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Eating Disorders and Sexual Violence

There is a strong link between sexual violence and eating disorders. After someone experiences a traumatic event, it is common for there to be an emotional response such as anxiety, PTSD, and depression. Finding healthy ways to cope with the effects of sexual violence can be extremely challenging, especially if you don’t have a strong support system. In order to feel fulfilled as a human, ensuring that your safety needs are met is crucial. When someone experiences sexual violence, their safety becomes jeopardized, which is why many survivors develop eating disorders as a subconscious coping mechanism for the trauma they encountered.

Of course, there are also many other factors that can contribute or cause an eating disorder. This includes genetics, environmental factors such as bullying, body shaming and the media, as well as certain mental health disorders like PTSD and body dysmorphia. Sometimes, an eating disorder is a cry for help, a way for those around you to understand that something is seriously wrong. It’s not easy to communicate how you feel with words, and a disorder that can physically show itself can act as a harmful form of expression. 

During the pandemic, there has been a major increase in eating disorders. This is because there is so little distraction and people are beginning to hyper-fixate on their bodies, using eating as a way to avoid certain emotions, thoughts and feelings. It’s a distraction that for many is easy to develop. For survivors of sexual violence, it can be extremely difficult to manage the effects of an assault during “normal” times, so you can imagine how challenging it can be during isolation.

Below are reasons why eating disorders and sexual violence are so closely related.

1. You want to feel control

As humans, we like to feel control in most aspects of our lives. When someone is sexually violated they experience a loss of control over their bodies, and their safety and security needs are put at risk. Sometimes, an eating disorder subconsciously acts as a way to gain that control back. This is because eating disorders dictate what you eat, how much you eat, as well as your physical appearance. Disorders such as anorexia nervosa are based on restriction, the constant surveillance of the food you consume, and in some cases over-exercising. It can give many people a feeling of power, and satisfaction to have a strong influence on how their body looks and feels, even if it’s dangerous for their physical and mental health. 

2. Temporary release of dopamine

For many people, food acts as a coping mechanism during times of stress, sadness, guilt and anxiety. Food can be comforting, and bring relief when one experiences negative emotions. Both binge eating disorder and bulimia involve eating large quantities of food, but those with bulimia purge after consumption. The act of binging actually releases dopamine, a chemical in our brain that allows us to feel pleasure and happiness. During an episode of binging, it is similar to a high which is why so many people do it, and oftentimes in secret. It’s a way to release those upsetting feelings, and distract yourself from the realities our minds have been facing. However, when the binging is over the feelings of negativity, and guilt from eating these extreme amounts of food wash over our brains. This is when many individuals are inclined to purge as they feel regretful after that consumption. For sexual violence survivors, binging can be a way to release pleasure chemicals which they may be struggling to feel. It is essentially a temporary switch in emotions. 

At VESTA, we understand how scary it can be to reach out for help, but already, reading this article is a great first step. An eating disorder isn’t something you should manage on your own. You deserve to be supported and given the necessary help and resources in order to thrive and heal. Below we have listed free helplines that specialize in eating disorders, and articles that go more into depth. There is also a link to a private, online counseling service that is affordable and easily accessible. Finally, it’s crucial that you speak with your primary care provider, as an eating disorder is not only a psychological issue, but a physical issue as well. They can guide you on getting professional help, and ensure the necessary steps to maintain healthy living. 

Written by: Taryn Herlich

Helpful Resources

National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC): Toll Free Hotline

ANAD Eating Disorders Helpline

BetterHelp Affordable Counseling

Eating Disorder Facts and Information


Protecting Yourself Against Smartphone Domestic Abuse

If you or someone you know is in danger please contact 911 or the hotline below to seek help. 

Assaulted Women’s Helpline: 

Services safety plans, referrals to services and immediate counseling run throughout Ontario.

How Are Smart Devices Linked to Domestic Violence?

