The psychological trauma caused by a sexual assault can be
severe and long-lasting. Because people react in very
different ways to stress, it is not possible to predict
exactly how you will feel. It may be helpful, however, for
you to know some of the most common responses of sexual
Shock And Disbelief
"I feel numb."
"I can't believe this happened to me."
"I feel disconnected from other people and
from my life."
Initially, most sexual assault victims react with shock and
disbelief. You may feel numb and dazed, withdrawn and
distant from other people. You may want to forget about
what happened and avoid people or situations that remind you
of the assault.
Remembering What Happened And What It Felt
"Sometimes, I can't stop thinking about it."
"For weeks, I couldn't wash away his smell."
"It comes back out of nowhere. I feel like
it's happening all over again."
There may also be periods when you are preoccupied with
thoughts and feelings about the assault. You may have
unwanted memories or flashbacks and nightmares. When you
think about what happened, you may re-experience some of the
sensations and feelings you had during the assault, such as
fear and powerlessness.
"I feel very sad, like I lost a part of me."
"I have this intense anger that I never felt
Many survivors experience intense emotions in the aftermath
of a sexual assault. At times, you may feel angry. You may
also feel anxious or depressed.
"I couldn't sleep through the night. I had
trouble falling asleep and then I would wake up every night
at the same time that the rape happened."
Some victims have physical symptoms, such as sleep
disturbances, headaches, and stomachaches. You may find that
it is very difficult to concentrate on routine activities.
You may also experience changes in your sexuality, such as a
loss of interest in sex or avoidance of sexual situations.
"Every night when I come home, I search my
apartment. I look in the closets and under the bed to be
sure no one is there."
"I can't go out alone at night because I am
Fears about personal safety are an almost universal response
to a sexual assault. Survivors often become fearful in
situations and places where they were never frightened
before. In many sexual assault situations, the victim feels
powerless and/or terrified of being killed or seriously
harmed. Afterwards, you may continue to feel frightened and
vulnerable for a while.
Self-blame And Shame
"I felt like it was my fault, I trusted
"I wondered if guys would think I was damaged
Feelings of guilt and shame are also frequent reactions.
Because of misconceptions about rape, victims may blame
themselves, doubt their own judgment, or wonder if they were
in some way responsible for the assault. Feelings of guilt
and self-blame may be reinforced by the reactions of others,
who, because of prevalent myths about rape, may blame the
victim or criticize his or her behavior. You may also feel
ashamed. Some victims describe feeling dirty, devalued, and
humiliated as a result of a sexual assault. Feelings of
shame are sometimes a reaction to being forced by the
assailant to participate in the crime.
Each Person Is Different....It Takes Time To
"One minute I feel okay and I think I can
deal with what happened, and then the next minute I feel
overwhelmed and weak. Sometimes it seems like it will never
"It's been 8 months since my rape. It's
still always there, but I don't think about it every day
Each person is unique. Although many victims experience
similar reactions, there are still individual differences in
how they respond to the trauma of rape. You may experience
some or all of these symptoms. They may occur immediately,
or you may have a delayed reaction weeks or months later.
Certain situations, such as seeing the assailant or
testifying in court, may intensify the symptoms or cause
them to reoccur after a period during which you have been