• Kimberly Lizan Lorenz

See How to Heal from Sexual Assault

Updated: May 26, 2021

Have you ever been affected by sexual assault or know someone who has? In many cases, it can be traumatizing and demeaning to those who have been affected by it. It might feel like a dark pit, but as the saying goes, “When you hit bottom, the only place to go is up.” It is possible to come out the other side and be a survivor. But what does that mean?

What is Sexual Assault Exactly?

Sexual assault is defined as: A person using:

- force,

- threats, and/or

- influence

to enact an unwanted sexual activity with another person who is not able/not willing to give informed and legal consent.

To better understand this definition, let’s look at just a few examples:

  • A person not stopping sexual activity when their partner says no is sexual assault.

  • Unwanted touching or grabbing of your body by someone else is sexual assault.

  • Engaging in sexual intercourse with someone unable to give informed and legal consent (like a minor or those with a diminished mental capacity) is sexual assault.

  • Unwanted sexual activity like oral, penetration, anal, and forced masturbation is sexual assault.

These acts can occur once or several times over the span of years; it varies from case to case. However, all of these instances share a common theme. Sexual assault is the result of a perpetrator exerting their need to obtain power and control over someone else.

It is not anything that the victim has asked for and absolutely nothing that they deserved. Any act of sexual assault was not their fault.

Who does Sexual Assault Really Affect?

In bold terms, sexual assault can affect anyone.

For example, statistics from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) show that:

- 1 in 6 men experience sexual assault in their lifetime,

- 1 in 3 women experience sexual assault in their lifetime, and that

- 12 - 34yr olds are the highest age group to experience sexual assault.

Aren’t all Perpetrators just Random Strangers?

No, anyone can be a perpetrator.

Social media, movies, and shows can make it seem that only random strangers commit these horrible acts of assault. But, unfortunately, far more often, a survivor is assaulted by someone close to them like a family member, partner, caregiver, or authority figure.

For instance, Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) reports that:

- 8 out of 10 rapes are committed by someone known to the survivor and that

- 55% of the time the assault occurs at or near the survivor’s home.

What? How can someone so close to home assault someone?

Assaults happen so close to home because perpetrators will create a close relationship with the survivor and will then use this relationship to gain power and control over them.

A perpetrator often does this by making the survivor feel extraordinarily special. They then use this “special connection” to slowly isolate the survivor from their friends and family.

Once this connection and isolation are formed, a perpetrator will use a psychological tactic called Grooming.

Grooming is where a perpetrator tests a survivor’s sexual boundaries. For example, they may use tests like these:

- throwing out sexually suggestive comments to the survivor,

- unnecessarily touching the survivor, and

- extending offers to spend time in private to the survivor.

After testing, the perpetrator gauges the survivor’s reaction. They watch to see whether the survivor physically and/or verbally discourages their actions or if the survivor tolerates or ignores their actions.

After forming a close relationship with the survivor and isolating them from their friends and family, a perpetrator uses this process of Grooming, of pushing and pushing against the survivor’s personal and sexual boundaries, to fully exploit their trust and sexual assault them.

After an Assault, What Can I Do?

At the time immediately or a few days after a sexual assault there are a few things that can be done. As always, you can call the police to make a report of the assault. Another option that you can do is to get a SANE Exam.


A SANE exam is a Sexual Assault Nurse’s Examination. It’s where a trained and skilled nurse or doctor collects all forensic evidence from the survivor’s body and performs both an external and internal medical exam of the survivor’s body.

The SANE staff then place the collected evidence into a sexual assault kit. This kit is stored and saved until the survivor wants to have it evaluated by a crime lab. The SANE staff also record the survivor’s account of the assault. Making this record allows the medical staff to testify at any future legal proceedings.


To be honest, the SANE exam can be overwhelming, especially when you’re in the emotional and physical aftermath of sexual assault. But don’t worry. You don’t have to go through it alone.

All you have to do is call.

If you live in Rock or Green County Wisconsin, all you have to do is call our fellow organization, Sexual Assault Recovery Program (SARP):


24 Hour Crisis Hotline: 1(866) 666-4576

You can even ask the medical staff to call for you, and we’ll be there. All survivors coming in for the examination can always opt to have one of our advocates there with them for emotional support.