We live in an era of technology which has its many pros and cons. While we can access information at fast rates and connect with family and friends, there is also a harmful side. A common pattern within many domestic violence cases is the use of control through social media and smart devices connected to one’s home. Continuing to hold the power in these relationships is the main goal of the abuser and these forms of technology have made it easier to intimidate survivors. Thankfully, there are many ways you can still protect yourself. 

But first, let’s understand what you should look for if you feel a spouse, ex partner or current partner is using technology in an abusive manner. Remember, everyone has their own unique experience and even if not all these ideas resonate with you, the steps to protect yourself can still be beneficial. Sometimes, the signs are discreet while others are more overt.  

Signs may include:

This information is in no way meant to make you scared. We just want you to understand the signs. The next steps in this article will better teach you how to protect yourself against these types of scenarios. Here are some steps to take in order to keep your privacy safe. 

Use Two Factor Authentication

Two factor authentication is an app you can download on your cell phone that will connect with whichever social media sites you want it to. For example, if you want your Facebook account to be better protected, then you can connect it to two factor authentication. Any time a new user tries to log into your account they would have to use the code that’s shown in the two factor authentication app, or texted to your chosen number. This in turn makes it harder for hackers to access your private accounts. 

Turn Off Default Geo Tracking 

Geo-tracking is a feature on our cellphones that many people are unaware of. This setting collects location data that can tell details about private places one may have visited. When we post a picture on social media, our geo-location can sometimes tag the location of where that photo was taken without us realizing it. Don’t put pictures that update followers on your whereabouts or make your location obvious. This can make it easier for your abuser to know when you’re out, and where you spend your free time. Access your cellphone’s system settings and disable the geo-tracking icon. If you have an iPhone or Android, the links provided below will guide you on how to manage this feature and turn it off. 


 If you’re a Snapchat user, check the app to ensure your location isn’t being shared with your followers. Disable this feature by clicking the location icon that leads you to the Snapchat world map. The location icon can be found on the bottom left corner, when you open the Snapchat camera, homepage, and conversations. Then access your settings which are located in the top right corner of the map. Once you’re in settings, you will have a feature called “ghost mode” and there you can easily disable others from viewing your location. 

Here’s what you should consider doing to ensure your online safety…

Here’s what you shouldn’t do…

Written by: Taryn Herlich

Young woman standing outdoors late at night by a lake looking anxiously at smartphone


The Emotional Tie Between Valentine’s Day and Abuse

Valentine’s Day can be difficult  for survivors of domestic violence. Our society has marketed this day towards happy, healthy couples and for individuals who have faced abuse, it can make this day feel rather disheartening. Social media is often full of unrealistic presentations of happy couples and this can create feelings of unworthiness, provoking individuals to ponder their own decisions.

On the other hand, many survivors who do leave an abusive relationship, may face what’s known as Stockholm syndrome after abuse. This is essentially when you feel compassion for your abuser and struggle to get over the break-up as you still miss being with them. On Valentine’s Day, it can be extremely easy to fall into a cycle of reminiscing on the positive times you had with this person, because let’s face it, even an abusive relationship can have good days. That’s essentially what keeps survivors holding on. They hope one day this person will change, and focus on the fond memories they may have had at the beginning of the relationship. During a pandemic, it can be especially challenging, as there is little distraction to help dissipate these thoughts and in some cases, triggers. 

So, let’s find ways that Valentine’s Day can be a day full of self-love rather than sorrow. This day should be about admiring your inner strength, and celebrating you as a wonderful individual deserving of recognition. 

1. Write a love letter to yourself 

A personal love letter is a great way to reflect on life, and recognize all the qualities that make you special and unique. It’s similar to telling yourself positive affirmations which help re-frame negative self-talk. The more you tell yourself that you are worthy, kind, smart, and a good human being, the more your mind will believe it. One of the first steps to healing is self-love and a love letter to yourself is a great way to begin or continue the process. This article on Glamour has some amazing examples of letters survivors wrote to themselves.

