Shepherd University

SU Interpersonal Violence
 Resource Center

Sexual Assault

Common Responses to Sexual Assault and/or Rape

Survivors of sexual assault or rape may experience a wide range of physical and emotional responses after the incident. Some reactions may happen immediately after the incident, while others may happen weeks, months, or even years later. It is important to remember that all of these responses are NORMAL and not everyone will respond in the same way.

Common Emotional Responses

  • Shock and disbelief: Immediately following the assault you may find yourself in a state of shock. You may react as if nothing has happened, or you may be in a daze and have trouble focusing or getting mobilized.
  • Fear and/or anxiety: You may have a fear of being unsafe in your environment. Trust may be difficult, even with people you know well. The fear can range from mild to anxiety producing panic.
  • Irritability, restlessness, outbursts of anger or rage: You may find yourself being irritable with the people around you or having trouble being comfortable in your environment. You may also find that you are angrier than you have ever been. This is normal!
  • Nightmares, flashbacks, or recurring thoughts: Thoughts of the assault may intrude on your life. You may also have times that you feel like you are reliving the incident.
  • Hyper-alertness or hyper vigilance: You may notice that you are much more aware of your surroundings. You suddenly pay attention to everything and everyone.
  • Emotional swings: You may feel like your emotions are out of control. You may be laughing one minute and crying the next.
  • Minimizing the experience: You may find that you tell yourself and others that the assault was “no big deal.”
  • Isolating self or feelings of detachment: You may intentionally keep to yourself or feel like there is no one around who can understand what you’re experiencing.
  • Feelings of self-blame or shame: You may look for ways to blame yourself for the assault, i.e. “If I hadn’t had so much to drink…” “If I hadn’t worn that short dress…” “I must have given out mixed signals.” These thoughts often bring feelings of shame.
  • Depression: You may experience an extremely low mood and other symptoms that are typical of depression.
  • Questioning the experience: You may question if an assault actually occurred, especially if the perpetrator was a female. You may also question your sexuality if the perpetrator was the same gender as you.

Common Physical Responses

  • Aches and pains
  • Easily startled by noises or unexpected touch
  • Increased use of drugs or alcohol
  • Changes in sleep patterns, appetite, or interest in sex (increased or decreased)
  • Sudden sweating and/or heart palpitations
  • More susceptible to colds and illness