How to recover from sexual violence

Support and advice on self-help

This page has a collection of material about and information to help people survive sexual violence. You can read and browse the site by yourself, but if you are under 16 years old, it may be good to go through the material together with an adult. If the violence happened a short time ago and you feel you can’t cope on your own, please contact your normal health services. The Oma-apu website also includes a list of places where you can get help.

  • 1. What does sexual harassment and violence mean?

    Sexuality is a basic human characteristic that cannot be separated from the rest of what it means to be human. You can express yourself and your sexuality through, for example, your clothes, words and speech, or gestures and actions. Sexuality includes, among other things, gender, sexual orientation, reproduction and gender roles. Sexuality is everyone’s own business, unique and valuable, and you can express it any way you want. Please read more about sexuality at hyvä


    Everyone has the right to express their sexuality. Sexual rights are human rights and it is important to respect the sexual rights of others. Please read more about sexual rights at hyvä


    Sexual acts must always be based on mutual consent. This means that both persons must agree on what kind of sexual acts, if any, they want to engage in, and either one has the right to refuse them. Consent involves talking with the other person and coming to agreements. You can read more about consent in the leaflet published by Vuolle Girls’ House (.pdf) (available in Finnish) or watch the video below:


    Consent involves recognising your own limits. Your boundaries refer to a sense of yourself, your body, and feelings in relation to other people. It is sometimes hard to recognise your boundaries, and they can change depending on the situation; for example, sometimes a hug can feel nice while in another situation you might not want one at all.


    Try thinking about your boundaries beforehand. Thinking about boundaries in advance can help you make the right decision in a new exciting situation. It can also be good to think about the type of situations where your boundaries might be in danger of being crossed and what you can do to keep your boundaries in place. The following task will help you think about your boundaries.


    It is sometimes hard to identify sexual harassment. It usually entails situations involving sexually charged words or insinuations, jokes or questions about another person’s private life, clothing or appearance. Sexual harassment can take place in the presence of another person or over the phone or the Internet. You might feel annoyed, angry or embarrassed, and not know how to act. Sexual harassment violates the harassed person’s right to self-determination and it can meet the criteria of a crime.


    If you have experienced sexual harassment, you can use this link to access information compiled by the Girls’ House and learn about what you can do in such a situation.


    Sexual violence refers to sexual acts that take place without a person’s consent. Sexual violence does not necessarily include physical violence. For example, sexual violence also refers to forcing, pressuring, blackmailing, luring someone into engaging in sexual acts, or taking advantage of someone’s state of intoxication in order to get them to engage in sexual acts. Such acts include sexual touching or being forced to touch, physical advances, rape, and attempted rape. You can also read about sexual violence at Terveykylä.fi.


    Experiencing sexual violence is traumatic and it can affect you in many ways even long after the event. You may feel hurt or sad, angry, insecure or guilty for what happened. Sexual violence can also cause physical symptoms, changes in your state of alertness, as well as a variety of feelings and thoughts. These feelings may vary over time. This video from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare describes what psychological trauma is, what symptoms it causes and how it can be treated.


    Experiencing different symptoms after a traumatic experience is normal, but there are ways to deal with them. If you are experiencing difficult feelings and moods that are affecting your everyday life, please contact your doctor to talk about available support. Trauma caused by sexual violence may require long-term treatment. If you have experienced sexual violence, you can read this handbook aimed at people who have experienced sexual violence (.pdf) to support your well-being. The handbook is available in different languages.


    Girls’ and Boys’ Houses (the closest Boys’ House to Rovaniemi is in Oulu) are places where you can receive conversational support if you have experienced harassment or violence.  You can get in touch with a House even if you are not sure how to define or describe your experience. If a certain experience has left you feeling depressed, it is good to talk about it with someone.


    It is easy to contact Girls’ and Boys’ Houses by phone or e-mail and get instructions and advice on what to do in your situation.  You can also ask about peer support groups and other forms of support.

  • 2. Where can I get help after experiencing sexual violence?

