Some survivors of sexual assault will find they can recover relatively quickly, while others will feel lasting effects of the experience. Those effects may be physical, emotional or psychological, or some combination of all three.

Physical Effects

Some possible physical effects of sexual assault include:

  • Pain
  • Injuries
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches

Emotional Effects

  • Some possible emotional/psychological effects of sexual assault include:
  • Shock/denial
  • Irritability/anger
  • Depression
  • Social withdrawal
  • Numbing/apathy (detachment, loss of caring)
  • Restricted affect (reduced ability to express emotions)
  • Nightmares/flashbacks
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Diminished interest in activities or sex
  • Loss of self-esteem
  • Loss of security/loss of trust in others
  • Guilt/shame/embarrassment
  • Impaired memory
  • Loss of appetite
  • Suicidal ideation (thoughts of suicide and death)
  • Substance Abuse
  • Psychological disorders
  • Possible Physiological Effects of Sexual Assault
  • Hypervigilance (always being "on your guard")
  • Insomnia
  • Exaggerated startle response (jumpiness)
  • Panic attacks
  • Eating problems/disorders
  • Self-mutilation (cutting, burning or otherwise hurting oneself)
  • Sexual dysfunction (not being able to perform sexual acts)
  • Hyperarousal (exaggerated feelings/responses to stimuli)

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

In addition to these effects, a survivor of sexual assault may develop Rape-related Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (RR-PTSD). According to the National Women's Study, nearly 1/3 of all rape victims develop RR-PTSD sometime during their lifetimes (National Center for Victims of Crime and Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center, 1992). PTSD is a mental health disorder primarily characterized by chronic anxiety, depression and flashbacks that develop after experiencing significant trauma such as combat, natural disaster or violent crime victimization.

RR-PTSD is diagnosed by a mental health professional when the biological, psychological and social effects of trauma are severe enough to have impaired a survivor's social and occupational functioning.