It is normal for survivors to experience a range of feelings after a rape or sexual assault, and all survivors will react to the incident in their own way. One survivor may feel intense anger and even have feelings of revenge, while another may feel numb. Below are some of the common types of reactions survivors might have:
Immediately after the assault most victims are in a state of shock. Some will act as if nothing has happened, trying to make life seem normal. Others find themselves in a daze, having difficulty focusing or getting mobilized.
There may also be periods when survivors are preoccupied with thoughts and feelings about the assault. They may have unwanted memories, flashbacks or nightmares. When they think about what happened, they may re-experience some of the sensations and feelings they had during the assault, such as fear and powerlessness.
After this initial phase, which can last anywhere from a few hours to weeks, months or even years, other emotions come into play. It is common for a survivor to feel that they are going crazy with so many different perceptions to deal with. A survivor may experience fears of darkness, of being alone, of being around people like the perpetrator, or of being raped again.
They may feel that the rape or assault was their fault or that they could have done something to prevent it. They may feel guilty, ashamed and vulnerable in ways they have never experienced before.
They may have trouble trusting other people. Sexual intimacy may be difficult if it brings painful memories or a fear of losing control. A survivor may feel alone in their experience and that no one can understand.
All of these feelings and reactions are normal responses to rape or sexual assault. It is also common for some feelings to resurface or new ones to emerge later on in a survivor's life. Periods of stress, new intimate relationships, the anniversary of the incident, or situations such as seeing the perpetrator or testifying in court, can trigger intense feelings.