    Sexual violence is always violating and hurtful and it can cause many kinds of feelings and thoughts. It may seem difficult to think or talk about it, but it is important that you get help. Sexual violence is never the victim’s fault and you have the right to receive support. If you have experienced sexual violence or suspect you have, it is important that you talk about what happened with a trusted adult or professional. A good person to talk to could be, for example, an employee at your school, a school nurse or hospital nurse, or anyone else you feel comfortable talking to.


    You can also find a lot of information about sexual violence and instructions on what to do on the website of Victim Support Finland. There you can also find a support person that can help you file a criminal complaint.


    If the sexual violence occurred a short time ago, you can contact one of Finland’s Seri support centres for victims of sexual violence, where you will receive help and support. The support activities offered at Seri centres are aimed at people over the age of 16, but younger people can also ask for advice and instructions.


    You can also ask the police for advice and instructions on what to do in your situation, before reporting the crime and throughout the process.


    Sometimes you might not be sure about wanting to report the event. Even if this is the case, you can still receive help and support in your situation. Even if the event took place a long time ago, you can still get help. Talk with an adult about what happened to you.


    → List of places where you can get both conversational help and instructions for coping with your situation.


    Your own support network, in other words the people around you, can also help you cope and survive a difficult situation. Try thinking about friends and family members that you feel safe with, or who you might feel like talking to about what happened or anything about your situation. On the Tukinet website, you can find different forms of support and peer support groups.


    Have a look at the Turvaverkko poster on MIELI ry’s website  (available in Finnish), which can help you think about who your safety net consists of.


    You don’t have to tell everyone about what happened, but it is easier to cope with the situation and find support if you get help from someone you trust. Telling your family and some of your friends can also help them understand what is going on.

  • 3. What can you do in your everyday life to feel better?

    Finding a balance in your day-to-day life


    What you do on a daily basis matters and affects your well-being. Having experienced sexual violence can affect everyday activities, such as sleeping, eating, or meeting friends. It can interfere with your normal everyday activities by making them seem more difficult than before.


    Exercise:  Complete the time circle to help you visualise your everyday life and routines. Routines refer to regular, repeated and predictable ways of doing things and spending time. Routines help structure and organise our daily lives. Most of us have routines that help us function effectively in our daily lives. You can also use the time circle for choosing other exercises. The Oma-apuohjelma programme and exercises should not be used as a substitute for treatment provided by a doctor. You can use the Oma-apu programme to complement other types of support. Remember that changing even just one thing in your daily life can already have a positive effect on your well-being.


    Start the exercise by thinking about your everyday life and what things are included in it. The purpose of the exercise is to examine what is included in your daily life, what routines you follow, and also to think about what you would like your everyday life to look like. You will need at least a piece of paper and a pen for the exercise, though you might also want to use crayons and a ruler for the exercise. Draw a time circle by following the instructions below or print it off from the page by clicking on the image below it.


    Time circle exercise


    1. Draw a circle on a piece of paper and divide it into 24 sections.
    2. Think about what you do during the day. You can also write it down.
    3. Choose a colour or marking method for different activity categories, for example, eating, sleeping, using phone, etc.
    4. Colour/mark the activities in the time circle, for example, sleep
      between 23 and 7.
    5. When you have marked these activities in the time circle, think about them by answering the following questions:
    • What kind of routines do you follow daily? For example, sleeping, eating, school, or work.
    • Do you share any activities with other people?
    • Try to find something in your daily activities that you are happy about and then something that you would like to change.
    • Would you like to have more time for certain activities?
    • Is there anything that you wish you could do that is not currently included in your daily life?
    • If you think of something that you would like to do, which you are currently not doing, you can write it down and mark a time in your calendar for the following week for when you could do it.


    If, when completing the time circle, you notice anything that you would like to change, you can use, for example, the calendar or the Daylio application to help track your daily activities. There is a free and Premium version of the app and you can download it from the app store.  The following exercises focus on different aspects of everyday activities, such as sleeping, eating, free time, as well as school and work.


    It is good idea to repeat this exercise again later for you to see any possible changes in your everyday life. When repeating the exercise, do it again from the beginning and compare it to your previous time circle.


