Hope after rape – a letter to you as survivor

Dear friend

You probably feel as if you are merely part of the statistics of violent crimes in South Africa – one of so many people who are raped on a daily basis. Statistics show that South Africa is one of the countries with the highest incidence of rape in the world. According to the SAPS, a rape takes place every 35 minutes in South Africa. Sadly, the stats also show that only one in every 35 cases are reported.

Rape happens to so many people. More and more women are being raped and even murdered in break-ins. Women, men and children are being raped, regardless of their age, origin and status. Even babies and toddlers have become the victims of rapists.

South Africa is infamous for gang rapes, especially in informal settlements where police presence is insufficient. Every woman, man or child is thus a potential rape victim. What a sombre picture! It upsets us, renders us so powerless with rage; we actually don’t even want to face the facts…

Rape is one of the most humiliating and violent acts that one person can perform against another. It touches humans in the deepest of their beings and robs them of their dignity. Perhaps you also feel that you are damaged for life…

However, no matter your feelings at the moment, be sure that you are still the same valuable person as before this traumatic experience: you are still someone who is loved by people, someone with potential, with gifts and talent – yes, someone who can make a contribution. You will be able to look life in the face again.

We sometimes wonder why bad and traumatic things happen to us. To the why-questions, there are obviously no easy answers; however, the Bible teaches us that Jesus Christ can identify with the victim of rape. He was abused in the most cruel, scandalous and humiliating manner and robbed of his humanity when he was hammered to the cross, naked. He knows humiliation and abuse. He understands what it’s like to be a broken person. Remember: rape can never be your fault. It is about the control and power that the rapist has forced upon you – you couldn’t stop it, because the rapist’s strategy was exactly to subject you to him or her!

Through which phases does one go after rape?

You will perhaps experience the same general feelings and reactions as that of most victims. It is important that you understand what is happening to you. The most victims go through three phases:

the shock phase, which usually overpowers the victim and leaves you cold, feeling emotionally numb. Remember, your body and emotions, your whole being, has been heavily traumatised and you will need time to work through it;

the emotional setback phase, when some of the negative feelings return and you relive the events over and over again, even dreaming about it, making you feel anxious once more;

the final or repair phase, after which the victim gets a new grip on life.

In all three phases, it is important that you have someone who can support you emotionally and assist you to ultimately reach the repair phase. Because we are not all the same, it takes some people longer to reach the repair phase, but it is truly possible to get there. We have wonderful testimonies of so many women who became whole again. Perhaps you know someone like that… Remember: with God, everything is possible. Romans 8:37:

“Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”

Which types of reactions can I expect?

A traumatic experience like rape is so far-reaching, it usually impacts your whole being, your body, your spirit, your emotions and your relationships, even your faith. People experience different reactions to it, reactions that you cannot control. It is very important that you are really prepared for this and will grow through it towards repair.

Physical reactions:

Like other victims, you may experience the following: lack of sleep, nightmares, stomach aches, sexual problems, headaches, back-flashes, uncontrollable crying and eating disorders (loss of appetite or overeating). In extreme cases, you might even start using and abusing drugs and alcohol in an attempt to “forget” – just remember that this will in turn become a further challenge for you to overcome! You would do well to visit your doctor for treatment of your physical reactions during this time. Get involved in a good exercise regime or activities which will give you positive energy again. You WILL feel like yourself again! Our bodies have ways of becoming whole again – that’s how the Creator made us.

Negative emotions:

Rape is a far-reaching violation of your humanity. Therefore feelings of guilt, anger, stress, fear, low self-esteem, depression, confusion, helplessness, denial, shame, shock and continual mood-swings are often part of the negative feelings you will experience. It is important in this time that you stimulate your thoughts with positive inputs from friends and your surroundings. Try to focus intentionally on things that you have always enjoyed, such as sport, music or socialising. Find a positive feeling for every negative one and build on this. Guard against being alone too much, as you’ll be left to your own thoughts then. It is important that you share your feelings with someone and know that your life still has purpose. Reach out to others in the same situations as you and support each other without pitying each other all the time – you are a survivor!

Personality reactions:

Reactions such as a sudden personality change are common, as you want to get away from this person who was hurt so badly. Reactions such as withdrawal from social activities, self-destructive behaviour (suicidal tendencies), withdrawal from family and friends, inability to concentrate and perform routine activities, forgetfulness, tension in your relationship with your life partners, parents, children and friends, are all part of the emotional hurt you are experiencing. Remember, these are reactions to what has happened to you. They can change if you allow yourself to work on this.