2. Participate in self care 

Why not make Valentine’s Day about treating yourself! Relax and do what makes you feel good. Self care can be as small as doing your makeup (something many people actually find therapeutic) to colouring, writing, taking a bath, going for a walk, speaking with your therapist, or even unplugging from social media. 

3. Be around those you love 

We’re in difficult times as the pandemic is still present. However, if you live with friends or family that you like, try initiating a movie or dinner night, and have a fun day of celebrating the ones you love! This day isn’t only for celebrating romantic relationships. If possible, go on a socially distant outdoor walk with a friend to switch things up. 

4. Take advantage of the day full of chocolate and bake something delicious

Baking is another act of self care and for many, is extremely relaxing and a great way to unwind and relieve stress. Not only are you creating something delicious but baking actually allows you to express creativity. 

5. Call a helpline if you begin to have upsetting thoughts and feelings

There is no shame in calling a helpline on Valentine’s Day. If you need that extra bit of support right now, you should absolutely reach out and get it. Sometimes having someone who doesn’t know you, listen to your problems can be a great relief. 

6. Be gentle with yourself

Remember, it’s okay if you feel certain upsetting emotions on Valentine’s Day. Your feelings are valid, and normal so don’t be too hard on yourself. You’re only human and quite frankly doing the best you can. In fact, just reading this article is such a wonderful step. You are loved, and so worthy.

If you are currently in an abusive relationship, we recognize how challenging this day can be and how it can be even more difficult to leave on the days leading up to it. There is a pressure that Valentine’s Day will solve certain issues, and that with flowers, chocolate, perhaps a necklace, this day can be special and peaceful. We recognize that you may be holding onto those grand gestures, those moments of kindness, and that on this day your heart yearns for some form of love. The pressure of any holiday can make it harder to leave, especially the ones that are based on love. Know that you are worthy of kindness and respect. This is not your fault, you are not alone, and you are appreciated and loved. Please, seek support by involving a trusted family member or friend, and contact a hotline that can help guide you in leaving (we will have them listed below).  If you’re in immediate danger call 911. 

Written by: Taryn Herlich

Resource Link For Helplines In Canada


Lack of Reporting Sexual Violence in BIPOC Communities

There is no doubt that the #MeToo movement has transformed the culture beneath the laws of sexual violence. This online phenomenon has provided many women with an accessible outlet to share their personal experiences regarding sexual assault and violence. Not only has this unified women’s voices but has revealed crucial information about the nature of violence against women. While it is true that women all around the world experience sexual violence, it is critical to understand that not all women are equally likely to experience violence at the same rates. BIPOC communities experience greater rates of violence and challenges unique to their own circumstances. This is where it becomes important to take an intersectional approach in understanding how violence differs for women across various communities. Intersectionality essentially highlights “how interactions between different aspects of a person’s identity and social location, including age, race, ethnicity, can leave some people more vulnerable to experiencing sexual violence than others”. This lens offers a thorough understanding of why Aboriginal women experience higher rates of violence in comparison to other groups of women. 

Aboriginal women are three times more likely to experience assault than non-aboriginal women. Among non-spousal violent incidents, 76% were not reported to police. Shocked? Surprised? You should be. Historical trauma caused by residential schools continues to diminish the perspectives of Aboriginal women. Government officials making problematic remarks regarding the status of Aboriginal women and sexually exploiting them has also contributed to their vulnerabilities of higher rates of sexual violence. So, you might ask, why don’t they just go to the police? Isn’t that a simple solution? Sadly, that may be a last resort for some of these women. Some indigenous communities have tense relationships with law enforcement, including police officers which make reporting crimes of sexual violence difficult . The lack of support and fear of being shamed also prevents them from speaking to authorities. Moreover, since most sexual violence experienced by Aboriginal women tends to be committed by individuals from non-indigenous communities, these women fear they won’t be heard or worse, have their experiences undermined by these officers.

