To be sexually assaulted
Feelings and Emotions Experienced at the Time of the Assault and After…
Sexual assault can be one of the most distressing experiences of a lifetime. Nevertheless, a victim of sexual violence can recover from it, even though this may take a long period of time. The recovery depends on the form of violence she experienced and the support she receives.
There is no normal timeline for recovery or a normal process for recovery. However, it is safe to say that most victims go through different stages.
To help you understand the reactions after a recent sexual assault, it may be important to know what some victims related.
During the crime… the victim may have experienced different reactions and emotions :
- fear of dying;
- being paralysed by fear;
- fear of being killed if she defends herself;
- intense physical reactions;
- feelings of captivity and helplessness;
- impression of going through a nightmare;
- impression that the perpetrator is holding a personal grudge
Following the assault… it is the most intense stage, the initial shock. Everyday life is disrupted. The emotions can be intense and different from one person to another.
Some victims can :
- feel tainted;
- feel intense fears, anxiety;
- feel disoriented, disorganized, destabilized;
- feel broken inside, feel dead inside, unable to recognize themselves;
- feel different emotions, sometimes contradictory or changeable, going from a state of euphoria to one of depression, have mood swings, etc.;
- try to ward off, without success, overwhelming and everpresent thoughts and have the impression of reliving the assault – flashbacks;
- want to be alone, not want to go to work or see others, stay in bed;
- not believe it happened to them;
- have a strong emotional reaction upon seeing someone who looks like the perpetrator;
- feel guilty for not having screamed or fought, for accepting an invitation or opening the door to a stranger, etc.;
- feel misunderstood and alone with their problem;
Other victims can react differently :
- be extremely calm;
- be in control;
- hide their emotions;
- want to be with people at all times;
- return to their normal activities quite soon;
It is really important to understand that those are other ways of reacting to trauma. It can be to keep up appearances and can hide a volcano of emotions.
Furthermore, the victim will face certain practical problems : if need be, take care of physical injuries, decide whether or not to get a medical exam, whether or not to report the assault to the police, explain her absence from work or school, etc.
Days and weeks following the assault…
the victim will emerge from the state of shock. She will want to take up her usual activities, find her bearings and get back to a normal life in the hope of feeling good about herself. She feels relieved to be less obsessed and invaded by what happened to her. Despite this, however, she feels in the middle of a deep turmoil which she will have to face head on.
Some victims can :
- question their physical, psychological and mental state;
- tend to deny that the assault still bothers them;
- continue to have nightmares;
- go through sudden mood changes and intense periods of crisis;
- be ambivalent about their emotions;
- be startled when someone enters the room they are in or at an unexpected touch;
- feel the need to leave, to go away;
- become fearful or develop phobias such as :
- fear of being alone;
- fear of going out;
- fear of people who look like the perpetrator;
- fear of places, objects, sounds, textures, smells and any other things that can remind them of the assault;
The following months… the victim recovers for the most part her nerve and is calm. She carries on with the activities of her daily life. However, it is a stage of reflection, self-questioning and introspection during which she may feel apart from others. She wishes to regain her autonomy and feel free again.
Some victims can :
- feel and express aggressiveness, frustration, anger, hatred and guilt when they think of the sexual assault;
- be angry at those who do not seem to understand, treat them with indifference or unfairly;
- have the occasionnal impression of reliving the crime – flashbacks;
- be discouraged by the persistence of nightmares and fears and if they remain unable to have sex;
- question some of the decisions they made when they were seeking safety (for example : moving, going far away);
- modify their perception of life;
- be in a more stable mood;
- think less about the crime… but not forget about it;
- feel the need to talk to someone about it : a relative, someone they can trust, a professional;
Going through such a criminal act leads to reactions and consequences which can affect the every day life of victims for a long period of time. Some consequences fade or are intensified while others slowly emerge without the knowledge of the victim. That is why it is so important for her to seek help as soon as possible.