Tag Archives: recovery

FOCUS ON: Rape – Healing After Rape

The following excerpt has been taken from “The Road to Recovery: You & Rape” – created and distributed by the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust. You can download the complete booklet in English, Afrikaans or isiXhosa, from their website: rapecrisis.org.za


It’s important to realise that the feelings you experience after being raped are a completely natural response to a terrible event. You aren’t going mad, nor are you over-reacting – no matter who tells you so. There’s a good reason why you’re not able to function in your normal way. There may be good reasons why your reactions are quite extreme. Some rape survivors may need professional help but even so, finding your own coping skills and your strengths and inner resources will still be stages you go through along the road to recovery. Although your road may have been steeper and covered by rocks, it is still the same road and it leads to your recovery.

You are also not alone. Many women and men have been raped and know how you feel. Your feelings won’t last forever. If, however, you feel they are lasting far too long, or that you are not able to cope, you should contact a rape counsellor, a social worker or a psychologist to help you by keeping you company, pointing out some of the landmarks and helping you carry some of your burdens.

You may, on the other hand, not experience any of these feelings at all. This does not make you abnormal either. For some people, rape is something they can integrate and understand, and the experience passes quite quickly. They should not be judged for that either. As well as having serious legal and medical consequences, rape impacts the body, the emotions and the mind. You therefore need to pay attention to all three of these levels when working through what has happened to you.

Below we outline some ideas that many rape survivors have found useful. Please note that none of these suggestions are intended to replace the treatment or care suggested to you by a doctor or counsellor. However, these ideas can easily be used together with a doctor’s or counsellor’s recommendations to help with your recovery. All of them are things that you can do for yourself if there’s no one around to help you.


Taking Care of Your Body

Take care of your body by:

  • eating healthy food
  • doing some exercise every day
  • trying to get enough sleep or rest
  • taking care of your personal hygiene
  • attending to the medical risks associated with rape


If you’ve lost your appetite and don’t feel like eating, try to eat small amounts at a time. Then try to eat more often. Eat foods that are good for you and easy to eat and digest, such as soup, toast or yoghurt, and that help the body cope with stress. As women we get bombarded with advice about our diets, and we are not suggesting you go on any kind of diet. There are comfort foods – such as chocolate and fish and chips – that come highly recommended. These foods may comfort you for a time. However, you may find yourself overeating, gaining weight and feeling miserable about that. You might also incur other health problems such as high blood pressure or high blood sugar that could be very damaging in the long term.  In time, it is possible to find the balance between eating healthy food and comforting food.

Rest and Sleep

Rest as much as you can, especially if you are not sleeping well at night. Lie down for 20 minutes in the afternoon, just sit quietly in a chair or put your head down on your desk for a few moments just to be quiet and do nothing for a short while and stop expending energy. However, it is best if you can lie down, as this helps the cortisol (the stress hormone) in your system to recede. One survivor told her counsellor that she used to close the door of her office and lie down on the floor for ten minutes in the afternoon. Do not underestimate the power of a small lie-down or a brief nap.

To help with sleeping problems, try to take a half-hour walk each day if you can – or better still a run. A good, strong sprint can help like nothing else to get your body to process adrenalin. It is also very effective in calming anxiety, a major cause of sleeplessness. You don’t need to run far, for long or even frequently – just enough to tire you out and get your heart to pump strongly for a short burst. Don’t eat, drink or smoke shortly before going to bed, as these are all stimulants, including both tea and coffee. Rooibos tea, hot chocolate or warm milk and honey are more soothing drinks before bedtime. Don’t panic if you can’t sleep – get up and do something for a while such as reading or watching TV, and then try and sleep again later. Wake someone up to talk to if need be, or phone a 24 hour service such as LifeLine or Rape Crisis.

If lack of sleep is making you feel very agitated or exhausted, consider getting a prescription from a doctor for sleeping pills. These pills only start to be addictive if you are taking 10mg a day for longer than two weeks. Some prescribed drugs can be taken for even longer periods quite safely, so don’t worry if you’re taking them for shorter periods. They can be very useful in restoring a regular sleeping pattern, but they can be dangerous if misused. Your doctor should monitor these drugs and their effect on you to help you use them correctly.