Sexual violence against aboriginal women is essentially positioned at the crossroad of sexual discrimination and racism. An additional roadblock they experience is the lack of federal funding and support provided on reserves, making the reporting process far more difficult and inaccessible. There are fewer resources for them to utilize including, sexual assault forensic tests. The DNA that is received from these tests is crucial to catching the individual committing the crime. However, some of the women may not even have the chance to use this kit if no one is able to provide this resource to them. Police training and education is crucial to ensure rates of violence decrease for these communities. On top of that, unheard voices need to be heard and validated. 

We have come a long way. Feminists and feminism are smashing the patriarchy and breaking glass ceilings. However, our work is not yet done. There are still substantial differences across lack of reporting of ethnic groups in sexual assault cases and we must be vigilant to address these issues and redirect federally funded resources to increase accessibility. 

Written by: Shreeya Devnani


Young calm black woman looking at camera - Lack of Reporting Sexual Violence in BIPOC Communities

What is a Sexual Assault Evidence Kit?

A forensic exam kit also known as a rape kit, or sexual assault evidence kit – is a thorough medical examination conducted to collect and document physical evidence after sexual assault. DNA evidence from a crime like sexual assault can be collected from the crime scene, but it can also be collected from your body, clothes, and other personal belongings. This kit is used for investigative purposes by the police, and the use of this kit is entirely up to your discretion. As part of this exam, the following samples may be collected:

Along with this, photographs of injuries, and clothing articles are also collected and stored as evidence. These samples are important to record evidence of assault, and potentially uncover the assailant’s DNA.  Prior to this exam, a medical examination is conducted to treat injuries, and prevent pregnancy and STIs. This is often a difficult experience, and you are welcome to stop the process at any moment. Your comfort and consent at each step are the key to moving forward during the examination. 

You are given a choice to have the collected evidence stored for a limited period of time or sent to the police. If you decide to pursue legal action, examination centers offer assistance in contacting the police and filing a report. In the case that you are unsure about reporting, evidence collected will be frozen, and stored at the center for up to six months.

The length of the exam may take a few hours, but the actual time will vary based on several different factors. 

 As a part of this exam, you are encouraged to prepare yourself and know what to expect when you walk in.

How to prepare for a sexual assault forensic exam

If you are considering having a forensic exam done, here are some things that you can do to ensure that evidence is protected. If possible, do not

Remember to bring an extra pair of clothing, as clothing from the assault may be collected. The best evidence can be collected up to 72 hours after the assault. The earlier the visit, the more evidence that can be collected and the sooner that injuries, or STIs, and pregnancy prevention can be administered. However, you can still come in after the 72 hours to get a kit administered. 

This is undeniably a difficult experience. To make it easier to navigate, bring along someone you trust. Some assault crisis centers will send someone to accompany you to the examination if you wish, often called an advocate. Be aware that if you invite someone other than an advocate into the exam room, they could be called as a witness if you decide to report the crime.

What happens during a sexual assault forensic exam?

Here are steps from RAINN of what to expect during a sexual assault forensic exam:


How To Manage Your Mental Health During Lockdown

The Covid-19 lockdown has created new struggles for those dealing with mental health issues. For survivors of sexual violence, repressed feelings and memories may resurface during this time, due to the little distraction and social contact. Oftentimes, it can become very easy to ruminate on past events when there’s a lack of other subjects to think about and again minimal distraction and social contact. With certain resources such as counselling no longer being in person, and financial aid being scarce for many, it can be challenging to find the help you need. Feelings of anxiety, depression and OCD have been far more prevalent during the pandemic, and those with existing mental health issues report them worsening. If you’ve felt as though your mental health is struggling, you are not alone. During this time the most important thing to do is to look after yourself by implementing self care daily. There are also many wonderful toll-free hotlines if you need someone to talk to. We have listed them at the end of this article.

For now, let’s dive into how you can manage your mental health during these uncertain times.

