-blaming to watching student athletes caught in the act going effectually unpunished, we don't take sexual assault seriously enough.

We dismiss the physical and emotional pain of victims too easily, while consistently giving the abusers the benefit of the doubt in court. (Again: Bill f*cking Cosby.)

When you hear "PTSD," it's understandable to let your mind land on the topic of veterans. The United States has a serious problem aiding in the recovery and maintaining the health of those who have served our country, and it is shameful.

That being said, victims of sexual assault can also suffer from PTSD as well, with the VA dedicating an entire page to victims of sexual assault on their website.

To coincide with PTSD Awareness Day, Elite Daily spoke with experts for details on how to cope with PTSD after a sexual assault.

You're not alone.

Have a firm understanding of sexual assault and its meaning.

Let's get really clear on what sexual assault is: According to RAINN.org, "the term sexual assault refers to sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim."

Simple, right?

Definitely not. As we know, victims often doubt their ability to label an incident as assault, especially when it comes to being drunk, or being a victim of someone they know.

Dr. Jason Whiting, researcher of conflict and relationships at Texas Tech University, explains that "victims may wonder if they were assaulted if they were going along with some of the touching or contact, but if they said no at any point or protested what was happening, then anything beyond that is assault."

Any utterance of "no" or to stop still applies, even if under the effects of alcohol.

Trust yourself, and don't pass it off as something that happens all the time.

Try to accept that it was not your fault.

In the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event, sexual assault or otherwise, it's common for a victim to ask themselves if there was anything they could have done differently in the situation to prevent it.

While it is normal for these feelings to come up, the problem with this way of thinking is that it means you are blaming yourself for the awful thing that happened to you.

RAINN on YouTube

"Victims often blame themselves when it is not their fault," says psychiatrist Dr. Susan Edelman. "They can be in a state of shock. They may be frightened, vulnerable and afraid to trust others. They might feel helpless and ashamed."

She added,

If a person was threatened at knife point and robbed, we would probably sympathize and support this person. Yet we often question a victim's integrity when the crime is a sexual assault. We are asking the wrong question. We need to ask: what right does one person have to sexually assault another?

Sexual assault is not about someone "losing control," but instead, is an act of violence. What you wore that day or the precautions you took to be safe do not control the violence in other people.

Nothing about the situation is your fault.

Don't feel ashamed to seek out professional help.

According to RAINN.org, it's very normal "for survivors of sexual violence to experience feelings of anxiety, stress, or fear."

In some cases, the symptoms will last longer and be more severe. Dr. Whiting explains:

There are four signs of PTSD. The first is reliving the assault, through nightmares, or flashbacks. The second is avoidance, which may include staying away from people or places that trigger feelings about the assault. The third is negative feelings, which may include the depression already referred to, or it may involve distrust of people, or of institutions. The fourth is hyper-arousal, which means that you are keyed up, easily startled or anxious.

If you are feeling any of these symptoms, it is extremely important to take care of yourself and talk to someone trusted.

Finding a professional to talk to can be a very scary, but important step to take towards recovery. "Many people don't seek help because they feel ashamed or want to avoid thinking about what happened," says Dr. Edelman.

RAINN on YouTube

Licensed health professionals are trained to help you, not shame you. If you are concerned you may be suffering from symptoms of PTSD, the best form of treatment is right outside of your circle of family and friends.

Dr. Whiting recommends you "talk with a licensed mental health professional to get assessed and treated," connecting with local service providers through RAINN's National Sexual Assault Line, or calling the hotline anonymously at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Focus on healing yourself with plenty of self-care.

You've been through one of the hardest circumstances imaginable. Along with seeking professional help, Dr. Whiting shares additional tips to help in your healing process. First and foremost, you need to take care of you.

"It is good to focus on self-care, which may include exercise, meditation, yoga, or other physical activities," says Dr. Whiting. "These not only are more effective than medication over the long term, they are empowering. It is always good to reach out to trusted family and friends. Talk to those who are sympathetic and nonjudgmental."

Dr. Edelman says to "believe in your ability to recover. Realize that the recovery process takes time, and be patient with yourself."

If you or someone you know was a victim of sexual assault, know that these are just some of the ways of cope.

You are a survivor of something awful. You can get through this.