Personal Care

Be kind to your body and do things that make you feel cared for and good. For example, if you have a bath, add a generous handful of rock salt, table salt or Epsom salts to the water and soak for at least 20 minutes. A sprig of fresh rosemary or lavender in a bath is also helpful. If you wash in a basin or shower, use coarse salt as a body scrub. All of these things are cleansing and soothing in an emotional as well as physical way, which many survivors feel they need.

Soaking your feet in a basin of warm water or taking a hot water bottle to bed on a cold day can be very comforting. Try and find other things that will comfort your body and that will soothe the rest of you too.

There are also certain forms of exercise such as running, yoga t’ai chi, swimming and dancing that can really help your body cope with stress.

If you are experiencing one or more of the medical consequences of rape and you are taking PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) medicines, if you are worried about sexually transmitted infections or if you are recovering from injuries, then you need to take care of your health and keep all the appointments you have at the clinic or with your doctor, taking all you medications.

images (1)

Caring for Your Emotions

One of the hardest things to do after being raped is to endure the emotional pain and suffering you feel as a consequence. These feelings are very important. They can be the key to your healing, even though they hurt so much that all you want is for them to stop.

Give yourself space and time to feel. Pay attention to your feelings. Trying to push them away could make your healing take longer. Try to express your feelings and share them in some way. Talk about them to your family or friends or write them down somewhere. Many rape survivors add to their pain by trying not to be angry, scared or vulnerable, and by worrying about how they’ll appear to others. The fact is, we all have a right to these emotions and freely expressing them.

Some feelings, such as pain, anger and rage, can be very frightening for us and those around us. Here are a few clear rules that you can follow in order to make it safer to feel them:

  • Do not harm yourself
  • Do not harm anything valuable to you
  • Do not harm other people
  • Do not harm anything valuable to someone else.

The last thing you want is to regret something you have done. If you are worried that you might not be able to stick to these rules and that you could lose control of your emotions, contact a counselor or a doctor. You can even go to your local hospital emergency unit for help. There’s nothing to be ashamed of in experiencing a strong reaction to an extreme situation.

Don’t be afraid of anti-depressant medicines. They are tools to help you – no more and no less. As with everything, gain as much information as possible in order to help you make the best decision.

If you have laid charges, get people who know about the criminal justice system to help you with your legal case, especially the trial and testifying in court. Also stay in touch with your investigating officer and follow up on the progress of your case month by month. The more you know about these processes and procedures, the better you will manage the role you are required to play. Try to tell people what you’re going through. People like to feel needed, even just as listeners. If you don’t want any advice, be sure to let them know that. Cry if you have to. And, most of all, if there is something to laugh at, laugh. There is nothing better than laughter for healing. You can recover, you can even become stronger than you were before, now that you have survived being raped – and recovered.


Looking After Your Mind

Many rape survivors have found that positive thinking helped their healing process. It may require deliberate effort on your part to stop self-criticism and negative or frightening thoughts. In order to transform your thoughts, it can be helpful to list negative thoughts you are having and then to try to rephrase them positively (for example: “no matter what I do, I’ll never be able to overcome this.” Reframe it to: “Although this is difficult, I can find peace and be restored to my former self.”). This exercise does take some time, as it is difficult to reframe thoughts when you are feeling bad. Just keep trying until you find a way.

This may seem like a pointless exercise but the fact is that writing something down and deliberately trying to change the tone of your thoughts can have a lasting effect over time, even if it doesn’t have an immediate effect. The goal is not to cheer you up. The goal is rather to shift your pattern of thinking, creating a small foothold for a greater healing process. You won’t be able to do this until you are ready, so if you cannot do it yet, just move on and try again a few weeks later. It is a way of helping to shut down your feeling brain and boosting the power of your thinking brain, so that they begin talking to one another again.

Educate yourself. Recovery from rape is about making your own decisions, and the best way to do so is to learn as much as you can and be as well informed as possible about the medical, legal and emotional aspects of rape.