Set up a routine to stay busy

Having a routine to distract and keep yourself busy is a great step. I don’t expect you to be insanely productive, just set up small tasks such as making dinner, reading twenty pages of that new book, jogging for fifteen minutes, etc… 

Try to limit screen time

While social media has it’s pros, there can also be many negative messages and triggers conveyed through certain platforms. If you notice that your social media is creating upsetting feelings, or triggering traumatic memories, limit or delete the app. For example, many individuals share their story of sexual violence on social media. While this is extremely brave and lowers the stigma, it could also be a major trigger bringing up unwanted flashbacks, memories and negative feelings for you.

Stay connected to people who make you happy 

It’s important to stay connected to friends and family during this time. Whether it’s a quick call or socially distanced walk, maintaining some form of human interaction is beneficial. It’s a great distraction and break from things that may create stress within your life. 

Light exercise

I know this is often an overused tip but when you exercise you do release endorphins that make you happier. You will feel great afterwards and certain feelings of sadness, depression, anxiety or worry may decrease.

Try colouring

Many survivors of sexual violence develop or have symptoms of PTSD which can cause an overactive amygdala. This can in turn create more feelings of panic, fear and anxiety. Colouring actually helps calm the amygdala, which in turn reduces fear, panic and anxiety. It lessens the reaction of certain triggers and ultimately proves to be a very relaxing and therapeutic activity many survivors partake in. Click here to read more about emotional trauma and brain damage and click here to read about how the brain is affected during trauma 

Give yourself a break

You are human and should do what you feel you’re capable of. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to feel productive everyday. It’s okay take a break, relax and recognize when you may be reaching burn out. You absolutely deserve to take time for yourself. 

Reward yourself!

Sit back and watch an episode of your favorite show, do the things that make you feel happy. Right now, you are going through a situation that isn’t normal for anyone’s mental health. You are doing your best in a scary time, while also managing your own trauma and that deserves recognition! 

If you want to talk to a professional, here are some excellent hotlines that run 24/7 toll free in Canada.

Written by: Taryn Herlich

Helping Someone Recover from Rape or Sexual Trauma

1. How to help them:

When a spouse, partner, sibling, or other loved one has been raped or sexually assaulted, it can generate painful emotions and take a heavy toll on your relationship. You may feel angry and frustrated, be desperate for your relationship to return to how it was before the assault, or even want to retaliate against your loved one’s attacker. But it’s your patience, understanding, and support that your loved one needs now, not more displays of aggression or violence.

Let your loved one know that you still love them and reassure them that the assault was not their fault. Nothing they did or didn’t do could make them culpable in any way.

Allow your loved one to open up at their own pace. Some victims of sexual assault find it very difficult to talk about what happened, others may need to talk about the assault over and over again. This can make you feel alternately frustrated or uncomfortable. But don’t try to force your loved one to open up or urge them to stop rehashing the past. Instead, let them know that you’re there to listen whenever they want to talk. If hearing about your loved one’s assault brings you discomfort, talking to another person can help put things in perspective.

Encourage your loved one to seek help, but don’t pressure them. Following the trauma of a rape or sexual assault, many people feel totally disempowered. You can help your loved one to regain a sense of control by not pushing or cajoling. Encourage them to reach out for help, but let them make the final decision. Take cues from your loved one as to how you can best provide support.

Show empathy and caution about physical intimacy. It’s common for someone who’s been sexually assaulted to shy away from physical touch, but at the same time it’s important they don’t feel those closest to them are emotionally withdrawing or that they’ve somehow been “tarnished” by the attack. As well as expressing affection verbally, seek permission to hold or touch your loved one. In the case of a spouse or sexual partner, understand your loved one will likely need time to regain a sense of control over their life and body before desiring sexual intimacy.

Helping Someone Recover from Rape or Sexual Trauma Vesta - graphic - two women talking

Take care of yourself. The more calm, relaxed, and focused you are, the better you’ll be able to help your loved one. Manage your own stress and reach out to others for support.

Be patient. Healing from the trauma of rape or sexual assault takes time. Flashbacks, nightmares, debilitating fear, and other symptom of PTSD can persist long after any physical injuries have healed. To learn more, read Helping Someone with PTSD.

