Psychological, Physical, & Emotional Effects of Sexual Assault on Women

by cadabamshospital

10 October,2018 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Any sexual behavior done through force – physical force, coercion, manipulation, and threats – is categorized as assault. It can range from unwanted touching, fondling, forcing someone to perform sexual acts, attempted rape, to rape. Sexual Violence against women and men has seen a marked increase in the past few decades. 

Sexual assault has many short-term and long-term effects on the survivor’s mental health.

Psychological Effects of Sexual Assault

The physical effects of sexual assault are scary, but so are the mental health effects. Sexual trauma has a deep impact on an individual’s mental health. Each person reacts to sexual violence trauma in their own unique way.  Personal beliefs, culture, and the environment surrounding the survivor affect their reactions.

Some may tell others right away about what happened, others might wait weeks, months, or even years. Some might be reluctant to open up about it, others might communicate their feelings well. It is important to listen with an open mind and respect their reactions, no matter what.

Though each person has their own individual response to such an event, most survivors feel shocked, fear, sorrow, guilt, and shame. In fact, survivors of sexual assault are at high risk for developing various mental health issues such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, etc. This impacts the daily life of the individual. Furthermore, unprocessed trauma can even lead to suicide!

It is advised that survivors of sexual assault consult a mental health professional. Call us at +91 97414 76476.

Mental Health and Sexual Assault

The consequences of sexual violence on the mental health of the survivor are tremendous. They might suffer from:

 Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):

PTSD is a mental health condition that is extremely common in survivors of traumatic events, like sexual assault. Some of the symptoms of PTSD in sexual assault survivors are:

  • havingintrusive symptoms, like nightmares, flashbacks, repeated & unwanted memories of the event
  • always being in a hypervigilant state, having trouble falling or staying asleep, easily startled, and constant sense of being in danger
  • being avoidant, resisting talking about what happened, shying away from news and television shows that discuss sexual assault
  • negative thoughts and feelings, repeated feelings of fear & horror, feeling guilt, shame, or hopelessness, distorted sense of self

Depression:

Depression is a mood disorder that is seen amongst sexual trauma survivors. They might have persistent feelings of loss and sorrow. Depression can also render the survivors apathetic or detached from their life. The victim might have difficulty feeling positive emotions like joy.

 Anxiety:

A survivor of sexual assault might suffer from anxiety disorders and stress. They might be overly cautious and easily startled. They can even suffer from panic and anxiety attacks.

 Eating Disorder:

A sexual assault survivor might develop an eating disorder in the aftermath of the event. They might either starve themselves or overeat to cope with the stress.

 Substance Abuse Disorder:

It is very common that sexual assault survivors might fall into self-destructive habits. They might even self-harm. Many survivors might start abusing alcohol and illicit drugs to cope with the stress.

Emotional Effects of Sexual Assault

A survivor could also have trouble concentrating, have safety concerns, suffer from low self-esteem, and develop phobias. Some survivors might be in denial while others develop maladaptive beliefs & trust issues.

They might suffer from guilt and blame themselves. The social stigma of sexual assault can invoke feelings of shame and dread in the survivor. They can feel tense, wary and might feel that they are always in danger. Survivors can feel extremely vulnerable and have perceptions of lack of control. They might develop trust issues. They might isolate themselves and be unable to maintain relationships.

It is vital that the survivor gets guidance from a mental health professional for their long-term emotional & mental health.

Treatments for Sexual Assault

There are many types of therapy that can help sexual abuse survivors. Some of them are:

  • Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) can help the survivor with PTSD symptoms. It helps them confront unpleasant memories or thoughts linked with the event.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy can help relieve PTSD symptoms and treat the trauma of the sexual assault. It reduces the emotional impact of the traumatic event by using subtle eye movements to “rewire” the brain
  • Prolonged Exposure Therapy makes the survivor confront their feared emotions, memories, and thoughts. It can help with treating anxiety and fear.
  • Play Therapy is used to treat young children who suffered from sexual assault. Young children may not be able to communicate and play therapy can help them express themselves and process the trauma.

Depending on the context, the survivor, their background and beliefs, and the severity of the assault, a therapist may use a combination of these methods.

Impact on Loved Ones

Sexual assault leaves an impact on the survivor as well as their parents, spouses, children, and friends. Loved ones may not know how to react to the situation or offer support. They can feel helpless. Additionally, they might feel immense guilt for being unable to protect the victim.

Maintain the mental health of family & friends, while also supporting and listening to the survivor.

Educate yourself

Things to keep in mind when dealing with sexual assault survivors:

  1. It is never the victim’s fault.
  2. Anyone – of any gender and age – can be a victim of sexual assault.
  3. Listen with an open empathetic mind and let them know you believe them.
  4. Don’t get tangled up in hypothesis – no “what ifs” or “if only”. Though you might not intend to, these statements can indirectly place the blame on the survivor.
  5. The survivor’s emotions matter more than your own. You might feel angry or desperate, but what matters is the survivor’s feelings. Listen empathetically without interrupting or judging.
  6. Respect their decisions. If the survivor wants to talk about the event, listen. If not, then let them know you are willing to listen when they are ready. Do not force or coerce them into doing what you think is the “right decision”.

A survivor of sexual violence needs support, acceptance, and understanding from their loved ones. It is extremely difficult overcoming and cope with sexual assault, both for the survivor and their family. Such traumatic events can significantly affect the mental health of a person, and hence needs the guidance of mental health professional.

You can call us at +91 97414 76476 or visit our website for more information.

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