Remember your faith in life. This can be a religious faith, your own spiritual beliefs about life or your personal philosophy. Your experience of being raped could challenge this faith, or your faith could be a powerful source of support to you. Go to those who have helped you keep faith in life before, read the things that previously helped you and go to the places that help you keep your faith. Prayer and meditation, spending time in nature, listening to hymns and sacred music, or reading the Bible or other religious books can all be very helpful. Remember that you are not alone. Join or form a support group and meet other survivors. You’ll be able to help them and in turn get help from them. In this country, with its high rape statistics, it is very possible that someone you know has been raped and will understand a part or all of what you are going through.


Growth Through Recovery

There are certain tasks you can perform to increase your recovery. A trained counsellor could certainly be of great help to you in doing so.

A word of caution: it is important not to see this as some kind of a standard. If you don’t feel like helping yourself, then you are not ready to and it would be pointless to try. If you want to, this would be a good time to see a rape counsellor who could help you, but even that is something that takes courage and you should try it only when and if you feel ready to do so. Remember: there is no one way to recover; you will find a way that is uniquely yours.

Phases of Growth and Recovery

There are three phases to recovery from trauma (Harney & Harvey, 1997), namely:

  1. Restoring safety
  2. Remembering and mourning
  3. Reconnecting with others

In the first phase your main tasks are to make sure you feel safe again. You need to do whatever you can to ensure your bodily and physical safety and then you need to do whatever you can to make sure your environment is safe. So, for example, if you are struggling with alcohol abuse and you live with people who behave violently, that will be the most important thing you have to deal with before you can recover from rape. Drinking less when you feel like drinking more and finding a safer place to live become the priority tasks of your recovery. You need to take care of yourself and your body, mind and emotions. If you make yourself the priority and think carefully about what safety means to you and what you can do to feel even safer, you will go a long way towards your own recovery.

Once you feel safe enough to stop and take a look at what happened to you, the tasks in the second phase are to go back and remember and talk about the rape. Once you can do that, you will also go back to the way it made you feel. Sharing that with someone you trust can help you make sense of it. If you have no one to talk to in that way, you can write about it in a diary or notebook. Telling the story and finding new ways of seeing the rape encounter are very important. Each time you tell the story you will see something about it that you did not see before. You will even begin to notice a change in how you are reacting, compared with a few weeks ago. As the pain becomes more and more bearable, you will see how your priorities change and you can begin to focus on other things. One thing you may begin to see now is that while you may never go back to being the same as you were before the rape that is not really the goal. The goal is to be different, to have been affected by the change – perhaps you will now begin to see that you can be more than you were before. Take your time and go at your own pace here.

The task of the third phase is to seek out and connect with the world beyond your own thoughts and feelings. You need to find new meaning in a world that is both safe and unsafe, that contains both people who wish to help you and people who mean you harm, a world that both influences you and is influenced by you. This last point is important, because the trauma of rape makes you and those close to you feel very helpless. And yet you have by this stage done so much to restore your sense of control over your life. You can learn to be hopeful about the future, strange as that might seem, and you can learn to value the changes in your life even though they have come about through suffering.


For information on healing and recovering from  rape please visit the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust website at: http://rapecrisis.org.za/ – alternatively download “The Road to Recovery: You & Rape” booklet from http://rapecrisis.org.za/rape-in-south-africa/you-rape-booklet/


Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust. (2011). Healing. In The Road to Recovery: You and Rape (pp. 53 – 59). [Online available from: http://rapecrisis.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/you-and-rape-booklet-english.pdf [Accessed: 21 July 2015].

Need Help?

Please refer to the Need Help? page on the menu bar, select either Student Support Referral List OR Student Counselling for more information on where to access help. 


FOCUS ON: Rape – Reactions to Rape

The following excerpt has been taken from “The Road to Recovery: You & Rape” – created and distributed by the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust. You can download the complete booklet in English, Afrikaans or isiXhosa, from their website: rapecrisis.org.za


Each person copes with trauma in a different way, depending on her or his circumstances. How long your journey to recovery takes will depend on many things, including your situation and how supportive the people around you are. If you are worried that negative feelings are lasting too long or becoming overwhelming, you might consider getting help. It’s important to remember that there are people who can help you, such as a rape counsellor, social worker, psychologist, clinic sister or even a family member or a friend you can trust.

