In the Aftermath and Long-Term

You begin to notice Symptoms of Trauma following a Traumatic Incident

  • Do not listen to your boss if s/he coerces you into returning to work, if you are not ready. Returning to work can be healing, but there is a right time and place for your return. Pay close attention to your body, mind and soul to know when and where is best for YOU.
  • Take care of yourself first.
  • Consult a specialist.

Initial Weeks/Months Post-Assault

How You May Feel

    • alone
    • isolated
    • at fault / to blame
    • disempowered
    • crazy
    • out of control
    • extremely depressed
    • on an emotional rollercoaster
    • suicidal

In the Aftermath and Long-term of a Traumatic/Critical Incident

  • Confide in a friend who can help you through the challenging moments and also celebrate the positive.
  • Join our online communities to meet other aid workers who have had similar experiences, offer and receive mutual support, and feel less alone.

Issues that May Arise for Survivors of Sexual Assault or Rape

    • You may find that some people – including colleagues, family and friends – will be uncomfortable with you. They may not know how to respond. Some may even respond inappropriately. Remember that you are not alone and that you are not to blame. If possible, reach out to close friends who you know you can trust and who you trust will understand and support you (including other survivors of sexual assault/rape), to help you to feel less alone and more understood.
    • Your colleagues – including those meant to support you – may take on a distanced role, seemingly protecting the office more than you. Remind them of your needs, if you are comfortable doing so, and contact appropriate supervisors and others you trust to ensure the office adequately supports you. Start documenting now any mistreatment or inappropriate response.
    • You may experience extreme emotions (sadness, anger, rage) or even an extreme state of calmness. Try to pay close attention to the physical and emotional responses you are experiencing and be sympathetic to yourself. What you are experiencing is entirely normal.

Initial Weeks/Months Post-Assault

How You May Feel

    • alone
    • isolated
    • dirty
    • distasteful
    • slutty
    • at fault / to blame
    • guilty
    • as a provoker
    • unworthy
    • shame
    • disempowered
    • crazy
    • out of control
    • extremely depressed
    • on an emotional rollercoaster
    • suicidal

Issues Sexual Assault/Rape May Surface for You

Remember

    • You are not alone.
    • You are not responsible.
    • You are not to blame.
    • You are not dirty.
    • You are not unworthy.
    • You did not consent. You were forced through the use of power (physical or emotional, with or without a weapon). You saved your life.
    • The perpetrator is dealing with internal issues (anger, power, control). The perpetrator is the one responsible and to blame.
    • The experience of sexual assault/rape is life-altering. Do not expect your life to “return to normal”, but also strive not to let the perpetrators continue to control your life. It is normal that you will remain affected and that your personal and professional lives will forever be influenced by your experience. But, strive to regain a sense of empowerment, as much as possible. It may help to communicate about your experiences with close friends/family (especially those of the same gender and/or who have had similar experiences). It may also help to join support and advocacy groups in order for you to help influence how others respond to and address sexual assault/rape and to help support others who have had similar experiences.

Issues that May Arise

    • You may feel uncomfortable responding to a survivor of sexual assault/rape and be uncertain of how you should respond. This should not be an excuse to ignore the person or to leave the person alone. Ensure continuous support and monitoring. Unsupportive/negative responses are known to prolong the recovery process. Be supportive!
    • You may feel the need to protect the office (e.g. if the response was inadequate or mistakes were made), but remember that the survivor needs to feel and be supported. Avoid taking the “managerial”/”bureaucratic” approach, choosing to defend the office rather than supporting the survivor as a human being.
    • The survivor may exhibit extreme emotions (sadness, anger, rage) or even an extreme state of calm. If the survivor exhibits extreme emotions, recognize that they are not directed at you. If the survivor exhibits extreme calm, recognize that this does not mean that s/he is okay. S/he is in survival mode.
    • You may need to corroborate the details of the survivor’s story with witnesses. However, avoid expressing doubt or second-guessing the survivor.

Initial Weeks/Months

First Year

Key Assumptions, Statements, and Behaviors to Avoid

Other Considerations

    • We should not overlook the fact that men also face sexual and gender-based violence (e.g. male survivors of sexual assault/rape, or men who may not have survived sexual assault but may have been forced to rape in war).
    • It’s important to include men and women together in the dialogue on sexual assault and rape.
    • It’s essential that we each understand the power differences deeply embedded in our cultures that largely determine how we perceive ourselves and how we understand men from women. It is helpful to become conscious of how we speak about men and women, how we judge women by their appearance, by their body size, by their sex lives, and by their relationship to men and how these judgments differ for men. Example: A woman with multiple sexual partners is typically viewed as a slut, while a man is just a man or his sex life is simply not up for debate. A woman is generally expected to maintain her figure. The pressures on men are less so. These are some ways in which we set a clear distinction between men and women. Only when we become aware of these differences – even within UN offices – and committed to reformulate our speech and views will we be able to truly confront the issues of sexual assault and rape.

* "When an Incident Occurs" and "In the Aftermath and Long-term" were written by Shannon in 2013 for the Staff Welfare section of UNHCR in order to help staff departing on emergency deployment prepare for potential traumatic incidents and, in particular, sexual assault. Please note that the text of these sections is, therefore, the property of UNHCR. Neither UNHCR nor the author, however, warrants in any way the accuracy of this information and may not be held liable for any loss caused by reliance on the accuracy or reliability thereof. The advice is provided based on Shannon's firsthand experience but may not be applicable in all situations or contexts. Special thanks to UNHCR for sharing this resource widely and for allowing it to be reproduced on this site. *

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