Avoid judgment. It can be difficult to watch a survivor struggle with the effects of sexual assault for an extended period of time. Avoid phrases that suggest they’re taking too long to recover such as, “You’ve been acting like this for a while now,” or “How much longer will you feel this way?”

Check in periodically. The event may have happened a long time ago, but that doesn’t mean the pain is gone. Check in with the survivor to remind them you still care about their well-being and believe their story.

Know your resources. You’re a strong supporter, but that doesn’t mean you’re equipped to manage someone else’s health. Become familiar with resources you can recommend to a survivor, such as the National Sexual Assault Hotline 800.656.HOPE (4673) and

It’s often helpful to contact your local sexual assault service provider for advice on medical care and laws surrounding sexual assault. If the survivor seeks medical attention or plans to report, offer to be there. Your presence can offer the support they need.

If someone you care about is considering suicide, learn the warning signs, and offer help and support. For more information about suicide prevention please visit the Crisis Services Canada or call 1.833.456.4566 any time

Encourage them to practice good self-care during this difficult time.

2. Phrases to say

“I believe you. / It took a lot of courage to tell me about this.” It can be extremely difficult for survivors to come forward and share their story. They may feel ashamed, concerned that they won’t be believed, or worried they’ll be blamed. Leave any “why” questions or investigations to the experts—your job is to support this person. Be careful not to interpret calmness as a sign that the event did not occur—everyone responds to traumatic events differently. The best thing you can do is to believe them.

“It’s not your fault. / You didn’t do anything to deserve this.” Survivors may blame themselves, especially if they know the perpetrator personally. Remind the survivor, maybe even more than once, that they are not to blame.

“You are not alone. / I care about you and am here to listen or help in any way I can.” Let the survivor know that you are there for them and willing to listen to their story if they are comfortable sharing it. Assess if there are people in their life they feel comfortable going to, and remind them that there are service providers who will be able to support them as they heal from the experience.

“I’m sorry this happened. / This shouldn’t have happened to you.” Acknowledge that the experience has affected their life. Phrases like “This must be really tough for you,” and, “I’m so glad you are sharing this with me,” help to communicate empathy.

What Are Panic Attacks And How Can You Manage Them?

What are panic attacks?

Panic attacks are an extremely scary and unpleasant experience. They often come abruptly, and symptoms can cause the individual to feel as though they are losing touch with reality. Thankfully, we know that panic attacks are not dangerous to your health, and simply arrive as a response to prolonged stress, a traumatic event, or are the result of genetics. Sexual violence is extremely traumatic, making panic attacks very common among survivors. The effects include feelings of anxiety, fear, guilt, shock, confusion, nervousness, paranoia, phobias and flashbacks. These common symptoms can often make one more susceptible to experiencing panic attacks. 

When we have a panic attack our body enters  fight or flight mode. This occurs when something sets off our inner alert system. For example, imagine you run into a wild animal that is an obvious threat to your safety; your heart begins to race, adrenaline flows through the body and you run. Panic attacks create the same sensation, as your body is in fight or flight mode. However, typically when a panic attack occurs, there is not always an obvious threat. It can happen anywhere or at any time, which leaves you feeling scared for when panic will return next. On the other hand, there are certain triggers that can set off your fight or flight response resulting in a panic attack. 

Perhaps, enclosed spaces trigger a feeling of being trapped which in turn creates a panic attack. On the other hand, certain smells, sounds, or visuals could also be a trigger. Nonetheless, it’s not always obvious and that’s okay. Sometimes we’ve just been experiencing prolonged stress and a panic attack is the way your body is reacting to it. 

Ultimately, the reasons are countless, but again there is not always a simple answer for why they happen. The most important thing is that you learn how to manage your panic attacks in a healthy manner. 

This article will discuss common symptoms of panic attacks as well as strategies to take control and manage them. 


