Sexual assault is much more than a sexual act

Sexual assault is any behavior or contact of a sexual nature that is unwanted or makes a person uncomfortable.  Sexual assault occurs any time a person is forced, coerced, and/or manipulated into any unwanted sexual activity.  A person does not have to be touched to be a victim of sexual assault.  It can occur when the personal space and safety of a person is violated.  

Sexual assault can happen to both men and women of any age

Sexual Assault is about power, not sex. A rapist uses force or violence — or the threat of it — to take control over another human being. Some rapists use drugs to take away a person’s ability to fight back. Rape is a crime, whether the person committing it is a stranger, a date, an acquaintance, a spouse, or a family member. 

Effects of Sexual Assault

The trauma caused by sexual assault can be severe and long-lasting.  It may not be possible to predict exactly how a survivor will react, however it might be helpful to know some common responses to sexual assault.

Depression Shock and Disbelief – Initially, most sexual assault survivors react with shock and disbelief. They may feel numb and dazed, withdrawn and distant from other people. They may want to forget about what happened and avoid people or situations that remind them of the assault
Sleep Disturbances Remembering what happened and what it felt like – There may be periods when they are preoccupied with thoughts and feelings about the assault. They may have unwanted memories or flashbacks and nightmares. When the survivor thinks about what happened, they may re-experience some of the sensations and feelings they had during the assault, such as fear and powerlessness.
PTSD Intense Emotions – Many survivors experience intense emotions in the aftermath of a sexual assault, called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. At times, they may feel angry, irritable, anxious or depressed.
Substance Abuse Physical symptoms – Some experience physical symptoms, such as sleep disturbances, chronic headaches, stomachaches, nightmares, recurrent nausea, panic attacks, and eating disorders. They may find that it is very difficult to concentrate on routine activities. They may also experience changes in sexuality, such as a loss of interest in sex or avoidance of sexual situations.
Eating Disorders feeling fearful – Fears about personal safety are a common response to a sexual assault. Survivors often become fearful in situations and places where they were never frightened before.
Suicide or Self-Harm Self-blame and shame – Feelings of guilt and shame are also frequent reactions. Because of misconceptions about sexual assault, survivors 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 survivor or criticize their behavior. Some survivors 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.

It’s important to know that each person is different and it takes time to heal from sexual assault.  Although many victims experience similar reactions, there are still individual differences in how they respond to the trauma of sexual assault.  They may experience some or all of these reactions.  They may occur immediately, or they 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 they have been feeling better.

If you need help, call the YWCA 24-hour helpline (1-800-669-3716) to speak with an advocate about assistance and services available

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