Every person who has been sexually abused or raped recovers in their own time and in their own way. Some people experience reactions to the assault immediately, while others may take weeks or even years to feel the impact of what happened. While every person who has experienced sexual violence reacts differently, some common reactions include:
- Mood swings
You might feel calm and in control one minute, and uneasy and upset the next. Your moods may feel out of control. This is a normal way for people to deal with shock. Practical things like your performance at work or school may be affected. Relationships with others may feel strained.
- Physical effects
You might lose your appetite. You may have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. You might also develop genital irritations. You may be particularly vulnerable to getting colds or the flu. Such physical effects are your body’s way of dealing with stress.
You might re-experience images or memories associated with the assault. Smells, sights and sounds associated with what happened may stay with you for some time. Often, flashbacks come in the form of nightmares and bad dreams. Symptoms such as these are often associated with the condition Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). For more information on PTSD and other mental health issues that can be associated with sexual assault contact the Mental Health Foundation. You can also view our Discussion about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder & Sexual Violation page.
This can be a reaction to the assault itself or to other people’s responses to your way of dealing with it. A depressed mood may present as feelings of sadness, irritability, agitation or hopelessness. You may find yourself becoming tearful more easily or notice changes in your sleep or eating habits. For more information on these issues contact the Mental Health Foundation, or you could contact www.depression.org.nz, they also have a free helpline on 0800 111 757.
- Low self-esteem
You may not like yourself, or you may feel angry with yourself for the assault or the way you have reacted to it. You may feel confused and dislike your body.
You may find yourself lashing out at people and feeling angry a lot of the time.
You may find it hard to believe what has happened to you. This feeling may last for some time.
- Self harm
You may start to hurt yourself in a wide range of ways. Get help if you start to over use alcohol, substances or think about hurting yourself or others.
The time after a sexual assault can be very confusing and scary. You may feel like you are going crazy. It is normal to have a reaction like this to a traumatic event like rape or sexual abuse.
(The above information is courtesy of Auckland Sexual Abuse Help’s pamphlet ‘After Sexual Assault’.)