There are a variety of symptoms for panic attacks, and they can often be confused for serious health conditions such as heart attacks. These symptoms can be extremely distressing for one to go through. Thankfully, a panic attack is a temporary feeling that will pass. Whether it goes on for  five minutes or half an hour, it cannot hurt you.  However, if concerned for your health or want reassurance, speak with your healthcare provider. They can give you a proper diagnosis and help you manage and better understand these distressing symptoms. 

Below, I’ve listed the symptoms many tend to experience.

What you can do during a panic attack

1) Change the scenery

Go outside, enter a different room but give yourself a change of scenery. This helps distract and clear your mind. It’s almost the same as leaving for air in a crowded gymnasium. Leaving the room where it began can almost feel like a breath of fresh air.

2) Water 

Water can do wonders. Whether it’s drinking it or splashing some on your face, both strategies can be soothing, and create relaxation. 

3) Grounding

Grounding is a great technique to use during a panic attack.  Find one thing you can taste, two things you can smell, three things you can hear, four things you can touch and five you can see. Grounding can allow you to feel more in control, and when we’re going through a panic attack, lack of control can be a major emotion we feel. If you want to learn more about grounding techniques, you can find more information here.

4) Meditation

Meditation is a wonderful way to relax yourself during a panic attack. If you’re prone to anxiety meditation is extremely beneficial even when you’re not in a state of panic. Now I know, it can be tough to reach that level of focus to meditate but it is far less complicated than you think. I recommend searching on youtube for a guided meditation geared toward calming you down from a panic attack. Having someone lead you through this mediation and speak to you in a calm manner can be relaxing (even if they’re not really there).

5) Distraction

For some, finding a distraction during a panic attack is what’s most beneficial. Perhaps, turning on the television to your favourite show or watching something upbeat is a way to calm down and distract your mind.

6) Seek support from a loved one

Being alone during a panic attack can be scary, especially if you haven’t had much experience with them. If possible, find a loved one who can accompany you during this time. Even if they’re just sitting there, having someone you feel safe around, can ease those feelings of doom and fear. 

7) Create a mantra

Our mind is a powerful place and the words we say to ourselves can dictate our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours far more than we realize. A mantra is a phrase you can say when you feel a panic attack emerging. The words in your mantra are meant to calm you down, and remind you that you will get through this. Write them down when you’re in a good headspace and say whichever phrase resonates the most with you when experiencing a panic attack. 
Here are some helpful mantras to say during a panic attack:  This will not hurt me, I am safe and loved, This feeling will pass, I am strong and will get through this.

The best thing to know when having a panic attack is that it cannot hurt you. I know I’ve said this countless times, but it’s true. When you know and believe this, they will occur less often and will be less intense. Remember, the feeling of a panic attack will pass, and when you learn how to manage them they won’t be as scary. Be kind to your body, be gentle and don’t feel ashamed. A panic attack is not your fault, and not always in your control.

Credits to:

Written by: Taryn Herlich

Managing panic attacks - calm woman outside breathing - mental health

Why Can’t I Remember a Sexual Assault?

People often assume and expect that we will be able to remember major events in our lives with clear and steady accuracy and that this determines the “truth” of what happened. However, traumatic events like sexual assault are encoded differently from regular, more routine experiences.

All of our experiences are encoded in the brain, stored to the short-term memory, and then the long-term memory, by the hippocampus. In the event of high stress such as sexual assault, a surge of hormones is released in order to aid the response system to deal with the situation (read how the brain is affected during trauma). During this intense neural activity, normal brain function is altered – this includes the way events are encoded by the hippocampus.

During traumatic events like sexual assault, encoding surrounding details (Peripheral Information) and the chronology of the incident (Time Sequencing Information) is difficult, and therefore you may find yourself only remembering some parts of the incident.

“Memories of traumatic events are laid down differently to everyday memories. Usually we encode what we see, hear, smell, taste and physically sense, as well as how that all slots together and what it means to us […] This enables us to recall events as a coherent story. But during traumatic events our bodies are flooded with stress hormones. These encourage the brain to focus on the here and now, at the expense of the bigger picture”

Linda Geddes, BBC

On the other hand, the neural activity in the brain can also divert attention from the assault, to other details (ex. Colour of the curtains). This information is then encoded into the short- and long-term memories, creating associations between small details and the trauma. This can result in intensified memories, which means that you are able to vividly remember these details possibly with little to no context about them.

