Rape and sexual assault is both a personal and heinous crime, which often leads to trauma. Sexual assault can have a significant impact on the victim as well as those that love him/her. Individual response to sexual assault and trauma may vary as we all experience and process events differently. Some victims of rape and sexual assault may experience negative feelings immediately following the assault, while others will experience a delay in symptoms after a prolonged period of time. Survivors of rape and sexual assault can be effected emotionally, psychologically, and/or physically. Symptoms related to sexual trauma can be brief or lengthy and debilitating. It is important to remember there is not one “normal” reaction to sexual assault, victims will react individually and uniquely. Therefore, victim’s individual responses will be different depending upon his/her personal circumstances.
The symptoms related to rape and sexual assault may include:
· Depression and or periods of chronic sadness
· Unstable mood (cycling between sadness, anger, guilt, fear, anxiety, etc.)
· Loss of interest in things once enjoyed
· Self-isolating behaviors
· Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
· Decrease in energy level
· Chronic Fear/anxiety
· Feelings of guilt and or feeling responsible for being assaulted
· Suicidal thoughts or ideations
· Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness or guilt
· Negative emotional symptoms that have taken on physical characteristics (nausea, unexplained aches and pains, heart palpitations, migraines, etc.)
· Challenges or interruptions with cognition
· Flashbacks (vivid images of the assault)
· Intense feelings of shame
· Trust issues/challenges
Rape and sexual assault trauma is a common reaction following a sexual assault or threat of sexual assault. It is a natural human reaction to a devastating or extreme event.
There are three phases to rape and sexual assault trauma:
· Acute Phase- negative feelings and reactions immediately following a sexual assault
· Outward Adjustment Phase- Survivor of sexual assault may present with blunted affect, decreased or lack of emotional responsiveness following a sexual assault
· Resolution Phase- Survivors have accepted that sexual assault has occurred, however, it is no longer the central focus of their life
Survivors of rape and sexual assault must deal with a lot of conflicting emotions and issues including but not limited to fear, anxiety, anger, guilt, feelings of hopelessness/helplessness, violated, potential exposure to STD’s & AIDS, and pregnancy. Rape, just like consensual sex, can lead to pregnancy, it is important for female victims to be tested after an assault.
Rape and sexual trauma can consist of one event or a series of events that may escalate over time. It can be sexual harassment, rape, inappropriate touching, being pressured/threatened to perform, engage in sexual activity, or threatened with harm if the individual does not perform the sexual act. Many people think that sexual trauma has to be violent to be traumatic, but in fact, a majority of sexual assaults that occur do not include significant violent behavior, but instead are done with a threat of harm or embarrassment for the individual involved. The level of perceived threat and traumatic reaction to that threat is very individual and almost impossible to anticipate.
Counseling is crucial for survivors of sexual trauma, and it is an important step in helping people process emotions from abuse. Adults who experience sexual trauma also commonly suffer with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Trauma treatment and healing involves processing trauma-related memories and feelings, discharging pent-up “fight-or-flight” energy, learning how to regulate strong emotions, and rebuilding the ability to trust other people. Effective treatment to help manage symptoms related to sexual trauma can include; cognitive behavioral therapy, somatic experiencing, group therapy, individual psychotherapy, etc.