    Sleep, rest, and recovery


    Sleeping and resting are important for your well-being, as they help your body and mind recover. Through dreams, your mind is able to process feelings that it hasn’t dealt with during the day. Sexual violence can cause stress symptoms, which might affect your sleep and ability to rest. After a traumatic event, it is common to feel hypervigilant (techniques for helping you cope are discussed further in section 4.) and sleeping problems. You might be needing more rest and recovery time, so you should make sure you are getting enough sleep. Everyone needs a different amount of sleep, but normally people need about 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night.


    If you have completed the time circle for the first exercise, you can take it out and check what you wrote in it: How much do you sleep daily? Do you rest at any other time than at night? In the following exercises, you will find tips on how to think about your sleeping patterns and how to rest and recover during the day.


    Thinking about sleep and rest

    Exercise: The aim of keeping a sleep diary is to think about your sleeping habits and how much sleep you are getting. You can use the Daylio application or write things down in a notebook or phone memo, or download and fill in a template sleep diary ( You should write in the sleep diary for a period of at least a week.


    You can use the sleep diary to write down things like:

    • What time did I go to bed?
    • Did I fall asleep quickly?
    • What time did I wake up?
    • How long did I sleep for?
    • Did I wake up during the night?
    • Did I take a nap during the day?
    • Was I tired when I went to bed?
    • Did I feel rested when I woke up in the morning? What about during the day?
    • How would I rate the quality of my sleep on a scale from 1 to 10?


    Then go over what you have written. Is there anything that you would like to change? Are you getting enough sleep? Do you go to bed more or less at the same time every night? Regular routines and relaxing are important for sleep. You can find more tips for sleeping better at


    Exercise: The tense and release exercises designed by Turku Crisis Centre can help you practice relaxation. With the tense and release exercise, you can learn to tense and relax, as well as to detect tension in your body. The exercise relieves anxiety and stress. When doing the exercise, choose a place where you won’t be disturbed while listening to the audio track. If you are having trouble falling asleep, you can try doing the exercise before going to bed.

    Exercise: The Tietoinen kävely ‘conscious walking’ exercise designed by Terveyskylä (available in Finnish) will help you be present in the moment and to observe your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. It will also help you relieve stress and learn to be mindfully present. You can do the exercise in your front yard, in the nature, in the city or in your favourite place. Choose a place where you can focus on what is around you using all your senses. The exercise is also available at Terveykylä.fi and you can listen to it on Soundcloud.


    Observe the landscape around you. You can also focus on any smaller details around you.


    1. Then close your eyes for a moment and focus on the natural scents coming from the surrounding nature while also listening to any sounds.
    2. Continue walking and focus on feeling the movement of your body. Notice your steps and the movement of your hands.
    3. Continue this way, shifting your attention from what you can see around you to any sounds, smells, and the sensations in your body. Keep your senses open to the beauty of nature and feel the satisfaction of being able to move your body.
    4. Stop to smell the scents of nature or to listen to the sounds. Listen to the hum of the wind and feel the air on your face.
    5. Learn to open your senses to the pleasure and beauty of nature.



    If you don’t have the opportunity to be in the real nature, you explore the virtual forest walk designed by Mieli ry, available in Finnish and accessible below.



    Good food as a source of well-being


    Sexual violence can have an affect on everyday activities, such as eating. Eating might feel like a chore.


    Good food and a regular eating routine will help you cope and feel strong and improve the quality of your life. You can cook food alone, together with someone else, or in a larger group with friends or family. Eating brings pleasure, both when you do it alone and with other people. Eating also activates our different senses. You can find more information about eating at


    If you have done the time circle exercise, start by taking a look at your day-to-day eating habits. Next, you can analyse your daily eating routines and habits with the help of the questions below. Write down your answers in a diary, phone, or the Daylio application over a few days.


    • At what time and how often do I eat?
    • Do I have the energy to do things that are important to me in the daytime?
    • What foods bring me pleasure?
    • Which foods make my body feel good?


    Analyse your eating habits and details related to it. Getting the right amount of food at meal times will affect your energy levels throughout the day. Keeping regular meal times will help you sleep better at night.




    Exercise: Think about your favourite foods now and in the past. It is good to identify types of foods that give you pleasure and put you in a good mood, which you can eat on the days when you feel tired or down. You can make a list of things on your phone or in a diary.


