Common Feelings after Being Sexually Assaulted
Sexual assault is a traumatic event, and we all handle traumatic events in different ways. Though each person and situation is unique, the following list summarizes the possible range of reactions to sexual assault. This list may help you know what's normal to expect.
- Emotional shock: I feel so numb. Why am I so calm? Why can’t I cry?
- Disbelief or denial: Did it really happen? Why me? Maybe I imagined it. It wasn’t really a sexual assault.
- Embarrassment: What will people think? I can’t tell my family or friends.
- Shame: I feel so dirty, like there is something wrong with me. I want to wash my hands or shower all the time. I feel like I have brought shame to my family.
- Guilt: I feel as if it’s my fault, or I did something to make this happen. If only I had done something different.
- Depression: How am I going to get through this semester? I’m so tired. I feel so helpless.
- Suicidal thoughts: Maybe I'd be better off dead.
- Powerlessness: Will I ever feel in control again?
- Disorientation: I don’t even know what day it is, or what class I’m supposed to be in. I can’t remember my appointments. I keep forgetting things.
- Triggers and flashbacks: I’m still re-living it. I keep seeing that face all the time.
- Fear: I’m scared of everything. What if I’m pregnant? Could I get a sexually transmitted infection (STI), or even HIV? How can I ever feel safe again? Do people realize there’s anything wrong? I can’t sleep because I know I'll have nightmares. I’m afraid I'm going crazy. I’m afraid to go outside. I'm afraid to be alone.
- Anxiety: I’m having panic attacks. I can’t breathe! I just can’t stop shaking. I can’t sit still in class anymore. I feel overwhelmed.
- Anger: I want to kill the person who attacked me!
- Physical stress: My stomach (or head or back) aches all the time. I feel jittery and don’t feel like eating.
(Material adapted from University of Texas Counseling & Mental Health Center)
Remember, you are not to blame, even if
- The perpetrator was an acquaintance, date, friend, or spouse.
- You have been sexually intimate with the perpetrator or with others before.
- You were drinking or using drugs.
- You froze and did not or could not say “no,” or were unable to fight back physically.
- You were wearing clothes that others could perceive as seductive.
Regardless of the circumstances, sexual assault is not your fault.