The impact of sexual violence goes far beyond any physical injuries. The trauma of being raped or sexually assaulted can be shattering, leaving you feeling scared, ashamed, and alone or plagued by nightmares, flashbacks, and other unpleasant memories. The world doesn’t feel like a safe place anymore. You no longer trust others. You don’t even trust yourself. You may question your judgment, your self-worth, and even your sanity. You may blame yourself for what happened or believe that you’re “dirty” or “damaged goods.” Relationships feel dangerous, intimacy impossible. And on top of that, like many rape survivors, you may struggle with PTSD, anxiety, and depression.
Unfortunately, damaging sexist statements and attitudes that blame victims are very common in societies, families and institutions like the police that is supposed to help these victims. This makes finding a safe space and healing from the trauma of sexual violence very difficult. Additionally, the average Ugandan makes at most $100 per month and lives off a dollar per day which means many cannot actually afford therapy- most especially women who face significant financial disadvantages and burdens.
In partnership with the French Embassy in Uganda, we launched the Group Therapy Project in 2022. This provides a space for healing for victims that share similar experiences. This project also seeks to create a needed a community for each other and build sisterhoods. Groups generally consist of five to 15 participants per cohort that meet on a consistent schedule. Frauen Initiative Uganda has provided a variety of activities such as art therapy, yoga, baking classes, games, writing therapy and a getaway trip at the end of each cohort. This is to make the sessions more lively and comfortable for all those in attendance. The psychologist is at every session to work with the victims and do the therapy in a more active and engaging environment.
Art therapy has demonstrated its effectiveness in assisting trauma survivors. It provides a means for individuals to express their emotions, tap into visually stored memories, and access body memory, ultimately aiding in the process of reconnecting with their own bodies.
Engaging in writing therapy will empower them to express their emotions on paper, potentially alleviating the emotional burden they carry within them. This therapeutic practice can offer a sense of relief from the emotional weight they may bear.
Board games hold a vital role in group therapy for survivors of sexual violence. They offer a safe and structured environment that fosters trust, normalizes emotions, and encourages healthy communication. In addition to promoting emotional healing, board games reduce isolation, enhance interpersonal skills, and create opportunities for metaphorical expression
This activity fosters teamwork and cultivates trust as participants collaborate in the baking process. Additionally, it equips these women with a valuable skill that can potentially generate income for them.
Engaging in fitness activities plays a pivotal role in assisting women in overcoming the prevalent sense of disconnection from their bodies, often experienced by survivors of sexual violence. These activities aid in the restoration of neurological pathways within a brain region responsible for emotional awareness, which tends to diminish in size among female trauma survivors. Furthermore, they bring about a significant reduction in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and enhance the overall functioning of individuals who have experienced trauma. By helping survivors tolerate physical and sensory experiences associated with fear and helplessness, fitness activities like yoga, zumba, and sports contribute to their healing and well-being.
It is crucial to return to nature what it has bestowed upon us, which is why we participated in a tree planting activity. This ensures that future generations can experience the same environmental joys we have. We hope they grow into big beautiful trees. This activity gives the women in the group a strong sense of belonging in the community where they were shunned or isolated. Tree planting helps them own what they have done and the positive impacts it has on society
Nature is devoid of any distracting music or noise. A place where they get to take a step back and process their trauma. This environment encourages a sense of choice and agency over your body, which is exactly what sexual assault takes away from women. It helps them to be “fully present” and gain greater perspective on their trauma histories and it is a good break from the world.