Over the Rainbow - a site for survivors of any unwanted sexual activity
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A Horse Of A Different Colour ...

paths to healing from sexual assault

I was inspired to create this page after hearing survivors say time and time again that while they would never blame another survivor for what had happened to them they were unable to apply that logic to themselves. Reading or hearing about the experiences of other survivors it is easy to see that they were in no way to blame for the abuse that happened to them. Yet somehow when we look at our own situations it's "different."

Why Self Blame?
There are many reasons that we might have for blaming ourselves. These include:
  • RAPE MYTHS: There are many myths about rape that may cause a survivor to blame themselves for what happened, the main one being that rape is carried out by strangers. Stranger rape is in fact the least common type of rape committed with the most common being rape in marriage. Check the Wizard page for more myth examples.
  • SECONDARY WOUNDING: If you reached out for support and were told by those around you that what happened was your fault it is very hard not to internalise these messages. Aphrodite Matsakis calls this secondary wounding. See the books page for more information on her work.
  • LIMITATIONS OF THE LAW: The laws that define rape vary greatly from country to country and are generally very limited in their outlook. For example many places still do not even recognise rape in marriage as a crime. It is extremely difficult to name your experience of rape when the law is not on your side.
  • ADMITTING WE HAD NO POWER: This is a scary thing to do and it may feel easier to take responsibility for what happened than to admit that in that moment we had no power.
  • BELIEVING THAT WE ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR STOPPING RAPE: This is a huge myth but one that is widely held by society. The majority of the time the emphasis on rape prevention is on women to behave differently - to dress differently, drink differently etc.
Countering Self-Blame
  • CHECK THE DEFINITIONS OF RAPE AND CONSENT: If you did not consent to what happened verbally, clearly and without coercion then this is rape.
  • DON'T BE LIMITED BY THE LAW: The law has a long way to go before it is reflective of people's experiences. For example rape in marriage only became a crime in the UK just over ten years ago. This doesn't mean that before that time rape in marriage did not exist. Just because the law where you live doesn't recognise what happened to doesn't mean that it didn't happen or that it wasn't rape.
  • TALK TO OTHER SURVIVORS: Talk to other survivors either in a real life support group or on-line. Discussing what happened to you with others will allow you to see similarities in your experiences and feelings. Knowing that you are not alone can be very validating.
  • CALL A CRISIS LINE: Crisis line counsellors are trained to tackle a variety of different situations. They will be able to help you talk about your doubts and feelings of guilt and move towards naming what happened to you.
  • REMEMBER THAT EVERYTHING IS EASY IN RETROSPECT: It is easy to look back and see all the things that you could have or should have done. But you have all the information now. At that time you did not know what was ahead and were therefore not in a position to make those decisions.
  • IMAGINE IT HAPPENED TO SOMEONE ELSE: If your sister, friend or daughter came to you and told you your story how would you respond to them? Would you blame then for what happened? No. You deserve the same compassion and understanding as everyone else.

The wise Lara from Pandora's Aquarium has a fantastic perspective on dealing with the limitations of the law: "Who you are as a person is infinitely more valuable than any set of myopic, narrow-minded rules, guidelines, definitions or laws. Sometimes it's so hard to not get caught up in what I call the Box Game (trying to slot experiences into the boxes society/the law/the proverbial "everyone" etc construct for us). I fall into that trap all the time myself and it does tend to shake you a bit" Nobody who wrote those laws, who drafted the guidelines or who wrote the rules went through what you did. They weren't there. You know what happened, you know how it made you feel and the impact it's had on your life. You were hurt terribly, and you deserve to heal

I find that because I don't fall into any clear-cut category - because I hang in the shades of grey - I tend to pull out all my self-doubt a lot when I start playing the Box Game. And it just goes around and around in circles (of course). But at some point I've got to just step aside and shift perspective: what's more important, the categories (or rules or laws) and whether or not I fit inside them, or me, who I am, what I feel?

People on the outside looking in will always have that outside opinion of me. More to the point, they'll bring their assessments and judgments and outlooks with them and use that to construct a picture of me, and I can't control that. I'm not always good at remembering that, but it's a start. I can't control how other people try to categorise me; I can only control my little spirit and how much dust I let accumulate on my desk."

Naming is a difficult process but you can get there in time. Remember, if you are struggling with doubts - you can't make feelings up and you did not come to this site for no reason. Work through the list above and be kind to yourself. Someone hurt you and you deserve to heal.

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