There isn’t a list that you can just check off that tells you how you might feel or think or behave after a sexual assault and every person reacts differently.
But, there are some common themes that people report about how they feel and what they’re thinking but many times, they don’t say anything to anyone because they don’t want to sound crazy. Here is our list of what we’ve heard and learned about how people – males and females – feel after being sexually assaulted. Sometimes people feel things right away, sometimes people feel things days, weeks, months and even years later. There’s no right or wrong way to do this. It is what it is. Hopefully, by sharing this list, people will realize that they are not alone and that they’re not crazy.
Self-blame and guilt; This has got to be one of the biggest, most predominant feelings we hear about and see from almost everyone. People always look at their own behaviour first to see what they did wrong to deserve this or what they could have done differently to prevent this. This is a very common reaction. Many people feel guilty, humiliated and ashamed by what they were forced to do and then feel guilty for whatever decisions they made before the assault happened. The truth is, it is never the fault of the victim.
Feeling unsafe and being afraid; For some people, the fear and terror they felt before, during and / or after the assault can become generalized to other things afterwards. They may be afraid to walk down certain streets, afraid of going into stores alone, afraid of the wind, afraid of riding on a bus; it’s our brain’s way of finding a place for that fear that still lives inside and it is totally normal. It’s very common for people to feel like there is nowhere safe or no safe place left in their world.
Anger towards yourself; some people take anger that they feel and turn it inside on themselves. It’s very common for people to feel anger towards themselves as a result of what they feel were poor choices or bad behaviour, for how they feel or felt, for not handling it the way they thought they should (either then or now). Some of that anger can be expressed through different emotions (suicidal, depressed) and some can be demonstrated through behaviour (self-harm, cutting, substance abuse).
Anger towards others; Anger can be a scary emotion for a lot of people and difficult to find a way to cope with. Sometimes, expressing that anger at someone who is hurtful or scary to us is not safe but directing that anger at someone we know won’t hurt us is a lot safer in many ways and that means people can take their anger out on the safe people around them, even though they may not have done anything wrong. Even though it’s common, it can be very confusing for everyone.
Grief; Grief is a common reaction and a natural process after any kind of loss and a sexual assault can signify a loss in many ways. It may be the loss of innocence, the loss of what we thought was going to be a relationship or what we thought was a friendship, the loss of a future, the loss of family and / or a loss of control one feels over their own life. Regardless, it is still often difficult to find ways to deal with and make sense of this grief and it’s important that people be allowed to work through the grieving process in their own time and their own way.
Changes in intimacy; There can be a lot of confused feelings about ourselves, our bodies and our self-worth after an assault and this can cause a lot of changes in how we interact with others in an intimate way. Some people withdraw and become fearful of another’s touch and some seek out more physical contact as a way to try to deal with the experience. Both of these changes are very common.
Flashbacks; Flashbacks are memories that you experience with your senses. A variety of things can trigger a flashback and a person can suddenly feel the anxiety and fear and panic all over again, just like they did when the assault happened. Flashbacks are things that typically happen with a person is awake and knowing and understanding what your triggers are can be part of the process of learning to deal with flashbacks.
Nightmares; Similar to flashbacks, nightmares are very common and happen to many people who have been assaulted. Bedtime can become something that causes a lot of anxiety due to the fears of falling asleep and reliving the assault, or aspects of the assault, all over again. They can be overwhelming and confusing however they are extremely normal for people who have been assaulted.
Isolation; A lot of people feel like no one can ever truly understand what they are thinking and feeling and begin to isolate themselves from their family and friends and from society in general. When a victim hears things like “just put it behind you” or “that was a long time ago, shouldn’t you be over it by now”, they become fearful in talking with others and will sometimes just stop.
Spiritual crisis; Any traumatic event that results in loss and / or pain, can result in spiritual crisis. You may wonder why your God let this happen to you or you may even be told by spiritual leaders or others within your religious community that this happened because you needed to be punished for some type of transgression, for being a bad person or for being a sinner. This can be difficult to resolve until you have regained your sense of self and who you are in the world once again. Regardless of what your religion believes, we believe that sexual assault is not a punishment from God but an action of one person against another and the only person who should be made to feel responsible is the perpetrator.
While reactions are quite unique to the individual, the path to recovery and healing is also unique. One size does not fit all however organizations that specialize in dealing with sexual assault can often provide services and resources that are the most helpful in these situations. For more information, please contact; http://www.arc-c.ca/aboutus.html , http://www.satcontario.com/en/view.php?key=42&menu=37&lang=en , https://www.pathsofcourage.com/