Partners, parents or friends and family members may not know how to respond to you, and may even share some of your feelings about the rape. They can also choose to go for counselling so that they can learn to understand their own feelings and how to offer you more support.

On the other hand, people around you might need to distance themselves from what happened to you because, although it could happen to them too, they don’t want to believed that. Some people might not be supportive, because they themselves live with men who rape, or because It has happened to them and they don’t want you to remind them of their own painful experiences. The truth is that not everyone around you will be supportive, and you may feel alone in dealing with some things. However, you don’t have to be alone on your journey along the road to recovery – there are signposts that can help you on your way.

Phases of Recovery

The first signpost along the road to recovery is realising that there is a pattern to how most people progress or move through the trauma of rape. However these phases don’t follow on neatly from one to another; you may move backwards and forwards through the phases as you work through the trauma.

There is no single way to recover; your journey is unique. With good support, people can recover from rape, but many people choose not to get support and not to tell anyone about what happened. The following phases can also be seen in people who do not go for counselling:

Acute Phase

Immediately after the rape, most survivors feel shock, dismay, fear, panic and anger. Some survivors show this by being numb or dazed, others by being openly upset. You would probably react this way in the first few hours, days and weeks after the rape, but usually not longer than two weeks afterwards. This is the first phase of the crisis. It is called the acute phase because it is so intense. Many survivors are unable to talk about the rape. You might have nightmares and feel shocked, guilty, afraid, ashamed, powerless, angry, depressed and afraid of being touched. These feelings can be overwhelming.

Outward Adjustment Phase

In this phase, most survivors try to carry on with their lives as normal. To anyone looking at you from the outside, you may seem to be coping. You might even feel this way yourself. You need to go through this phase to reassure yourself that you can cope. During this phase, you test your ability to survive the experience. You may use all kinds of different ways of coping, such as pretending the rape didn’t happen or pushing thoughts and feelings away.

In this phase, rape survivors are usually not open to coming for counselling. You tend to feel a lot less troubled than during the acute phase, but you may not want to speak about the rape very much. This can be difficult for those close to you who wish to be helpful and think they can do that by getting you to talk. They may feel frustrated if you don’t want to talk or they may put pressure on you to behave differently. You might find that during this phase what you really need is for people to let you be.

Integration Phase

During the integration phase, the part of you that felt overwhelmed by intense emotions during the acute phase and the part of you that felt almost nothing during the outward adjustment phase come together. The intense feelings start to come back, but less overwhelming than before. You may begin to feel depressed or anxious and start thinking about the rape when you least expect to. This is the time when you might wish to talk a bit more about what happened. You might start having nightmares again and feel shocked, guilty, afraid, ashamed, powerless, angry, depressed and afraid of being touched or of being alone. You may well find that you cannot function the way you used to. You may also start to think about the rapist more.

Many survivors in this phase believe their feelings mean they have serious emotional problems or are going mad. This is a good time to go for counselling because it can give you support and comfort, with respect for what you are going through. You can also get information about what you are going through in the form of psycho-education. Psycho-education helps you and people close to you understand and deal with the feelings you have. Also, your counsellor will help you find your own strengths, resources and coping skills, so that you learn to be a part of your own recovery and contribute to your health and wellness on a long-term basis. The better the knowledge you have about what you’re going through, the better you can live with it and share it.

Renewal Phase

You begin to make sense of the trauma and to feel safer in the world. During this phase your symptoms will ease off or disappear. The memory of the rape will not have the same effect on you. You may start to feel good about life again. You may still feel emotional at times, but overall you will feel more in control and able to move forward.

zen stones by 3dbasti 1920x1080 wallpaper_www.wallpapername.com_6

Common Feelings or Reactions to Rape

During the first two phases, many people report feeling or experiencing:

  • Shock
  • Guilt
  • Powerlessness and a loss of control
  • Fear
  • Shame
  • An inability to speak about the rape
  • Nightmares
  • A fear of touching
  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Grief about loss
  • The desire to use drugs and alcohol
  • The desire to hurt themselves, for example by cutting themselves
  • Suicidal thoughts or feelings

For information on common feelings and reactions to rape please visit the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust website at: http://rapecrisis.org.za/ – alternatively download “The Road to Recovery: You & Rape” booklet from http://rapecrisis.org.za/rape-in-south-africa/you-rape-booklet/


Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust. (2011). Reactions to Rape. In The Road to Recovery: You and Rape (pp. 41 – 51). [Online available from: http://rapecrisis.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/you-and-rape-booklet-english.pdf [Accessed: 21 July 2015].

