What Happens After a Sexual Assault?
Sexual abuse, including rape or other activities without sexual consent, can cause post-traumatic stress disorder and similar conditions. Its effects can last for months or years. But what exactly happens after a sexual assault?
Overall, sexual harassment can significantly harm the survivor’s physical, psychological, and sexual health. The effects can also change the survivor’s behavior. They can make it incredibly difficult for victims to continue with their normal lives.
Survivors often require long therapy sessions or medical care. While many victims respond differently after an assault, this article will analyze some of the most common side-effects experienced by the majority of survivors.
Other Psychological Effects
Primarily, survivors will feel high degrees of distress and shock. The trauma can take a toll on their mind and bodies. This could be followed by a range of uncontrollable emotions. That includes fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, and even guilt.
Moreover, survivors are likely to develop PTSD and suffer from some of its symptoms. They could witness recurring nightmares or painful memories. Most likely, the victims will enter a state of high alertness. Besides PTSD, survivors of sexual assault could develop the following disorders:
There are three main types of eating disorders, and they are often linked to PTSD. That includes Binge-eating disorder, Anorexia nervosa, and Bulimia nervosa. However, researchers find it difficult to determine a direct link between eating disorders and assault.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Approximately one in six survivors develop GAD. Experts believe that stress and worry are the main culprits. Since most survivors exhibit heightened emotional responses, they can experience GAD if they lose control of their worries. Some survivors could even turn GAD into a coping mechanism.
Depression is commonly linked to PTSD. It has around ten common symptoms. That includes feelings of worthlessness or loss of interest. People can witness substantial changes in their normal functioning if they feel five symptoms within two weeks of an assault.
Research shows that victims are 30% more likely to develop OCD within 12 months. Most studies agree that survivors develop OCD as a coping mechanism for related memories and symptoms.
Substance Use Disorders
Over 45% of lifetime PTSD patients contract a substance abuse disorder and become reliant on alcohol or drugs.
Victims can suffer from physical injuries like bruises or bites on their body or their genitals. They could also contract urinary infections, sexually transmitted infections, or suffer from internal bleeding.
There are many long-term physical symptoms that happen after sexual abuse. The most common are high blood pressure, poor sleep quality, high triglycerides, and fatigue. Additionally, if survivors develop conditions like PTSD or depression, the symptoms will impact their physical health. Victims of rape and substantial physical trauma can also experience the following symptoms:
- Arthritis — Studies have found some links between emotional stressors and arthritis, especially among childhood abuse victims.
- Chronic pelvic pain — Nearly 40% of patients who suffer from chronic pelvic pain are assault victims.
- Digestive problems — Studies also show that over 90% of assault cases are followed by abdominal pain. Abuse has also been linked to chronic gastrointestinal illnesses and disorders.
- Intense premenstrual symptoms — Experts also believe that trauma increases the likelihood of heightened PMS symptoms. That includes intense mood swings, headaches, irritability, stomach pain, etc.
- Non-epileptic seizures — Also known as PNES, this condition is defined as a psychological seizure that lacks the symptoms of epilepsy. It is common among children and women.
Assault can significantly disrupt the sexual health of almost any survivor. The most common side-effect is the inability to enjoy sex. As mentioned, most victims contract anxiety, pain, fear, and shame. These feelings can manifest whenever a survivor engages in sexual activity again.
In most instances, survivors will suffer from low or non-existent libido. Experts believe that victims who were penetrated will feel those effects the most. Sexual assault can also lead to serious sexual problems and an increased likelihood of contracting an STI.
The victims could experience long-term behavioral changes, including an increased state of fear. For example, survivors could avoid any type of violence shown in the media. They could also avoid discussions about their own trauma. Unfortunately, the recovery period truly has no timeline. The psychological distress and the behavioral effects could last for weeks, months, years, or even decades.
Furthermore, some sexual assault survivors are likely to seek out alternative coping methods. That could include substance abuse or social isolation. In rare instances, victims can also seek out risky sexual activities that remind them of their trauma.
Some survivors can get through their trauma quickly without any emotional support. However, this is incredibly uncommon. Sadly, the effects of sexual trauma can last a long time. If left untreated, the side-effects can even get worse. There are several treatment options that can help survivors of sexual abuse. For the most part, the treatments focus on reducing the negative symptoms of the trauma.
Firstly, cognitive processing therapy has proven to be a highly effective method. It aims to reduce the symptoms caused by PTSD. The treatment focuses on 12 sessions guided by specially trained experts. Here, patients can learn to question their negative symptoms and eradicate them.
Secondly, prolonged exposure therapy is another approach. It is split into two stages: in vivo and imaginal exposures. The former challenges the patient to confront the things that remind them of their trauma. The latter focuses on “retelling” the trauma to enable the patient to process it objectively.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of rape or sexual assault, the most effective way to recover is to get help from trained professionals. They can help you minimize the psychological and physical effects of assault over time.
Most importantly, you shouldn’t blame yourself for what happened. The best way to move forward is to reach out, get help, and start healing.