It is important to know that friends and family may be struggling with their own emotional reactions about what has happened to you. Perhaps they feel uncomfortable because they don’t know how to handle you. Share your pain and confusion and encourage one another to be positive. To get involved with the activities of a church or social club can help you change your thoughts. If you can join a Bible study or prayer group, promises from the Word of God can be renewed for you. Psalm 60:12: “With God on our side we shall do valiantly; it is he who will tread down our foes.”

How can you handle the trauma?

Remember, it may not always be easy to feel like your old self, but it is possible! Here are a few more things that can help you:

Make a clear list of sources of support, such as your friends, family members, pastor, social worker, house doctor and members of the congregation. Write down their contact numbers. Choose the persons whom you trust and with whom you feel comfortable sharing your feelings with.

Bring your feelings about your negative experience to the surface by talking about it or by writing a story, poem or song about it or even expressing it visually through painting, sculpture or wood engraving. These ways of discharge helps one a lot to see everything in perspective once more.

Remind yourself often that it is NOT your fault and that there was NOTHING you could do to prevent it.

Take steps to protect yourself against further victimisation – pick yourself up, because no matter how sad it may be, rape can happen to anyone!

Consult a counsellor (psychologist, pastoral counsellor, social worker) to help you normalise your feelings about yourself.

The Bible offers a lot of comfort – become a Bible student once more and open yourself up to what the Bible teaches us.

And of course, it helps to talk to God directly, through prayer. He hears our prayers… and He answers.

What is rape?

Rape is an act of violence. The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act 32 of 2007 gives a much broader definition of rape than before. Rape takes place when sexual penetration is unlawfully and intentionally forced by one person on another person without consent. Rape takes place through vaginal, anal or oral penetration and can be done with any object. Rape is not about sexual satisfaction, it is about control and power of the rapist over the victim, and along with this, it is about deeply humiliating the victim. It can be committed by a stranger, a friend, an acquaintance, a partner or even a spouse. Sexual assault, which does not include penetration, is also a serious crime that causes the same trauma of bodily injury and emotional harm.

What to do immediately after being raped

Immediately contact a trustworthy friend or family member who can support you emotionally through the processes that must follow. Remember: rape is a violent crime and although you feel humiliated, you have to take steps to protect yourself as soon as possible.

Do not take a bath or shower or dress in clean clothes – no matter how hard this may be for you – because there is usually forensic evidence which may lead to the rapist’s conviction.

Immediately call or visit your nearest police office or the sexual crimes unit of the SAPS.

Get medical assistance as soon as possible at the emergency ward of your local hospital, where you will be examined for physical injuries and so that forensic evidence can be collected. You will receive preventative medication against pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV.

Take clean clothing and toiletries to the hospital. After the examination, you can take a shower or bath and put on clean clothes.

Reporting to the police

However unpleasant and emotional this may be, the incident must be reported to the police as soon as possible. You may not keep it quiet! The sooner you report it, the fresher the events will still be in your mind and the sooner the police can start their investigation.

Give the police as much information and facts as you can remember. Give them your address and a phone number where they can reach you if you will not be at your home address immediately. Photos of you injuries can serve as evidence in the court case. The police need all the help you can give them to arrest the rapist. They may therefore ask you a lot of questions and repeat many of their questions. You might also feel that they blame you for what has happened. Questions such as “was your clothing seductive?” or “what did you say to him?” etc. may be asked as well, but remember: none of it was your fault! Try to remain patient and give your co-operation. You will thereby help them to let justice prevail and perhaps prevent the perpetrator from adding another victim to his list.

What comfort does the Bible offer?

In Matthew 12:20, Jesus makes this promise:

“A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench, till He sends forth justice to victory”.

What a comfort!

He has mercy with the person whose life has been literally and figuratively bruised by violence – the one who has been hurt physically and spiritually. We no longer have to bear our pain and hurt alone, but we can bring it to Jesus. He will understand, because he has also trodden this path. Everything may look dark and viewless around you, but you can hold on to God’s promises. You have God on your side. With Him, you will be able to process this terrible experience. With Him, you will conquer. You can emerge from this negative experience as a conqueror.

Jesus prayed for his enemies on the cross and forgave them. Through forgiveness, we will also be released from the pain and injustice caused to us. This is part of the eventual triumph. Give the matter over to the hands of the Lord. Thank the Lord every day for his promise that you will be more than a conqueror because he is on your side. Ask Him to strengthen you, even when the nightmares of the degrading experience emerge.

Your friend

 

PS. The purpose of this letter is also to give you more information about this terrible deed. Please share this information with friends.

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