Sexual violence, abuse and rape: getting help and support

Sexual violence can happen to anyone, regardless of their gender, age or sexuality. It can occur when we are children, teenagers, or adults – in a relationship, or with a stranger. The experience is often overwhelming and difficult for our mind and our emotions to process and deal with at the time, and often for many years afterwards.

Sexual violence is a widely underreported phenomenon globally, therefore available statistics are unlikely to inform about the true scale of the problem. A charity in Hong Kong (ACSVAW) report that 1 in 7 women have experienced sexual violence.

Sexual violence and abuse definition

Sexual violence and abuse is any behaviour of a sexual nature which is unwanted and takes place without consent or understanding. It includes acts that are not codified in law as criminal but are harmful and traumatic. Trauma may be physical, emotional or psychological, and often it is a combination of all three. Events that were too difficult to think about or to process when the event happened, can cause a range of difficulties later on. By getting the support we need, we can work through the buried past and live our life more fully in the present.

Survivors often report feelings of fear, shame and guilt. Sadly, many blame themselves for the abuse and violence, or feel that they ought to have done more to stop it and are therefore somehow responsible.

In some cases, cultural values create extra stigma for people who report. These factors can also prevent survivors from seeking mental health treatment. For example, men who experience sexual violence can face severe stigma as many people believe men cannot possibly be victims of rape. Sexual crimes in the LGBTQ+ community are often not reported - survivors may fear revealing their gender identity or sexual orientation to others or may not trust the legal system to protect them. Survivors could also fear inciting further violence. Others may fear “betraying” their family or community by disclosing personal information.

Common symptoms include:

  • Depression: Feelings of hopelessness or despair, reduced self-worth. These feelings may be mild and fleeting, or they can be intense and long-lasting.
  • Anxiety: Survivors may fear the attack could happen again. Anxiety can create a loop of thinking that can become quite distorted, interrupting sleep patterns and normal life. Some may experience panic attacks. Others may develop agoraphobia and become afraid to leave their homes.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Someone who survives sexual violence may experience intense memories of the abuse. In some cases, flashbacks may be so disruptive they cause a survivor to lose track of surroundings. Chronic ongoing trauma may also persist, see unresolved trauma.
  • Attachment issues: Survivors may find it challenging to form healthy attachments with others, especially in intimate relationships
  • Eating disorders: Studies have shown that there are a high number of people (at least 30%) diagnosed with an eating disorder have suffered from sexual abuse. For many there is a belief that the eating disorder is a means of survival for them, and so this can be delicate to treat.
  • Addiction: Research suggests abuse survivors are 26 times more likely to use drugs. Drugs, alcohol and food can help numb the pain of abuse. Yet substance abuse often leads to the development of other problems.

Healing from sexual violence and abuse is possible, and with the right help and support you can learn ways to manage and recover the psychological, emotional and physical effects sexual violence can cause. Our psychologists and psychotherapists are familiar with dealing with the effects of sexual violence and abuse and can offer a safe, private and confidential place to help your recovery at a pace that is not overwhelming.

IMI provides an integrated approach and can offer a wide range of treatments and therapies that can help in your healing process. For example, targeted nutrition, herbal supplements and homeopathic remedies can help support you as you work towards physical and mental recovery. We can also signpost you to other agencies for specialist help if required.

What to do next

You may know that you are ready to start talking about the issues with a psychotherapist or psychologist. Or you may not be ready to discuss what has happened, but want to reach out for some help. We can support and guide you as you begin to address the events or experiences that have affected you so deeply, and find a way forward. To book an appointment with a psychotherapist or psychologist, call 2523 7121.

For confidential advice and support, contact psychology@imi.com.hk.
These emails are answered by a trained counsellor or psychologist, who can advise you how best to proceed in your circumstances, within the protective framework of confidentiality.

If you are looking for the support of a group, then Rainlily, a support group for women, may be able to help.

Further readings and resources

  • Healing the Shame that Binds You, John Bradshaw
  • The Courage to Heal, Ellen Bass and Laura Davis
  • The Warrior Within, Christiane Sanderson
  • The Spirit Within, Christiane Sanderson