Need Help?

Please refer to the Need Help? page on the menu bar, select either Student Support Referral List OR Student Counselling for more information on where to access help. 

FOCUS ON: Rape – What To Do If You Have Been Raped

The following excerpt has been taken from “The Road to Recovery: You & Rape” – created and distributed by the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust. You can download the complete booklet in English, Afrikaans or isiXhosa, from their website: rapecrisis.org.za

images (6)

Straight after the rape 

The moments right after a rape are very important from the point of view of the law and from the point of view of the rape survivor’s recovery from rape. Deciding what to do about what has just happened can be extremely difficult if you are in shock or feeling bad.

From the point of view of the law, the sooner you can get to a police station or hospital the better, because:

  • the criminal has less chance to escape
  • you may be able to remember more about the rape right afterwards
  • there is physical evidence on your body that links the rapist to the crime, and this evidence can get lost quickly.

From the point of view of your recovery, there are medicines you need to take (to prevent pregnancy or disease) that only work within 72 hours (three days) after the event. Getting support immediately after the rape from someone that can help you, also helps you to recovery. This support could be from someone close to you or from a professional service provider such as nurse, a doctor or a trained rape counsellor. This helps you to recover, because if you are forced to make tough decisions in a hurry, while you are feeling shocked and abused, it helps to get good information, practical help and strong emotional support. The information given by these professional people can help you, or someone close to you, to make these choices. They will also tell you how much time you have to make these choices.

Steps to take after rape 

  • Go to a safe place as soon as possible.
  • Tell the first person you see and trust about what has happened. The first person you tell about the rape will sometimes be asked to go to court to support your story – this person is called the first contact witness. If this person is a stranger, write down or try and remember her or his name, telephone number and address. This is important if you decide to report the rape, as the police will need to find that person and talk to her or him.
  • If you are badly hurt, go straight to a hospital or a doctor. The police can be called to the hospital if you want to report what has happened to you. The police can also take you to a hospital if you are hurt, or they can summon an ambulance.
  • If you are not HIV positive and you fear that you have been exposed to HIV, you need to receive medical attention within 72 hours (three days) of exposure. Some studies show that you are better protected if you received medicine to prevent HIV infection within 6 to 8 hours of exposure, so the sooner you receive medical attention, the better. If you are HIV negative, the hospital or clinic will give you antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) to prevent HIV infection. The ARVs form  part of a group of medicines called post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). PEP consists of ARVs, emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy and antibiotics to prevent certain other diseases.
  • Decide whether you want to report the rape to the police. You may not feel like making this decision so soon after being raped. However, the sooner a doctor examines you, the more likely she or he is to find strong proof on your body or on your clothes, such as blood or semen from the person who raped you. Bruises and cuts will stay on your body for a while, but semen, hair, saliva and blood can be lost quickly. If you were drunk at the time of the rape, don’t let this stop you from reporting the matter to the police or from getting medical treatment. Being drunk is not a crime, rape is. Remember that the law says that you can’t give consent while you’re very drunk.

Women often find it difficult to go to the police. men may find it even more difficult. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and intersex people often find it almost impossible to face going to the police. Elderly people and disabled people who feel vulnerable at the best of times, may struggle to face this ordeal and might need additional support. The decision to make a report to the police or not can affect you in many ways and you should consider it carefully.

download (6)

Reporting rape

When reporting rape to the police you have a choice of doing so either with or without laying charges.

