The affects of rape and sexual assault

Part of: Victims of rape and sexual assault

Rape and sexual assault affect people in different ways. Everyone is different and everyone will feel differently about the things that happen in their lives.

Feelings and reactions to rape and sexual assault

What was happening in your life before the assault, whether you have people around you who believe you and support you and your own circumstances all effect how you react to and cope with rape or sexual assault.

There is no right or wrong way to react.

Sometimes you may think that your reactions to what has happened are not normal. This may be because you are reacting to something that happened to you before. Or it may be that your reactions are normal and that you only THINK they are not.

Your feelings can be very strong and can last a long time. For example:

  • you may feel too upset to eat or sleep
  • you may suddenly cry or lose your temper
  • you may feel angry at the attacker, yourself and other people for not protecting you
  • you may feel ashamed, guilty and embarrassed
  • you may feel frightened of being alone, of being in crowds and of the attacker coming back or finding you
  • you may feel anxious about what other people are feeling and that you need to protect them
  • you may find it difficult to be close to your partner, children, friends or family

Whatever you feel is OK - no two people react the same.

Reactions during an assault

People often say that if they were assaulted they would fight back or run away. But, in fact, most people do not. Their automatic reaction is to freeze and not do anything. This is because they:

  • don’t believe this can be happening to them
  • are frightened they might get injured or killed if they resist
  • feel completely helpless

If this happened to you, it does not mean that you agreed to the assault. You were trying to survive the ordeal.

Immediately after a rape or sexual assault, you may have very strong feelings and reactions or feel numb or calm. This is natural.

Health implications

Everyone’s experience of rape or sexual assault is different. People respond differently to traumatic events and come to terms with them differently. Some people recover quickly. For others, there can be long-lasting physical and emotional effects. They are a natural response to what has happened.

You may experience:

  • physical symptoms like abdominal pain or headaches
  • depression
  • panic attacks
  • flashbacks
  • eating problems
  • dependency on drugs, alcohol or cigarettes
  • suicidal feelings
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Ways of coping

You don’t have to cope on your own. There are people and agencies who want to support you.

Think about the support you have around you. Is there anyone you can speak to? It may help to talk about what has happened, but make sure you speak to someone you can trust. If you are worried about the reactions of your family or the people around you, you don’t have to speak to someone from your own community. You have a choice about who to tell.

It’s also important to take care of yourself and avoid things which might make everything worse. Avoid alcohol or drugs.

It is normal to be angry - try to find ways of expressing it that don’t hurt you or other people.

As time goes on, you may find that you are not coping well with your everyday life and that you need some extra help to express your feelings or feel a bit better. This might include:

  • counselling
  • complementary therapies, such as aromatherapy or relaxation techniques
  • medication for physical symptoms, such as ongoing pain or depression
  • other professional help

Whatever you're feeling, speak to your GP, they can help.

 

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