Sexual assault trauma can be combatted with apology
An apology to sexual assault survivors can help them heal, experts say.
Receiving an apology from their attacker that acknowledges responsibility and remorse for the assault can help to combat the effects of the trauma, said Dr. Suvercha Pasricha, lead psychiatrist at the women’s inpatient service at Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
Pasricha said that experiencing trauma like sexual assault destroys a person’s sense of self and their ability to form meaningful relationships.
“It encapsulates the whole person,” she said.
But despite the trauma, an apology can have a huge impact for the victim who receives it.
Dr. Patrick Keelan, a psychologist based in Calgary, said victims often have such powerful negative feelings about the attacker that it inhibits their own recovery.
He said that an apology “helps the victim to lessen the intensity of the anger they have,” continuing that survivors who get apologies often recover faster than others who receive no closure.
Pasricha also added that there are certain criteria an apology must fit in order to be beneficial. The perpetrator must accept responsibility for the incident, show remorse and validate the victim’s experience.
“For (the accused) to take ownership and responsibility for their actions is very powerful for the victim,” she said.
However, it is still possible for those who don’t receive an apology from their abuser to expedite their healing process.
Keelan practices something called the healing letter technique, in which he has patients write an unsent letter to their attacker, asking for an apology. Then, he has them answer their own letter writing as if they were the offender.
He said that many victims who write these letters experience the same outcomes as those who receive official apologies.
“There are many things you can do beyond an apology to overcome the trauma and reclaim your life,” he added. “It’s important to move from the idea of ‘my life is ruined’ to recognizing and celebrating those small victories of reclaiming your life.”