Along with providing emotional support through the exam, SARP advocates can provide the survivor with additional resources, services, items, and support to help them through the aftermath of sexual assault.

For example, an advocate can help the survivor fill out a Crime Victim Compensation (CVC) form. This form can be filed by someone who was injured as a result of a crime. This form enters the victim into a program which can help with certain expenses related to the crime such as medical bills.

I’ve been Assaulted. What Happens Now?

That’s the big question right? What does my life look like now? What does my life look like after sexual assault?

At its core, sexual assault is about taking away all of a person’s power, about taking away all of their choices.

So, our sole purpose is to help a survivor regain their sense of power, to regain their power of choice. So we mean this in the most empowering way we can:

what happens now is totally up to you.

Going through the healing process and seeking out services is 100% the survivor’s choice, and their choice alone.

What happens if I choose to start the healing process?

There are a few phases that a survivor goes through on the road to reclaiming their life. To talk about these phases, let’s look at Rape Trauma Syndrome (RTS).


In 1974, the term Rape Trauma Syndrome (RTS) was illustrated by Ann Wolbert Burgess, a nurse, and Lynda Lytle Holmstrom, a sociologist. RTS refers to the psychological and physical signs and reactions a survivor experiences after a sexual assault.


After an assault, the survivor can be in the Acute Phase of the RTS. In this phase, the survivor may feel guilt, shame, self-blame, anger, anxiety, humiliation, betrayal and depression. And they may appear restless, tense, or irritable; but they may also display a calm, composed demeanor.


The next phase, the Outward Adjustment Phase, is one that some survivors never move past. During this phase, a survivor may go back to their work, school, and family life and think that they’ve moved past the effects of the assault.

But, often survivors overlook or discount the symptoms that still interrupt their daily life. Symptoms such as:

  • nausea,

  • flashbacks,

  • mood swings,

  • anxiety,

  • denial,

  • nightmares,

  • headaches, and

  • rationalization.

Because some survivors don’t think of these as lingering effects from the assault, they don’t seek the proper help. Instead, some survivors at this point may start to self-medicate with drugs, alcohol, and/or self harm.

If you or someone you know might be in this phase, please reach out for more information and help. Call our fellow organization, Sexual Assault Recovery Program (SARP):


24 Hour Crisis Hotline: 1(866) 666-4576


The next phase of RTS is the Underground Phase. This phase is an internalizing time where survivors attempt to bury their assault and their trauma and to try to resume their regular life before the assault occurred.

They may try to block thoughts of the assault and will not talk about it or anything related to the same issue. This amount of denial and avoidance is all in effort to bury and forget the incident.

From the outside, the survivor in this phase may look like their “over it.” But, instead, the unresolved emotional issues are simply trapped beneath the surface.


The next phase of RTS, the Reorganization Phase, is where the healing can begin.

At this time in their recovery, the survivor may start to talk about what happened and start to attend counseling and/or support groups.

They may also start inviting positive coping skills into their life such as developing new hobbies like meditation, journaling, or exercise.


Re-Normalization phase is the final phase in the RTS. During this phase, the rape is no longer the focus of the survivor’s life.

Instead of repressing, buring, or ignoring what happened to them, the survivor comes to their own terms with the assault. This then lessens the pain and memories associated with the assault. It also leads to a new way of thinking and seeing the world.

It leads a person from a “Victim” mindset to a “Survivor” mindset.


It is important to note that survivors progress through these phases at various rates.

Also, it is important to note that, as with any road to recovery and reclaiming, this RTS process may be non-linear. A survivor will have ups and downs, ebbs and flows. This non-linear process can be frustrating, but it’s also this process that makes every survivor’s story unique.

How can I support someone who’s healing from Sexual Assault?

First, never assume you already know their story. One of the things that we have learned during our time working with survivors is that if you know one person’s story of sexual assault, you know only one story of a sexual assault. Like we talked about in the last section, every survivor’s story is unique to them.

Second, you can’t walk the hard path of healing for the survivor. The healing journey is theirs alone to take. So, support them. Be a resource that helps hold them up and gives them a solid place to rest.

To do that, remember these few things:

- hold a non-judgemental ear,

- give a little extra grace, and

- send love constantly.

And for more help, call our fellow organization, Sexual Assault Recovery Program (SARP):


24 Hour Crisis Hotline: 1(866) 666-4576