For Survivors of Sexual Assault: Common Reactions to Sexual Assault

Have you experienced sexual assault or abuse?

Sexual violence is a traumatic violation of the body, mind and spirit. It profoundly affects a person’s health and well-being.

Each person reacts in a unique way to sexual violence.  Whether one experiences some or none of these feelings, each reaction is normal for each person. There is no right or wrong way to cope or feel after experiencing sexual violence.

The following responses are experienced by many survivors of sexual assault or abuse:

  • A survivor's self-esteem often diminishes after an assault or abuse. You may feel shamed, humiliated, guilty, angry, and powerless
  • Your attitude toward your body may be negatively affected.  You may feel ashamed, or embarrassed by your body
  • You may experience physical symptoms of stress – for example, headaches, stomach problems, eating and sleeping problems
  • You may feel anxieties, depression, shame, anger/rage or fear
  • You may feel lowered self-esteem, shock, disbelief
  • You may feel disconnected from self and others
  • You may feel frozen or numb
  • You may feel loss or grief
  • You may have mood swings
  • You may feel hyper-alertness
  • You may use alcohol or drugs to numb or cope with feelings
  • You may use alcohol or drugs to numb or cope with memories
  • You may cut, burn or scratch yourself  to numb or cope with feelings
  • You  may find it difficult to trust others
  • You may find it difficult to be emotionally close with others
  • You may not want sexual intimacy for some time
  • Oppositely, you might engage in risky sexual behaviors
  • You may feel that sexual activity is meaningless or empty
  • You may become aggressive, angry or withdrawn
  • You may experience flashbacks of what you went through
  • You may experience fear of being alone and fear of future attacks
  • You may experience nightmares or other sleep disturbances
  • You may not be able to concentrate. This can affect academic or job performance

Remember that responses to sexual assault vary, and can change over time.  Keep in mind that a survivor of sexual assault may experience a variety of different emotions and may cope in a variety of ways. This is normal.  Every person is unique.


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