    • What was my favourite food as a child?
    • What is my favourite food now?
    • Which three of my favourite dishes can I cook?
    • Are there any dishes that I’d like to try or learn to cook?


    When you have experienced sexual violence, it is important that you do things together with other safe people. These can be mundane things like cooking and eating together with others. On the line below, use a circle to indicate your current situation, and a star to indicate your ideal situation in the future.


    • How often do currently I interact with other people?
    • How often would I like to interact with other people in the future?
    • If you would like for things to change, think about how you could get to where you want to be.


    Work and study

    Working and studying create routine in your everyday life and they occupy an important part of a person’s life. Even if you feel like you don’t want to go to work or study at the moment, remember that maintaining a routine is good for your well-being. Routines increase our well-being, even if implementing them can sometimes seem difficult. If you are not currently studying or working, you can do the exercise by indicating a desired study or workplace, thinking about what you would like to do in the future.

    You can think about the following aspects in relation to work or studies:

    • What is important to me in a job or studies?
    • Is there anyone at my work or school who I enjoy spending time with? Could I talk to them and suggest walking to work or school together? Or having lunch together?

    Working and studying are also linked to a feeling of security. They create routine and financial security, as well as enable a stable and secure life.

    People are different and some prefer working or studying alone, while others prefer doing it with other people.  On the line below, use a circle to indicate your current situation, and a star to indicate your ideal situation in the future.

    • How often do currently I interact with other people at work or in relation to my studies?
    • How often would I like to interact with other people at work or in relation to my studies in the future?
    • If you would like for things to change, think about how you could get to where you want to be.



    Free time

    Sexual violence can have an impact on your free time activities. Free time activities refer to things you do in your free time that you get pleasure and enjoyment from. You can engage in free time activities alone, together with someone else, or in a larger group. There are many types of free time activities, including exercise, reading, listening to music, drawing, crafts, outdoor activities in nature, meeting friends, spending time with family or even going for a walk with a dog. You can meet people and spend time with them online as well. It is good to make sure you engage in a variety of activities in your free time. These can include things that you enjoy and get pleasure from and that activate your body, mind and senses, as well as doing things with others. Doing different things will increase your well-being and self-expression, as well as your ability to influence your own life. Now, let’s think about free time activities that are important to you. If you have completed the time circle exercise, you can use the information in it for this part of the exercise.  You can write the things down in a diary, on your phone or in the Daylio app.

    • What kind of things do I enjoy doing?
    • What was I doing the last time I felt happy?
    • When was the last time I spent time with my family, friends or pets?
    • Is there anything I’ve been wanting to try?

    In addition to eating and sleeping, exercise is an important factor influencing our well-being. It is important to find forms of exercise that suit you. Remember that you can move any way you like, alone or together with others, including a pet. Acknowledge both your mind and body when thinking about what is the right amount of exercise for you. Remember that too much exercise is not good for you. You can find more information about moving and listening to your body at

    If anything came up in the free time time section that you would like to incorporate into your everyday life, you can add it to your calendar or the Daylio app.

    It is important to pay attention even to small positive things in your everyday life. Please record in a diary or on your phone everything you enjoy doing over the period of one week. You can come back to this information later if you find your day-to-day life challenging and you need positive things to increase your well-being.

    Please note that the exercises can be done more than once, and it is good to repeat them later on, so that you can see the changes in your everyday life and well-being.

    You can spend your free time alone or together with other people. Some people prefer spending time alone while others want to do things with other people. This is down to personal choice and it is good to think about how much alone time you need and how much time you want to spend with others, for example. On the line below, use a circle to indicate your current situation, and a star to indicate your ideal situation in the future.

    • How often do I interact with other people in my free time?
    • How often would I like to interact with other people in my free time in the future?
    • If you would like for things to change, think about how you could get to where you want to be.


    The above exercises provide some tools for thinking about your everyday life, but the most important thing is to do things that you like and that are important to you. What you do every day matters, so remember to do things that you enjoy and that are good for you. Remember that changing even just one thing in your daily life can already have a positive effect on your well-being.

  • 4. What can help you survive a difficult situation?

