Skip to content
safe exitsafe exit

Moving Beyond Survival: Supportive Tips for Navigating Immediate Danger or Crisis

Something traumatic happened to you. You may be feeling panicked, distressed or numb. This awful thing that occurred tried to break you. This horrific event has rattled everything you thought you knew. The assault has made you feel unsafe. We see you and we want you to know that you are not broken. As you navigate your recent experience and all of the feelings you may be having right now, we want you to know this journey is yours and we are here to support the beginning of this journey.

Sexual assault can leave you with physical, emotional, and psychological wounds. Healing from sexual trauma requires a series of supportive steps to ensure your safety, help you process the experience, and be able to develop coping tools and strategies towards your long term recovery. Each survivor has differing needs, experiences, and perspectives which means for many of us we process and heal from trauma in our own unique way. It is important to remember that healing from sexual trauma takes time and will vary from person to person.

Sexual violence is a crime, no matter who commits it or where it happens. It is difficult to know what to do, how to feel or know what options or resources exist after an immediate or recent sexual assault. Please know that you are not alone.

This blog will cover strategies and important steps you can take after a sexual assault.

Tip #1: Establishing a Safe Place

After the experience of sexual assault/violence, it is important to ensure your safety and well-being. In the immediate aftermath of a sexual assault, most survivors experience shock, panic, depersonalization, and overwhelm. After an assault, it is impossible to be able to process emotions as your body and brain are activating “fight, flight, or freeze reactions” due to the threat of assault. It can often feel like your body, nervous system, and brain are firing in all angles, making it impossible for you to know what to do next to keep yourself safe.

To establish a sense of safety, consider activities that soothe or calm you. For example, deep breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Deep belly breaths will help regulate your body and nervous system. It will also reduce the symptoms of panic and anxiety you may be feeling now. Consider utilizing resilience or compassion-enhancing techniques that help ground you, bring tenderness, and allow you to slow down. Compassion-enhancing techniques include journaling and speaking an affirmation or mantra aloud (“I am safe now. I am going to be okay. I can breathe through it.”). Your safety is important. If you are not feeling safe, please consider reaching out to trusted support in the form of an ally, friend, or peer. You can also check out our resources page for more information to find emergency housing or any other measures that will bring you safety.

Safe Space Guided Imagery Exercise

Consider reading this script and recording so that you can listen to the exercise.

To begin this guided exercise. Find a comfortable place to sit and close your eyes. Take a few deep, slow belly breaths. Inhale through your nose and out through your mouth. Be sure that when you exhale you release a sigh or the words “Ahhhhhh.” Do this for 3-4 breaths. Imagine that you are in a safe space. Let your deep breaths help you release tension in your body. As you take slow deep breaths in, relax your muscles. Relax your jaw. Relax the tension between your eyes. Relax your shoulders. And as you exhale let the tension go. Notice your body. Where is your body feeling tension? Focus your attention on this area as you take another breath in. Breathe in slowly. And exhale all the tension in that area out. Feel this area relax, feel the tension flow out of you. Allow your breathing to slow down. Your body is feeling relaxed now.

Continue to breathe in and breathe out.

As you do this, picture in your mind’s eye, a safe place. What is the first place that comes to mind? What type of place does your mind choose as safe? Perhaps you are in a beautiful, majestic garden, or in the mountains, or in the ocean. Maybe it is a room in the house of a loved one who always made you feel safe. What do you feel when you think of this safe space? What are you thinking as you imagine this safe space? What sensations or stirrings are rising in your body? What is your body telling you about your feeling of safety at this moment?

Imagine the details of your surroundings. Notice what is around you. What season is it? Notice the ground. Imagine yourself like a tree with roots firmly planted on the ground. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you feel?

Now allow yourself to lie down in this safe place. Feel the ground of this place beneath your body. Imagine this ground connected to the earth. Imagine the earth supporting you. Imagine this safe place holding you gently. Imagine that in the holding you are more relaxed, more grounded, and you are feeling like you can melt into the ground. Imagine yourself feeling safe in this guided exercise.

Feel your body resting on the ground. Feel yourself being held by the ground, you begin to feel more relaxed and at ease.

Breathe in and breathe out.

After you have visualized this safe place, and you feel ready to leave, give yourself permission to return to the room you are in and leave your safe place, for now; but remember that you can return to your safe place anytime that you like.

Breathe in and breathe out.

Bring your awareness back to the room. Bring your awareness back to your body. Open your eyes slowly. Continue to breathe softly, gently, and rhythmically. Take a few moments to take in this guided exercise. Remember your safe place. As you return to your day, know that your safe place is within reach whenever you are ready to go there.

Tip #2: Consider Your Emotional Safety

Once you are physically safe, it’s important to connect with people or persons that you trust for support. After the shock wears off, trauma survivors can often experience anxiety, depression, or dissociation. Consider finding a person that will listen and hold space for you with compassion and non-judgment. Someone who will not pry for information or details. For example, a trusted peer or friend who can say something like: “I am so sorry this happened to you. Are you feeling safe? How can I support you?”

For some survivors, it is possible to have some thoughts or feelings that are coming to the surface. Perhaps you are blaming yourself. It is not your fault. Something happened that you did not want to happen and that is not ever OK. There are also many other feelings that will arise, try not to ignore or avoid the feelings. Allow yourself to sit with the feelings rather than not. Healing from sexual trauma requires a space to process your feelings and your experiences. For specific information about navigating your feelings check out my essay here.

Here are a few grounding practices you can try:

  • Yoga
  • Affirmations
  • Mantra
  • Breathwork
  • Going for a hike
  • Spending time in nature
  • Using aromatherapy
  • Meditation

Some journal or self reflective prompts to help you regain emotional safety:

  • What feelings are coming to the surface?
  • What needs my love, care, and attention right now?
  • What would I say to a small child who is not feeling safe?
  • How can I sit with my emotions as they come up?
  • Are you wondering, what happens next? Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-4673 or visit our resource library.

Tip #3: Consider Your Medical Options

Many survivors may be hesitant to pursue medical attention after a recent sexual assault. It is up to you to decide what to do based upon your physical, emotional, and psychological needs.

If you’ve been recently sexually assaulted there are services that can help. You don’t have to report the assault to the police if you don’t want to. You may need time to think about what has happened to you. However, considering getting medical help as soon as possible may be beneficial. Choosing to go to the hospital or a rape crisis center can mean that health practitioners can treat bodily injury and can ensure the safety of your physical and sexual health. These same facilities can provide you with a rape kit — a forensic evidence exam that is used to collect DNA, blood samples and any other helpful evidence. If you are not ready to file a police report, some facilities can even freeze the evidence and store it for later access.

It takes a great deal of courage to make a decision to obtain a rape kit and it can also be very scary, because in a way you are admitting to yourself and others that this horrible thing occurred. Once you have made a decision with confidence or some sense of certainty, you should go through with the process as quickly as possible. In many places, the window for collecting forensic evidence is 72 hours. Do check your state for the time limit as it varies from state to state. If possible, keep in mind that many survivors are advised not to shower, comb their hair, use the restroom or change their clothes before completing the rape kit.If you are a person of color, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, a person with a disability or a part of any other historically marginalized group, you may be nervous in seeking medical attention for a sexual assault. However, health care is often the first step to healing for many survivors. If you are interested in seeking medical attention, you deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. You may reference local hospitals and other medical resources in your area here.

Tip #4: Consider Your Legal Options

Some survivors can be certain they want to file a police report or prosecute the perpetrator. While, for others, the decision is not so clear, and many hesitate to report the assault immediately. And there are some who are confused about what they should do next.

There is a chance that you may worry that you would relive the trauma of filing a report or have to engage with law enforcement or even possibly testify against the perpetrator in court. This can also make it hard for you to come forward. It is hard to consider reporting when there is a distrust (which is understandable) of law enforcement or institution. If you are struggling to consider your legal options, be sure to do what feels most empowering to you in this moment. This can mean filing a report, sharing your story, or seeking justice on your terms. Check out our info sheet on how to navigate the process of reporting.

Tip #5: Practice Self-Compassion

Every survivor has the right to feel the full range of feelings that can surface after a sexual assault. It is critical to honor the feelings that come up naturally. Everyone has the right to claim their feelings, feel their feelings and process it in their own way. Whatever your reactions or feelings it is okay to feel them. There is no right way to react or respond to trauma.

One of the feelings that are common for trauma survivors is blaming oneself for the trauma. It is never the survivor’s fault, but it is one of the experiences that can be rather unhelpful to healing and recovery. Try to reframe a self-blame thought into one of curiosity or imagine what you would say to someone else in this situation. For example, ask yourself: how would you care for a close friend who survived sexual assault? What would you say to them? Or consider talking to yourself as you would to a young child or pet. Pay attention to the thoughts and feelings that emerge from you. Do not judge these thoughts or feelings. Be curious and compassionate towards yourself when they come up.

Pay attention to your triggers. And when you are ready you can make a list of the internal and external triggers you have. This will help you to prepare and anticipate triggers and better manage or respond to them. Don’t try to ignore your triggers. Make room for them as their presence can offer you information as to the best way to approach your healing or utilize coping mechanisms or compassion enhancing techniques.

Make a safe list or self-soothing list when you are feeling distressed or experiencing a trigger(s). The key is to participate in activities that make you feel calm, comforted, and/or at peace. Trauma can function to sever our connection to ourselves, our purpose and our bodies. Reconnect to yourself and your life. And be sure to connect with supportive others to help get you through. Read a book that helps you connect with your body again. Or read literature that helps you to understand the long-term recovery of healing sexual trauma.

Make a self-care or safe list. Consider making a list of activities or resiliency practices that you enjoy doing and make you feel safe. You can return to this list from time to time when you are feeling triggered. And/or consider using the list of affirmations below.

Some examples of a self-care or safe list:

  • Drink a warm cup of tea slowly and mindfully.
  • Hold a piece of ice in your hand.
  • Take a warm bath.
  • Try a grounding exercise.
  • Go for a brisk walk.
  • Do a light stretch.
  • Try yoga.
  • Do EFT Tapping.
  • Take 3 deep belly breaths.
  • Journal every thought that you’re carrying or is bothering you.
  • Imagine yourself in your favorite nature spot (e.g. near the ocean)
  • Light a candle. Watch it closely.
  • Listen to soothing or healing music (could be instrumental).
  • Use essential oils/aromatherapy. Rub it on your temple, wrist and behind your ears or any other parts you’d like.

List of Affirmations

For many survivors, it is hard to not be mired by the spiral of guilt and self-blame. It is critical to remember that this was not your fault. Below are affirmations that you can use to help you build resilience and coping tools in the face of negative self-talk.

I am safe, protected and loved.
I am surrounded by loving people who have my needs in mind.
I am in a safe, healing space, surrounded by those who love and support me.
I no longer need to carry the weight of my past on my shoulders and in my body.
I am doing the best I can with what I have where I am and so is everybody else.
I am love. I give love. I am open to receive love.
I am strong and I am powerful.
I am courageous.
I am resilient.
I am whole.
I move freely with ease now.
I can now express my love freely.
I am able to move forward with my life in the face of fear and doubt.
I trust the process.
The Universe, Source, Supreme Being or ______ (include the name that you call) will provide for me.
I embrace a new way of communicating and relating to others, where I speak my truth freely and release the things that can harbor in my body.
I am capable.
I am safe now.
I am secure.
I am strong in my body and in my thoughts.
I grab hold of the goodness of life.
I release what no longer serves me now.
I only speak with loving kindness to myself or with others.
I speak truth from a loving and joyous place.
I reclaim my joy now.
I deserve joy now.
Joy is my birthright.
I embody joy.
I allow myself to feel love, joy, and freedom throughout my entire being.
I honor the full range of my feelings knowing that they offer me wisdom and healing.

Source: The Body Heals Itself: How Deeper Awareness of Your Muscles and Their Emotional Connection Can Help You Heal.

Tip #6: Ask for Support

Call on chosen family and friends–but do discern the sources of support that are right for you. It is important to identify a trusted ally who is able to listen and hold space for the complexity of your feelings and experiences.

Seek professional help as soon as you feel ready or up for it. Many mental health professionals recommend group therapy or support groups for survivors as it can often reduce fear, shame, fear and alleviate anxiety and depression. Check out our resource library for more information about groups in your area.

Processing your experience is key to healing from sexual trauma. For many trauma survivors, there is a struggle to carry the pain and suffering of past traumas in our bodies, nervous system, heart, and mind. Releasing and sharing these experiences with someone you trust or with a professional can help you heal from the pain of trauma.


RAINN: Steps You Can Take After a Sexual Assault

Francis, E.A. (2019) The Body Heals Itself: How Deeper Awareness of Your Muscles And Their Emotional Connection Can Help You Heal.

Marin, V. (2019). How to Support a Friend or Loved One Who Has Been Sexually Abused. New York Times: Smart Living