Providing yourself a break of quiet among the upsetting noise is not only your right, but when it comes to your mental health it can make the crucial difference in your healing. Cooperate with your partner’s requests around sexual activity. She may want to avoid sexual activity or even ask for temporary sexual abstinence. If she makes this request, it’s probably because sexual activity is triggering painful memories of sexual abuse. Temporary abstinence may seem difficult, but you can treat it as an opportunity to express your loving feelings with affectionate touching and non-sexual intimacy. You’ll help your partner if you focus on your own needs as well as hers.

Like all relationships, communication can’t be emphasized enough. It ensures both partners are on the same page, and helps survivors feel they have enough space to process their trauma within a relationship. While it might be frustrating as a partner, these responses are born out of the way the brain and body protected the survivor during their trauma. Survivors need to let their mind and body re-adjust to safer relationships, which takes time and patience.

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Her mind is letting information in little by little so she won’t be overwhelmed. More than 4 in 5 female rape survivors reported that they were first raped before age 25 and almost half were first raped as a minor (i.e., before age 18). Nearly 8 in 10 male rape survivors reported that they were made to penetrate someone before age 25 and about 4 in 10 were first made to penetrate as a minor.

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In addition, the present findings can help refine cognitive and emotional strategies to end and prevent the cycle of violence perpetration in dating and possibly marital contexts. In this sense, instead of focusing on identifying warning signs that may constitute abuse, interventions can focus on how reactions can be attenuated in the moment to prevent aggressive behaviors. If sexual assault is something that has happened to you—it’s not a result of who you are or something you did . This misperception is often based on social stigma that blames the targets of abuse. The reality is that some people choose to exert their will over others and operate from a sense of entitlement to someone else’s body.

Matthew Tull, PhD is a professor of psychology at the University of Toledo, specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder. The more calm, relaxed, and focused you are, the better you’ll be able to help your loved one. Manage your own stress and reach out to others for support. After the fact, it’s easy to second guess what you did or didn’t do. But when you’re in the midst of an assault, your brain and body are in shock.

Many survivors believe they are irrevocably flawed, not good enough and unworthy of love. Thoughts like these can wreak havoc in relationships throughout life. Survivors may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and experience re-occurring reproductive, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and sexual health problems.

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With the prevalence of sexual assault occurrences, everyone could at some point find themselves dating someone who has been sexually assaulted or know someone who has been abused. Not doing so risks the possibility for triggers during what should be a safe, bonding and pleasurable interaction. Instead, there are reminders that sex implies a lack of control, an inability to tell someone “no” and be heard or respected for a survivor of sexual assault.

Sexual Assault

Realize that a trauma can resurface again when you share your story. Others may discover that “normal” no longer exists, and that they need to create an entirely new way of living. It’s still important to set boundaries to help cultivate a truly healthy relationship. Check in with the survivor frequently enough to help, but not so often that they are re-traumatized or don’t have room to heal. Try to help them distinguish between wishing it had never happened, in terms of wishing they hadn’t been there at that time, or said what they said, and so on, and it being their fault it happened. Everyone has a basic human right to be free from threat, harassment or attack.

Remind yourself that it is common, continue to behave in a trustworthy manner, such as by being honest, loyal, and dependable. Over time, your partner will see that you are worthy of their trust. Every person’s experience with sexual abuse is different, and no two recovery processes look the same. There are no clear set of “rules” that will work for every person, so it’s important for you to ask your girlfriend what she needs from you as her partner. You don’t want to make any assumptions about her experiences or needs. Even what I’ve written in this article and in previous ones might feel totally off to her.

But there are a handful of common signs that it might be good for your overall mental health, said Janet Brito, a psychologist and sex therapist at the Center for Sexual and Reproductive Health in Honolulu. If abuse and hurt feel inevitable, people who have been abused may view sexual relationships as predatory and react with avoidance or hostility towards partners or suitors. A survivor of childhood sexual abuse may try to undo the abuse by taking back power.