Effects of Sexual
Trauma, such as sexual assault, impacts all of us differently. There is no right or wrong way to react. Our reactions can be influenced by the specific circumstances of the assault and/or other life experiences. Some common reactions include:
- Self blame
- Anger or rage
- Fear and feelings of betrayal
- Loss of sleep
- Suicidal thoughts
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Feeling numb
- Fear of intimacy
- Fear of not being believed
- Aches and pains
- Digestive issues and loss of appetite
- Difficulty concentrating
- Using alcohol or drugs to cope
Supporting a Survivor
Sexual assault is an extremely personal experience that many people may never choose to disclose to anyone else. If a survivor shares their story with you, your reaction can impact whether they share their story in the future. Here are some powerful ways to support a sexual assault survivor:
- Believe them.
- Acknowledge their courage in sharing their story. It takes a great deal of courage and trust to share the personal experience of sexual assault with another person. Many people never share their story for fear of not being believed.
- Listen without questions: As allies, it is not our job to prove or disprove their story. Let them know that they are not alone and that there is help and support available.
- Empathize and normalize their feelings
- Be non-judgemental and keep their private information safe.
- Listen to them and their needs. Not everyone has the shared experience of sexual assault, but we all have experiences that have caused us pain and trauma. Treat them the way you want to be treated in your moments of pain and trauma. Remember, everyone reacts differently to trauma.
- Share compassion: avoid blaming, shaming or accusing someone of not reacting "like a victim"
- Empower them in making their own decisions about what resources they want to connect with.
- Help them explore any immediate safety concerns, such as seeking medical care.
- Assist them in identifying resources close to them (like us!) with experts who support sexual assault survivors. If they choose to contact those resources, stay with them through this process. Once they are connected to Advocates, our staff and support team can go along with them to appointments with medical providers, law enforcement or other responders.
- Support their agency: avoid pushing them towards reporting to law enforcement or disclosing details. It is important for the individual to reassert their right to self determination after the trauma of sexual assault.