Common Reactions to Sexual Assault
Sexual assault is a traumatizing experience for most survivors (victims), whether or not physical force was part of the assault or abuse. Survivors can experience a wide variety of emotions, and every person has their own way of dealing with difficult emotions. Right after a sexual assault, many people are in shock. The survivor may appear to be calm, composed, and subdued. Some people express their feelings outwardly by crying, shaking, yelling or even laughing. Often, the survivor is confused and disoriented, and has difficulty answering questions, remembering details or understanding new information.
A wide range of feelings are common. Many survivors feel very scared, whether or not they show it. Some other common reactions are:
• shock and disbelief
• mistrust, sense of betrayal
• memory loss
• irritability, edginess
• heightened sensitivity to touch
• nightmares, flashbacks
• change in eating and sleeping habits
• shame, humiliation, embarrassment
• anger, thoughts of revenge
• disorientation, confusion
• overwhelmed, fear of “going crazy”
• intense fear of injury or death
After a few days or weeks of dealing with the feelings and reactions above, most people want to start feeling better and putting the assault behind them as soon as possible. They may do many different things to “go back to normal” including dating again, deciding not to date at all, changing their group of friends, starting to use alcohol or other drugs, or get very busy with work or school. Both healthy and unhealthy distractions are common for survivors/victims.
Unfortunately, unlike other memories, time does not make sexual assault or other trauma fade as easily. So, after a period of saying “I’m fine” most survivors/victims start noticing that it is actually helpful to acknowledge the impact of the assault or abuse and to allow themselves to feel their feelings. This is also a time when many people may want to talk about their experience with friends, family, or make a police report.
It is possible to heal and have a happy, productive life after sexual assault or abuse. With support and healing, you can feel good again.
You deserve support!
Talking to a friend or family member whom you trust can be a huge help.
There are also counseling options available locally. You can call Center for Women & Community for information on free, short-term peer counseling or referrals to local therapists. Center for Women & Community also has information on local support groups. For info on counseling or groups, call the hotline (during business hours is best for counseling info) at 413-545-0800.
Taking time for yourself can also be helpful – take a walk, read a book, get outside and exercise, spend time with a dog or cat, whatever is nourishing for you!