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The Impact of Sexual Assault And Rape

Following a sexual assault someone may feel anger, fear, frustration, denial, confusion, shame, guilt, depression, sadness or numbness.  It is important to remember that each person responds differently to sexual assault- there is no right or wrong way to respond.  The following are a list of common behaviors and reactions to rape, but it is important to remember that an individual victim may not experience any of these or they may experience all of them- each person is unique in their response. 

Common Behaviors of Survivors

  • Acting out sexually through high risk behavior

  • Avoiding sexual activity

  • Isolating from friends, family and activities

  • Nightmares, trouble sleeping

  • Body memories (panic attacks, strong emotional responses to certain touch, sounds, smells)

  • Self-injury (cutting, burning, bruising)

  • Dissociation or “checking out”, not able to stay in the present

  • Poor concentration in class or at work

  • Eating disorders

  • Beginning or increasing drug/alcohol use 

Common Reactions to Rape

  • Shock/Disbelief.  The victim may feel numb or a disconnection from others or their own lives.  They often wonder “How could this happen to me?”  Many victims want to forget what happened to them, and in attempting to do so they may avoid people or places that bring up memories of what happened to them. 

  • Remembering What Happened/How It Felt.  Many victims have unwanted memories, flashbacks and nightmares about the assault- these things often make the victim feel the same way they did during the assault. 

  • Physical Symptoms.  Victims may have sleep disturbances, headaches, stomach problems, and changes in their sexuality. 

  • Feeling Fearful.  Many victims fear for their personal safety.  They feel vulnerable and powerless. 

  • Self-Blame/Shame.  Victims often feel guilt, shame, dirty, devalued and humiliated.  A victim may also believe that the assault was their fault, and that they are to blame for what happened.   

Victims of sexual assault may also experience depression, suicidal thoughts, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sexual dysfunction and increased use of drugs/ alcohol. 



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