March Survivor Spotlight: Self Harm

“You should be careful who you hang out with.”
“You shouldn’t have been drinking.”
“You shouldn’t have been wearing that.”

Sexual assault survivor Sarah portrait

Those were the responses from Sarah Allen’s closest friends after she told them she was sexually assaulted by a trusted friend and fellow resident advisor at her college. Sarah was expecting support and empathy, but instead was questioned and felt blamed by her friends. Sarah and the other RAs were a close-knit group of friends, which made their reactions that much more hurtful.

To cope with the pain, disappointment, and violation of trust that came from the assault, as well as from her friends’ negative reactions, Sarah began self-harming. “I think I used self-harm as a way to try to regulate my emotions,” said Sarah. “I would have weeks where I was mostly numb, so I would cut to remind myself that I was real, or to see if I could feel something.”

“Self-harm is an issue that many survivors are concerned with: In fact, thirteen percent of visitors to the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline discuss self-harm during their sessions,” said Candice Lopez, director of the National Sexual Assault Hotline.

The resistance that Sarah initially encountered led her to remain silent about the rape for months. But when she finally did decide to report, Sarah faced additional negative feedback from the on-campus police and ended up dropping the charges. Eventually, Sarah was able to move past those who minimized what happened to her and find the support she needed. She worked with a therapist to help identify triggers and find healthy ways to address her feelings instead of cutting. “Once I started listening to myself instead of simply trying to shut down that part of me, I was able to more successfully challenge myself when I had the urge to self-injure,” said Sarah.

Sarah wants other sexual assault survivors and those struggling with self-harm to know that recovery isn’t always a fast process. “Accepting the idea that this impulse is something that I may have to struggle with for a long time doesn’t make me weak,” she said. “Even if I never shake the to urge to self-harm, that doesn’t mean that I’ve failed. As long as I keep fighting, I am strong, and I am winning my battle.”

Learn more about self-harm. Make sure to also check out RAINN’s tips on how to help a loved one, and info about self-care after trauma.

If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, it’s not your fault. You are not alone. Help is available 24/7 through the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-HOPE and online.rainn.org.

Seven out of 10 sexual assaults are committed by someone who knows the victim.

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