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How I learned to move forward after sexual assault

3 March 2017

A photo of a young woman smiling

Sheeva was raped when she was at university.

Four years on, she now works as a Volunteer Community Manager at Victim Support, heading up a team of volunteers who provide emotional and practical support to people affected by crime, including domestic and sexual violence.

Sheeva shared her story with the Guardian in a three-part video series on mental health, Speak your Mind.

Watch the video and read our interview with Sheeva below to find out more.

Credits: Irene Baque (filmmaker) and Bruno Rinvolucri (graphics).

If someone reading this had been sexually assaulted and was struggling, what five things would you recommend to them to help them cope?

I’d suggest that they talk to someone, and if possible, a professional — their GP, a doctor or nurse at a crisis centre, or someone from a registered charity that works around these types of issues.

If that isn’t possible, it can also be helpful to speak to a trusted friend or family member while making it utterly clear that you’re not interested in their judgement.

One of the worst things a person can do, in my opinion, is hold the pain close to their chest and pretend everything is fine. Everything is not fine, and that’s okay!

But it can get better, and there are people you can talk to.

Otherwise, I’d say: long hot showers, gazing at the sky when it looks pretty, sitting in the sun if it happens to be shining through a window, and most of all spending time with people who care about you.

Why did you want to share your experience with others?

I wanted to share my experience because when I was going through the aftermath of my rape, I tried to search online for other people who might have been through similar events. All I found were testimonies from people who were miserable, who never got better, who weren’t able to have relationships or sex anymore.

They were distraught and destroyed and as a result I felt I had to just deny that I was in any kind of pain, or I might end up just as bad. So I was in total denial for a really long time, which significantly impacted my mental health.

What I know now is that after a trauma, getting some sort of therapeutic intervention a few months after the initial incident (if necessary) can be totally life-altering. I waited three years to access the right kind of therapy, just because I couldn’t admit I was still struggling and didn’t believe I could get better.

Now that I know better, I just really had to share — it can and does get better. You don’t have to feel scared and ashamed beyond reason.

And actually, you can get to the point where you hardly ever think about it anymore, which is pretty damn great.

How to get support

If you’ve experienced rape or sexual violence, Victim Support can give you free and confidential support to help you move forward.

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