For information on:

  • Reporting rape to the police
  • Receiving medical attention
  • Criminal justice procedures

please visit the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust website at: http://rapecrisis.org.za/ – alternatively download “The Road to Recovery: You & Rape” booklet from http://rapecrisis.org.za/rape-in-south-africa/you-rape-booklet/


Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust. (2011). What to do if someone has raped you. In The Road to Recovery: You and Rape (pp. 7 – 8). [Online available from: http://rapecrisis.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/you-and-rape-booklet-english.pdf [Accessed: 21 July 2015].


Need Help?

Please refer to the Need Help? page on the menu bar, select either Student Support Referral List OR Student Counselling for more information on where to access help. 

FOCUS ON: Self-Harm – Getting Help (Part 2)

It is often easier said than done but when you are in the depths of despair remind yourself that you won’t always feel this way; whatever is causing this will pass…


Recovering from self-harm

There is no magic formula to get a person to stop self-harming, instead it involves a variety of factors unique to each individual and their circumstances.

For some the need to self-harm diminishes because of changes that occur in their lives – finishing school, moving out of the house, ending a relationship. By removing or changing some of the factors that precipitate the self-harming behaviour (e.g. bullying, family dynamics etc.) the need to use self injuring as a coping mechanism lessens.

Others may find that the turning point for them is the day they find the courage to ask for help – finding a person who will listen without trying to take control of their life, but instead becoming a partner in helping them work on solutions. This is where counselling and other forms of talk therapy can prove very helpful.

The most important thing to remember when recovering is that change takes time – you will have bad days and relapses may occur; be kind to yourself, learn from your experiences and remind yourself that is a marathon not a sprint.


Learn to look after yourself

Regardless of whether you are a self-harmer, a recovering self-harmer or a friend or family member of a self-harmer, everyone needs to take responsibility for and care of their mental health – this includes:

Eat a healthy and balanced diet

Depression, anxiety, restlessness and mood swings – common triggers for self-harming – can all be affected by a person’s diet:

  • Don’t skimp on the carbs – carbohydrates contain non-essential amino acids which assist in the production of serotonin (a natural mood regulator produced in the brain) which in turn assists with curbing mood swings. The trick here is to make smart (i.e. healthy) carbohydrate choices such as: whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables, and legumes.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids – research has found that omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in oily fish (e.g. pilchards), flaxseed and certain nuts (e.g. walnuts) assist in warding off depression, among other health benefits. Try aim for 2 – 3 servings of fish per week.
  • Eat breakfast – eating a healthy, balanced breakfast not only assists in improving your mood but also provides you with energy for the day, aids memory retention and wards off feelings of anxiety and restlessness due to low blood sugar levels.
  • Watch your caffeine intake – caffeine can result in an overstimulated nervous system that can increase anxiety levels; it can also impact on the amount and quality of sleep you get, which in turn will impact on your mood.

Get some exercise

Exercise is often referred to as a natural anti-depressant which is easily and freely available but hugely underutilised. Even moderate exercise is known to assist with reducing anxiety, improving mood and warding off depression.

Limit your alcohol consumption  

Alcohol is a depressant that can affect your mood, feelings and thoughts. Ideally self-harmers should avoid (at best) or limit (at least) their alcohol intake.

Maintain relationships

Friends, family and social interaction are vital to maintaining both your mental and emotional well-being. Keep in touch with family and friends, don’t isolate yourself.

Be kind to yourself

We are our own harshest critics. Many young self-harmers are also high-achievers who put themselves under unrealistic amounts of pressure. Learn to be kind to yourself, speak to and treat yourself as you would your best friend – with compassion and empathy.


Where to find help and more information

Websites and forums

Telephone helplines and counselling

  • SADAG Helpline – 011 234 4837 (8am – 8pm)
  • Suicide Crisis Line – 0800 567 567 / sms 31393 (they will call you back)
  • LifeLine – 0861 322 322 (24 hours)
  • ChildLine – 08000 55 5555 (24 hours)

Face-to-face counselling services

Visit the following websites for a list of counselling services and programmes available in your area:



Richardson, C. (2012). The Truth About Self-Harm: For Young People and Their Friends and Families [Booklet]. United Kingdom: Mental Health Foundation.

WebMD. (2008). How Food Affects Your Mood. Retrieved from: http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/how-food-affects-your-moods?page=3 [Accessed on: 26 May 2015].