Being sexually assaulted changes everything. Not only do you have to endure the physical consequences, but it also brings with it some significant emotional scars as well. There is no guaranteed way to prevent being assaulted, but the one thing that will help you during an assault is fighting back.
Fighting Back Is Better Than Trying To Talk Your Way Out Of It
“Women’s generally high sociability was often a liability rather than an asset during a rape attempt. Many women tried to appeal to the humanity of the rapist or to establish some form of empathic connection with him. These efforts were almost universally futile.”
It makes perfect sense to try and talk your way out of a scary situation. You’ve been told your entire life to be kind, to play nice, to not make people mad, to not hurt other people’s feelings. Those messages automatically kick in when we are scared and our rational brain takes a break.
But they don’t work.
It is healthy to know when to be kind and when to be offensive. Both are good if used in the right context. Being assaulted is the perfect time to do everything possible to communicate to this person that what they are doing is not going to be tolerated and that you don’t actually care about them. You are willing to hurt them personally, emotionally, and physically if necessary. It is saying, “I am choosing my health and safety over yours.”
Fighting Back Keeps You From Blaming Yourself
“Women who were immobilized by terror and submitted without a struggle were more likely not only to be raped but also to be highly self-critical and depressed in the aftermath.”
Freezing and becoming passive is a normal and natural thing to do when you are scared for your life. It often times happens automatically and can’t be helped. Unfortunately, one of the emotional consequences of freezing is the critical self talk that comes later on. You say things like, “Why did I just let this happen.” “It must be my fault since I didn’t fight back.” “I deserve what happened because I didn’t fight back.”
You do this to make sense of a situation that doesn’t make sense. It gives you a sense of control. “I’ve got to blame someone, and since I didn’t fight back, I should blame myself.” Doing this puts inappropriate shame and guilt on the wrong person and its important, during recovery, to shift this blame to the person who did the wrong—the rapist.
Fighting Back Helps You Actively Process The Physical Energy
“Women who used many active strategies and fought to the best of their ability were not only more likely to be successful in thwarting the rape attempt but also less likely to suffer severe distress symptoms even if their efforts ultimately failed.”
When we get scared our bodies get ready for battle or flight. Our heart rate increases, our adrenaline starts pumping, our blood flow changes to the core of our body to keep it protected. All of this physiological preparation needs something to be done with it. Freezing, or becoming passive, keeps all this physical energy locked up in our body which leads to significant problems later on. When we fight back, we disperse all that energy, even if it doesn’t eventually stop the assault. Our physical bodies process through it differently—healthier—so that the consequences later on are not as severe.
If You’ve Been Assaulted…
… there is help for you. You need to find a good counselor who can help you move through all of the personal, emotional and physical reactions to the rape. Once you do that, that event will be part of your story but not impacting you on a daily basis.
You’ll want to find someone who specializes in abuse recovery and PTSD and has a variety of tools to choose from including EMDR, EFT, Somatic processing, etc… Both male and female therapists can be helpful, as long as they are someone you feel safe enough with.
If You Want To Be Better Prepared…
… consider taking a self-defense class. This teaches you when it is okay to contradict all the messages to be nice you’ve received growing up. It creates muscle memory so you know what your screaming voice sounds like, what it feels like to punch someone, what it feels like to purposefully try to hurt someone. Once you have these tools, you’ll be better prepared for a wider variety of situations in your life.
Information and quotes adapted from Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery