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My daughter is a freshman in college and was sexually assaulted/raped on campus about 7 months ago. I noticed some cuts on her wrist when she was home last weekend and she admitted that she is cutting her wrists. She is not a very open girl and I am not sure what is going on in her head and why she is doing this.

What can I do to help her?

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Personally, I think you should escalate this issue to someone locally, who can help her. –  ChristopherW Mar 21 at 4:16
    
Welcome to the site, @user7090. I have made some minor edits to help focus your question into areas where I believe we are most likely to be able to provide meaningful answers; please feel free to revise further, or undo my edits if I haven't really captured your intent. –  Beofett Mar 21 at 12:47

4 Answers 4

Your daughter is in pain and is expressing that pain the best she can, but usually that's not enough. Sexual assault has psychological repercussions that can last much, much longer than the physical repercussions. Help her contact RAINN or her local rape crisis center, a psychotherapist who specializes in trauma issues, or both. And do it FAST. Do not delay on this. Her mental health depends on swift, thorough action.

On a more personal note, do whatever you can to support her. Offer an ear, a hug, or just leave her alone if that's what she needs. Just make sure you let her know you love her, and will support her through her healing as much as she requires. And then follow through. Don't let her down, and help her to not let herself down. She can recover from this (many of us have).

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I'd change "can" to "does" about how big the psychological impact is. The nature of the impact may vary drastically, but I'm not aware of a single rape where the psychological impact was not orders of magnitude more significant than the physical trauma. –  AJ Henderson Mar 21 at 14:48

I was a peer crisis counselor in high school. I would suggest talking to a crisis counselor or psychologist and getting feedback from them on how to help. She should see a counselor herself because of the cutting, but you will want to be careful in how you approach it to make sure it is clear you are supportive and not judging the behavior. (This is where a crisis counselor will be able to help you.) The amount of emotional pain associated with a rape is easy to under-estimate by most people and the way it shows can vary greatly from one individual to another. Key points that are generally helpful is reinforcing a) that the event doesn't change how you view her, b) that she isn't alone in it (that many others have been through similar experiences), c) depending on how has taken it, that it isn't her fault, d) ask about how she is feeling, listen to the answers and as far as you can, ask questions rather than offering advice.

There is a lot of pain to let out and the best thing you can do is help provide support and an outlet for that pain. If you can work her towards speaking with a counselor without making her feel like you aren't accepting her, that would be good as well as cutting is a step towards escalating things. If she just started, then it likely isn't an immediate concern, but self-destructive behavior does has the potential to escalate if not addressed. (I'd add, that it is a warning sign towards the potential for early suicidal thoughts, though it isn't linked in all cases, but that's why it is good to get her talking openly with someone, whether a trusted friend, you, or a therapist. Take everything she says at face value rather than thinking she is being melodramatic. She may be, but even melodrama has a basis in what someone is actually feeling.)

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This is quite the medical issue; however, since you asked what you, a parent, can specifically do....

Recognize the gravity of the crime

A lot of people miss this part. Recognize and believe that what happened to her was a serious crime; a violation of her being. There is no "getting over it." There is only accepting it and managing it.

Understand why she is doing this

It's difficult to understand, but cutting yourself is a great pain reliever. It's a way of releasing the pain they are feeling on the "inside." For sexual assault victims, it's also a way of re-asserting control back on their body -- something that is taken away from them.

Baby Steps

Cutting is fairly serious and it should be dealt with. However, baby steps. Asking her to stop cutting herself will result in lashing out -- you are taking away her right to her own body. You have to lead her to the desired behaviour; not demand it. This can be something like talking about cutting; asking her what kind of tools she is using. You can talk about the safety of it -- remind her to use clean tools. You can ask that she give you a call after she is cutting, since you are concerned if she is OK or not.

The goal is to make her talk about what she is feeling. Make her realize that there are alternatives (such as talking, therapy, etc.). Make sure that she knows when she is ready, she can go to therapy. Help her find a psychiatrist -- they are not all equal. You want someone who she will be comfortable talking to.

Also, love. TLC is not just for babies. It's for adults too. Touch, love, and care.

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My Significant Other was raped at the age of 14 and did years of self-mutilation.

It wasn't until we became sexual active that I found out and she admitted the rape. Then we told her parents and found a good Psychiatrist. I would suggest finding her a Psychiatrist right away (if you did not find already), and make the subject talkable at home.

As I read this, you said it happened 7 months ago, so I take it the already has a psychiatrist, RIGHT!?

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(what does s.o means?) –  woliveirajr Mar 21 at 19:11
    
@woliveirajr Took me a min to figure that one out, too. "Significant Other" –  Jeremy Miller Mar 24 at 3:55

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