    Your body


    Human beings are entities in which the mind and body cannot be separated. We feel and see past events in our bodies, which also form part of all our experiences and encounters. Being aware of your bodily sensations will enable you to regulate them and feel more in control.


    After suffering sexual violence, it is common to experience changes in one’s level of alertness and fluctuations in the body. Alertness refers to a feeling of vitality and how well you are able to cope and react to different things. Changes in one’s state of alertness can appear, for example, in the form of restlessness, fatigue, irritability, anxiety or stagnation. You might struggle with being present in the moment, getting to sleep, concentrating and relaxing. Our state of alertness is not permanent, but it’s normal for it to fluctuate. In the following image, you can examine the variations in your state of alertness.


    In a good state of alertness, you are in touch with your feelings, with other people, as well as your environment, and you can pay attention to your body’s messages, for example hunger or the need for rest. It also means that having conversations or being in the company of others will feel easy. You are also able to observe your surroundings, focus on lessons at school and do homework. Your emotions will seem mostly tolerable and you will feel safe.


    You can reflect on your state of alertness with the help of the following questions.

    • How tired or alert do you feel?
    • Can you concentrate on the activities you engage in?
    • Do you feel you can breathe freely?
    • Do you find it easy to fall asleep?



    If you notice any changes in your state of alertness, you can do the following exercises, aimed at influencing your state of alertness.


    Exercise: The ankkurointiharjoitus exercise by Mieli ry (available in Finnish) is useful for when you are in a state of hypervigilance. The aim of the exercise is for you to stop and listen to your body and bring your mind back to the present moment. The exercise will help you relax and calm down. (The duration of the exercise is about 4 minutes)


    Exercise: The aim of this exercise is to stimulate a passive body that is in a state of low alertness. The exercise will help wake up your body and relieve absent, exhausted feelings. (The duration of the exercise is about 4 minutes)


    Changes in alertness, restlessness or inactivity can all affect your appetite and sleep. You might struggle to fall asleep, or you may wake up easily at night. When you are relaxed, food also tastes better. By doing these exercises, you can influence both your body and mind, because calming your body also helps relax your mind. Taking care of yourself in different ways is valuable and important.




    Sexual violence generates many kinds of feelings about yourself, what happened, and about other people. Feelings are important, as they provide information about our surroundings, other people and ourselves. Having an awareness of your bodily sensations will help you identify different emotions, which you can reflect on alone or together with friends or loved ones. Understanding and acceptance make it easier to deal with your feelings.


    You can explore your feelings with the help of the following questions.

    • Where in your body can you feel your feelings?
    • How do different emotions feel in your body?
    • Are the feelings on the surface or deep down? What kind of sensations do they create?
    • Could you just let a feeling be for a while?
    • What does the feeling tell you?


    There is a similar exercise also on Mielenterveystalo website. Tunnista tunteet kehossasi (pdf) ( (available in Finnish).


    In difficult moments, you might feel a strong sense of self-blame or uncomfortable feelings regarding what happened. It may even feel like these feelings prevent you from identifying or feeling any other emotions. In those moments, remember that what happened was not your fault. Talking about your experience of sexual violence, accepting help, taking care of yourself and time will all gradually start to make you feel better.


    Exercise: The purpose of the this exercise is to make you stop for a moment, practice accepting observation and to recognise and identify what you are feeling. The exercise will help to tolerate different emotional states and to notice how emotions are not permanent, but forever changing. This can feel like a relief. (The duration of the exercise is about 8 minutes.)


    One of the feelings that might change after experiencing sexual violence is the feeling of safety. If there are situations in your life where you fear for your safety, please contact the police counselling service ( If you are not sure whether you are under threat or not, discuss your situation with a professional or trusted person. It is important that the sexual violence is not repeated and that you can live your life in safety.


    If you want to think about and test how well you recognise violence, you can take the safety test available at (available in Finnish), which is aimed at young people. The test can help you learn about the importance of safety in human relationships and to recognise violent behaviour.


    Sometimes feelings of insecurity can be strong and recurring, even when everything is actually fine. You can remind yourself that you are safe and nothing bad will happen. Doing exercises that regulate your state of alertness and maintaining your daily routines will make you feel better. Spending time with reliable and safe people can also feel soothing.


