Carolyn Keller, LMSW, DSW
Sexual violence can have physical, psychological, and emotional effects on survivors. As the mind works to process the utter devastation of sexual violence, different physical sensations, behaviors and emotions can surface. Some areas that survivors struggle with are feelings of shame and guilt, difficulty creating appropriate boundaries and trust with others, denial or minimizing what occurred, and challenges with focusing and isolation (Tyson, 2019). Suppressing negative thoughts and feelings can lead to physical symptoms, problems with relationships and daily functioning. With traumatic experiences, the memories are so emotionally intense that innocuous triggers can be paralyzing. Trauma alters the course of a person’s life, and survivors try to fit those events into new understandings of the purpose and meaning of their life (Busey & Wise, 2007).
For many years, therapists have used journaling as an effective intervention with clients that have experienced trauma. Expressive writing can be used to help make sense of thoughts and emotions. Retelling of a traumatic experience has been shown to decrease the severity of the trauma response. What may be challenging or impossible to say out loud, can be given a voice through writing (Murray, 2002). Writing can aid in processing experiences and visualizing a path forward. Creating a narrative about a traumatic experience allows the ability to look at the experience from a safe place, and exercise some mastery of the situation reducing feelings of helplessness. This exploration illuminates trauma reactions and therefore is an impactful tool in working to understand and manage reactions.
Sexual violence survivors have been silenced for centuries by societal norms and victim blaming. In recent years, we have seen a collective movement to increase awareness of sexual assault and allow spaces for survivors to share their stories honestly and without judgment (Tyson, 2019). It is incredibly brave to let other people into a deeply personal experience and can be a powerful catalyst for others managing their way through trauma.
Bussey, M. & Bula Wise, J. (2007). Trauma Transformed : An Empowerment Response.
Columbia University Press.
Murray, B. (2002, June 1). Writing to heal. Monitor on Psychology, 33(6).
Tyson, V. (2019) Understanding the Personal Impact of Sexual Violence and Assault,
Journal of Women, Politics & Policy, 40:1, 174-183, DOI: 10.1080/1554477X.2019.1565456