The nature of the traumatic memory can be described as followed: fragmented, associated with intense arousal, readily primed and triggered, and poorly contextualized into memory. As a result, memories of traumatic events such as a sexual assault can be fragmentary or incomplete. It can be difficult to recall many details of a sexual assault in a complete or linear way. This is also why, after a stressful situation, people have trouble remembering some specific details, and say things like, “It was all a blur.”

At the end of the day, it isn’t realistic or rational to be to able to recall all aspects of a traumatic experience with detailed accuracy from start to finish. This is simply not how the brain works.

Learn more about how memory is effected by trauma here:

and here:

Documenting Your Story in a Sexual Assault or Rape Case

Why should I write about my sexual assault?

Evidence helps the police with their investigation and diminishes the probability of he said/she said. The sooner you can start documenting your experience the better. When most people think of evidence, they think of physical evidence. But, evidence especially in a case of sexual assault, is not just limited to biological specimens, like skin under the fingernails, stained clothing, semen samples, or other physical evidence. It includes your story of what happened, video, texts, SMS, tweets, IG posts, etc. Even if you know your offender and you don’t think you have any evidence, you probably do. Your story, your memories, even if disjointed, can help the police, if you decide you want to proceed with a police investigation.

The police may ask some pretty detailed questions. These questions are used to help them gather evidence. They are NOT to judge or blame you for what happened. What happened is never your fault.

Writing or recording everything you can remember can help the police tremendously. It can also help you answer their questions. It’s common that folks wait months or even years before reporting their sexual assault to the police. Unfortunately, after months or years, no matter how much they believe you, investigating or finding corroborating evidence can be really hard the more time goes on. In police terms, they will be investigating an “historical crime.” So the sooner you start to document your experience, the better and easier it will be for them to investigate.

You can keep a log, a journal or use an app, like our own Vesta Community to help you document your experience.

Writing down or recording everything you can remember can help find corroborating witnesses, video footage or other evidence you didn’t even know existed. It can also help you remember details that may seem insignificant at first, but can turn out to be important.

Although reporting as soon as possible is ideal, we know that’s not always possible. The statute of limitations for sexual crimes ranges by jurisdiction. In Canada, there is no statute of limitation for sexual offenses, which means you can report to police no matter how long ago it happened, and if appropriate, sexual assault charges can still be laid. That means you can still record your experience and save it for later. Some memories burn themselves into your mind, and you can’t forget no matter how hard you try. Others you forget rather quickly. Some details may seem completely out of place or even insignificant, but they could end up being the one thing that will diminish the power of “he said/she said.” Writing everything down is important. You can write it all down in one go, or in bits in pieces. Whatever works for you.

Is writing about my experience the same as journaling?

No. A written account or documenting your experience is different from journaling. Journaling can be more introspective and you may write more about your triggers, feelings and emotions. Documenting your experience is writing about what happened. You can add how certain actions or words made you feel, but it is more of a retelling of an experience.

Writing about your experience has therapeutic benefits too

Documenting your experience is not the same as journaling, but it can also have a positive impact on your mental health. Taking control of your narrative, how you tell your story can help relieve some of the anxiety and stress of reporting. It can also increase your confidence when responding to the police officer’s or anyone else’s, like a lawyer’s questions.

Will my words be used against me?

You might fear that if you write down your story, a lawyer, especially a defense lawyer, can use your words against you if you are called to testify in court. The admissibility of your account depends on the jurisdiction you are in and we’re not going to lie, it can happen. A defense lawyer, if they know about your written account, may ask you about it. It’s important to know that if you write about your rape publicly on social media, you can be asked about it. If you keep your writing private, they are less likely to know about it or ask you about it.

Vesta Documenting your experience thoughtful young woman looking out window