    Exercise: This exercise will relax your mind and body and relieve anxiety. The purpose of the exercise is to create an inner mental refuge where you can return to whenever you feel insecure, anxious or stressed. (The duration of the exercise is about 13 minutes.)


    Feelings are always authentic and important. In addition to difficult emotions, it is important that you experience good and happy emotions in your life that give you strength. Use the following sentences to think about what makes you happy.

    • I feel happy when…
    • When I’m happy, I want to…
    • I feel pleasure when…
    • I feel joy when…
    • Others notice that I am cheerful or happy when…


    You can compile a list of things that make you feel good and happy. In difficult moments, the list will remind you of the good things in your life. You have the right to experience joy and enjoy your life.




    Sexual violence sometimes causes you to judge or accuse yourself, your body or the way you acted. When this happens, you can practice self-compassion when thinking about yourself, your past and your recovery.


    Self-compassion means being kind and gentle to yourself even in the face of adversity or difficult things. It refers to the ability to think about oneself in an accepting and encouraging way, which will make it easier for you to cope with your situation.


    You can practice self-compassion and gentle self-talk with the help of mindfulness exercises. The following exercise by the Finnish Heart Association will help you have self-compassion and to anticipate good things for yourself. (The duration of the exercise is about 8 minutes)


    Sometimes a past event can appear in your mind repeatedly. When this happens, focus on doing nice things, for example, listen to some music, go outside or talk with a friend. Even though you have experienced difficult things, you don’t have to let the memories take up too much space in your everyday life. What are your favourite activities, which help you with difficult situations and thoughts?


    You may also feel that certain things in your surroundings or in other people remind you of your experience of sexual violence. When an event appears in your mind repeatedly when you don’t want it to, it is called a flashback. If this happens to you, stop for a moment and answer the following questions in your mind.


    • What day, month and year is it?
    • Where are you? (who are you with?)
    • What is the temperature/weather like?
    • What can you see around you? Identify three things or objects.
    • What sounds can you hear? Identify three sounds.


    These questions will help your mind return to the present moment and realise that the events from the past are not happening right now. You can also do the Nykyhetkeen palauttavan harjoitus (available in Finnish), an exercise for bringing you back to the present (.pdf).


    Experiences of sexual violence may stay in your mind for a long time. It is understandable that your mind is troubled with details related to it. Sometimes it helps to simply reserve a specific time for thinking about things related to the event. You can try completing the Huolihetki exercise (available in Finnish) (.pdf), which is aimed at helping you go through things that are troubling your mind within an allocated time frame. Doing the huolihetki exercise regularly will help you deal with difficult thoughts, free up space for other thoughts, and fall asleep.




    The experience of sexual violence may affect thoughts and feelings about your sexuality, gender or sexual orientation.


    You might feel like thinking about whether these aspects of you have changed after the events, what sexuality means to you, what it includes and what it doesn’t include. Thinking about your sexuality is important. When you know yourself better, you will find it easier to both set your limits and identify your desires.


    Your thoughts about sexual acts and relationships might change after experiencing sexual violence. Intimacy and sex might feel strange or hard, or it might seem difficult to identify what is right for you. You can think about your sexuality with the help of the Seksuaalisuuden eheytymisen työkirja workbook (.pdf) (available in Finnish).




    The difficult things we might experience in our lives do not determine our future. There is a variety of support services that can help you recover and cope with your situation. It is important that you can live and plan your life the way you want it to be.


    Think about your capacities with the help of the following questions. They can help you do some soul-searching and identify hidden strengths.


    • What things give you strength?
    • What are you good at? What skills do you have?
    • What do you enjoy doing?
    • What puts you in a good mood?
    • What helps you cope in your everyday life?


    Exercise:  Here you can find the Voimavarapuu exercise (.pdf) (available in Finnish). Thinking about your dreams will increase your self-knowledge and help you think about what you want in the future. Dreaming will help you stay hopeful and see the future in a more positive light Fantasising and dreaming are good for you. The Haaveiden purkit exercise (.pdf) (available in Finnish) will help you figure out your small, medium and large dreams.


    Explore and strengthen your capacities, dare to dream and make yourself stronger after a difficult experience. You deserve to have a good life.