Potential Long-Term Effects
- Trying to forget the attack, withdrawing from people, pretending to be alright, minimizing the attack, not caring, or being angry are normal reactions.
- Fear of death, fear of situations that are reminders of the assault, or fears of seeing the assailant again are common.
- Sleeping and eating patterns may change, and may include sleeping disorders, nightmares, or eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.
- Survivors may think about hurting themselves or others, or turn to alcohol or drugs to block out the problem.
- Survivors may experience dramatic mood swings, crying spells, panic attacks, become irritable and short-tempered, have difficulty making decisions, or develop Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.
- A counselor who specializes in sexual assault can help survivors work through the above issues. The recovery process may help survivors develop confidence, strength, insights, and regain self-esteem.
- Family and friends may also want to seek counseling to help them cope with the effects of the assault on their own lives and help them to be understanding and supportive of the survivor.
Flashbacks and Nightmares
It is not uncommon for survivors to experience flashbacks or nightmares after an assault. Here are some things that may help afterwards:
- Remind yourself that the feelings and sensations are memories of the past; that you survived the trauma; and that you are safe now.
- Take deep breaths. Breathing helps re-orient you to the present and lessens panic. Focus on your senses and ask yourself what you are seeing, hearing, and feeling right then.
- Take time to recover and reach out for support as you need it.
- Identify ways in which you feel vulnerable and make a plan that will keep you safe.
Sexuality After Sexual Assault
- Some sexual assault survivors will have a period of promiscuity as they attempt to assert control following an assault.
- Some survivors do not feel comfortable with any physical intimacy.
- Sex may stir up frightening feelings associated with the assault— this is normal.
- Talk to your partner about your feelings and intimacy comfort level.
- You have the right to choose whether or not to tell potential partners about your assault.
- Remember that even though some things may change between you and your partner for some time, most survivors recover from the trauma and have healthy, loving relationships.