Sexual assault and sexual abuse can be emotionally traumatic to survivors of either sex. While sexual assault occurs in both males and females, the following information primarily addresses female survivors and their loved ones.
Pertinent statistics regarding sexual assault/abuse
- As many as 1 in 4 college women become survivors of attempted or completed rape during their college years.
- In 60 to 80 percent of rapes, the assailant and the survivor know each other and, of these, over half of the rapes happen on a date.
- It is estimated that only 10 percent of rapes are reported to the police.
- Seventy-five (75) percent of the male perpetrators and 55 percent of the female victims report that alcohol was involved at the time of the incident.
- Only 27 percent of women who were sexually assaulted, according to the legal definition of rape, perceive themselves as being rape survivors.
Common responses to recent sexual assault/abuse
Survivors differ in their responses to assault/abuse. The long-term effects may be influenced by the severity of the assault, the survivor’s existing coping skills and the support the person has afterwards. Nevertheless, the following responses are experienced by many survivors:
- Low or diminished self-esteem after an assault or abuse. Survivors frequently feel shamed, guilty, angry and powerless
- Negative body image, which may lead to self-abuse (e.g., alcohol abuse, overeating, self-mutilation, etc.)
- Difficulty trusting or being intimate with others
- No desire for sexual intimacy
- Engaging in risky sexual behaviors
- Flashbacks of the incident
- Fear of being alone and fear of a future attack
- Nightmares or other sleep disturbances
- Lack of concentration and focus, which can affect academic and/or job performance
Survivors often go through three general phases. (The phases do not always occur in the order listed below.)
- Phase one: This phase may last a few days to several weeks. The survivor may experience shock and severe distress, confusion, disorientation, anger and rage.
- Phase two: The survivor often wishes to forget the incident and return to "normal.” It is common to want to suppress feelings in order to forget about the incident and regain control. However, the crisis is not resolved.
- Phase three: The survivor is ready to begin to deal with the feelings associated with the assault/abuse. This phase usually involves re-experiencing feelings, thoughts and memories of the assault/abuse. This healing process may vary in duration.
Throughout all three phases, survivors need supportive people (friends, family, loved ones). A survivor support group and/or a counselor can also be of help.