Common Reactions

Perpetrators of sexual assault and abuse create a range of trauma for their victims.  Adults and children that have been sexually abused or assaulted react to trauma in all kinds of ways. Any reaction that you have is normal.  Here are some common survivor responses to being sexually assaulted.

 

Physical Effects

  • Physical injuries
  • Nightmares
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping more than normal
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Stomach aches
  • Eating disorders or changes in previous eating patterns
  • Pregnancy
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Self-harm
  • Headaches
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Muscle soreness
  • Increased use of substances
  • Lowered immune system function
  • Suicide

 

Emotional Effects

  • Anger
  • Vulnerability
  • Shame, guilt, self-blame
  • Mood swings
  • Shock
  • Anxiety
  • Depression, sadness
  • Denial
  • Fear
  • Helplessness
  • Hopelessness
  • Numbness
  • Obsessions/compulsions
  • Phobias
  • Disbelief
 

Cognitive Effects

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Confusion
  • Detachment from immediate surroundings (also called disassociation)
  • Flashbacks
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Disruptive thoughts and worries . . .
    • Self-doubt/Am I making this up?
    • What if I hadn't done...?
    • What if I had done…?
    • I deserved it because...
    • I’m making it seem worse than it was
    • Will I ever be able to be intimate with anyone ever again?
    • Am I dirty?
    • Why me?
    • Will they blame me?
    • Will others believe me?

 

Social Effects

  • Withdrawal from family, friends, relationships, activities
  • Fear around people having similar features or characteristics to the perpetrator
  • Fear of being alone
  • Fear of going outside of home
  • Changes in peer groups, community/school involvement, wardrobe
  • Not being able accomplish things
  • Accomplishing more things than before the assault
  • Difficulty being intimate
  • Feeling alone, even when with others
  • Discomfort being in crowds
  • Hypersensitivity when relating to others
  • Lost trust in self and/or others

 

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can be common for survivors of sexual assault or abuse.  It may include a combination of the above symptoms like replaying the assault over and over again in one’s mind, nightmares, restlessness, difficulty sleeping, eating and concentrating, hypervigilance around safety, and/or avoiding thoughts, feelings, and situations related to the assault.  These symptoms can often interfere with daily life.  More information on PTSD is available at the National Institute of Health.

Children’s Exposure to Multiple Traumas

Research suggests that children who are exposed to multiple traumas experience lasting effects over a lifetime. Multiple traumas could be experiences such as child sexual abuse, living in a home with a domestic violence perpetrator, community violence, or death of a loved one.  Lasting effects may include health and mental health issues such as substance abuse, disease, suicide, risk-taking behaviors, smoking, violence in intimate relationships and early death. This research came from a study called the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES).  More information and resources about ACES is available from MDHHS. You can learn more about treatment and responding to multiple traumas from your local Child Advocacy Center.