AbleToTrain by Willing & Able

The effects of sexual assault

There are many common reactions to sexual assault. Not all survivors of sexual violence are the same, and no act of sexual violence will affect two people equally. There is no right or wrong way to feel or respond. When your body and mind deal with the horrors of sexual violence, a variety of emotions, behaviors, and physical reactions may appear, disappear, and then reappear. This is just an introduction to a better understanding of what a survivor can experience. It may be important for an attorney, support person, or someone working with a victim of sexual assault to help identify and normalize these reactions.

Although each survivor is unique in their experience, many survivors suffer in the following ways:


Survivors see themselves as bad, wrong, dirty, or permanently imperfect.

Feelings of guilt

Victims believe that the abuse was their fault. It is very difficult for survivors to blame the person who attacked them. Often the offender is someone close to them who wants to protect him. On the other hand, when they blame the abuser, they may feel helpless.


The survivor said, “It was not so bad.” “It only happened once, not more.” “I’m fine, I do not need help.”


Minimizing attacks can be a control strategy. This may include survivors who feel their abuse is not as severe as that of others. Those who support survivors must be aware of the impact of abuse and that it is natural for survivors to feel sad, traumatized or hurt by it.

Sexual boundaries

Since sexual violence is a violation of boundaries, it affects the victim’s perception of when and how to draw boundaries. Survivors may know no boundaries at all; they may not know they have the rights to create and implement it. Many victims need support to develop and enforce borders.


Sexual abuse is a betrayal of trust. Most survivors find it difficult to trust themselves and their perceptions as well as others.


The feeling of security of the survivors has changed; they may view unsafe situations as unsafe and may perceive unsafe situations as dangerous. It is important for survivors to find out how they feel safe by asking specific safety questions.


This is a serious problem for adult survivors. Many feel that they are unworthy of support, that they are unclean, and that others do not want to be friends or girlfriends. A survivor’s culture and (lack of) social connections can sometimes increase feelings of isolation. Survivors may have been shunned or shunned by their families and / or communities due to their discovery.


The survivor may not remember what happened. Ultimately, if the sexual abuse took place before language developed, the survivor may not have a clear memory.


Survivors can be isolated during sexual assault. They can describe how they “float out of the body” or “look over their shoulder” during the abuse. Separation can occur even if the survivor has not been tortured. Events or memories can evoke divisive emotions.


The body is where sexual abuse occurred and many survivors feel betrayed by their bodies in different ways. Perhaps they were trying to silence/disconnect from the body so that they would not experience feelings of abuse. Sometimes, in the context of anesthetic experience, survivors may seek out experiences that provide more intense physical sensations such as self-harm.

Physical complaints

Survivors may experience physical (physical) complaints, eating disorders, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and physical symptoms related to the areas of their body affected by the attack.

Emotional complaints

Survivors can be very expressive (angry, sad), confused (disbelief, denial) or restrained (distant, quiet).

Cognitive problems

Survivors may not be able to block thoughts about the attack or, on the contrary, forget all parts of it. They can constantly think about things they should have done differently. Nightmares are frequent. Survivors may also have thoughts or fantasies about being in a similar situation and “controlling” the traumatic event.

Other related problems that may occur are eating disorders, physical changes, changes in sexual activity, drug abuse, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, anger and mood disorders such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Long-term responses

involve coping mechanisms that can be helpful and adaptive (social support) or counterproductive and inappropriate (self-harm, substance abuse, eating disorders).

  • Persistent Anxiety

  • Poor Health

  • Helplessness

  • Persistent Fear

  • Depression

  • Mood Changes

  • Sleep Disorders

  • Recalls

  • Dissociation

  • Panic Attacks

  • Pain Phobias/Isolation Relationship Withdrawals

  • Paranoia