South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault & Family Violence

Feelings after sexual assault

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There is no one, typical response to sexual assault. Although some reactions are common to all victims, others are individual responses. How you feel will differ over time.

At the time of the rape it is most common to feel fear, but reactions to this fear differ. Some people will feel paralysed, literally unable to move or even think until the rape is over. This is an extreme form of shock, as experienced by soldiers in battle. Others will be stimulated by the fear to fight their attacker. These two responses, and everything that lies in between (trying to talk the perpetrator out of raping you, trying to run away, experiencing physical reactions such as vomiting during the attack) are common to human beings when they are under attack. They are the body's way of trying to cope with and survive the attack [Johnson 1985: p.31].

As you recover you may experience a multitude of feelings. For the first week or so after the rape, it is common to experience acute distress and severe anxiety. There can be a feeling of disbelief in what has happened, an attempt to 'get back to normal' as quickly as possible, to not think about it anymore. Victim/survivors may feel devoid of emotion, or full of emotions which cannot be contained.

There are practical things to be done during the days immediately following the rape. They will help in the process of recovery. Victim/survivors may choose to contact a Centre Against Sexual Assault (CASA), to discuss with a worker what has happened, and to seek information on the best way to proceed. The decision may be to attend a CCU.

At this early stage in recovery, it is important that victim/survivors are given access to the information they need in order to make the best decisions for them.

When you telephone your local CASA you will not be pressured into doing anything you do not want to do. There will be a sympathetic and supportive person on the other end of the phone who will listen to you and explain whatever you need to know. The kind of support provided by CASAs will greatly assist in your recovery.

As the weeks and months pass during the process of recovery, there will be times when you forget the rape. It is a time in which `your mind is making sense of the events of the rape, how you feel about others and how you feel about yourself', which is a protective mechanism [Johnson 1985: pp.37-8].


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