How sexual violence changes your relationships, according to survivors

Life After Sexual Violence: how do survivors of sexual assault navigate their sex lives, their relationships, personal trauma or building trust?

Thomas Goulding
Friday 24 November 2017 12:09 GMT
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Life After Sexual Violence: How being a survivor affects your relationships

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“The first time I got turned on in any way after the rape, I burst into floods of tears,” says Tanaka Mhishi.

Tanaka is just one of the seven people who feature in Life After Sexual Violence, a seven part series which throws a spotlight on the reality of life after a sex attack.

Navigating one’s closest relationships can be tricky in the aftermath of sexual violence. Tanaka describes how he suffered significant trauma in trying to navigate healthy sexual experiences after being raped, and how he burst into tears when having sex for the first time after the attack. “I hadn’t cried up until that point actually,” he says. “I’d just been in this fugue zombie shock state. So the coming back to myself could also be bizarrely more painful than just staying traumatized sometimes.”

Just over one in three victims experience problems with their partners, closest friends and family as a result of sexual assault and rape. Common issues include arguing more frequently than before, feeling unable to trust, or being more withdrawn and distanced from those closest to them, according to a 2014 Department of Justice study.

Talking about her sexual experiences after being assaulted three times, Imogen Butler-Cole says “because of the trauma that had happened, I think I was also physically quite numb, and I wasn’t able to really enjoy those sexual experiences.” Because of this, she says “I then found it very hard to trust people.”

Our participants include Emily Jacob, 44, who runs ReConnected Life, a coaching and community program for survivors of sexual violence; Tanaka Mhishi, 24, a writer from London; Imogen Butler-Cole, 40, an actor and performer with a solo stage show ‘Foreign Body’, about life after sexual assault; Sophie Yates Lu, 28, a campaigner from London; Winnie M Li, 38, a writer and film producer, whose new book ‘Dark Chapter’ won the Guardian’s “Not the Booker” prize;Faye White, 25, a journalist; Alex Bryce, 34, a political advisor.

If you have been a victim of sexual violence, you can find your local Rape Crisis organisation here if you are a woman seeking support and services, or if you a man or a woman, through The Survivors’ Trust.

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