Common Reactions to Sexual Assault

Do you know somebody who has experienced sexual assault or abuse?

All survivors differ in their reactions to assault or abuse. There is no right or wrong way to respond.   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. Frequently she feels shamed, humiliated, guilty, angry, and powerless
  • Her attitude toward her body may be negatively affected.  She may feel ugly, ashamed, or embarrassed by her body
  • She may experience physical symptoms of stress – for example, headaches, stomach problems, eating and sleeping problems
  • She may use alcohol or drugs to numb or cope with her feelings
  • She may use alcohol or drugs to numb or cope with her memories
  • She may cut, burn or scratch herself  to numb or cope with her feelings
  • She  may find it difficult to trust others
  • She may find it difficult to be emotionally close with others
  • She may not want sexual intimacy for some time
  • Oppositely, she may engage in risky sexual behaviors
  • She may feel that sexual activity is meaningless or empty
  • She may become aggressive, angry or withdrawn
  • She may experience flashbacks of the incident(s)
  • She may experience fear of being alone and fear of future attacks
  • She may experience nightmares or other sleep disturbances
  • She 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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