Sexual Assault FAQs
Sexual Assault survivors may have lots of questions. Here are a few of some of the most common questions we receive.
What is Rape Trauma Syndrome?
It is normal for survivors to react in shock and disbelief, followed by extraordinary distress including anger, fear, confusion, frustration, guilt, and grief. That tumultuous reaction does not mean you are “going crazy”. Rape Trauma Syndrome or RTS is a specific category of post-traumatic stress disorder, brought on by intense feelings of helplessness. RTS is specific to the experience of the rape survivor and usually includes issues of intimacy, touching, sexual function, and shame, and is usually expressed in three phases:
Stage One: Acute
Occurs immediately after the assault, includes feelings of disbelief, shock, shame and guilt.
Stage Two: Outward Adjustment
Days, weeks or months following the assault, the survivor resumes what appears to be a “normal” life. Inside, however, there is considerable turmoil which can manifest itself in depression, powerlessness, anxiety, or re-triggering.
Stage Three: Resolution
After the survivor has dealt emotionally with the trauma the sexual assault is no longer the central focus in the survivor’s life. They begin to recognize that while she/he will never forget the assault, the pain and memories associated with it are lessening.
Was there something I could have done differently to prevent the assault?
The only person who can truly stop an assault is the perpetrator. Fighting back is not always the safest thing to do. Victims usually have a gut feeling if fighting back might help, or might put them in greater danger. None of us know how we would react in an attack, unless it happens. During an attack humans usually react in one of three ways: flight, fight or freeze. If you freeze and are unable to fight back, you did not do something wrong, this is a normal, instinctual reaction. The most important thing you can do is survive the assault. You survived, which means you did the right thing.
How can I get over what happened to me?
You may find that friends and family expect that you should be ready to move on with your life as soon as they are ready to stop thinking about it. Those who understand sexual assault know that the trauma is not a simple thing to recover from. Being assaulted affects everyone differently, and everyone recovers at his or her own pace. Most people who are assaulted experience symptoms of Rape Trauma Syndrome and, although symptoms do get better over time, it is very normal to continue to think about and deal with the assault long after it happened. Getting counseling can provide you with a safe person to talk to and skills to cope with your feelings and reactions. Try not to put too much pressure on yourself to react or feel a certain way. There is no time period or deadline when you should “get over it”. Healing from such a violation is a complicated and individual process. Take as long as you need to let yourself heal.
I was sexually assaulted, but not raped. Are the symptoms the same?
They certainly can be. The pain and trauma that people experience after a sexual assault come from the fear, anger, and confusion resulting from a perpetrator taking away your right to have control over your own body. Rape is one of the ways that control is taken away, but any type of sexual assault (forced oral sex, touching, etc.) can be just as traumatic. Even an attempted assault that is not completed can bring about the same feelings of fear and loss of control. It is not the specific sex act that is scary and upsetting, it is the fact that the choice about what was happening to your body was taken away from you.
I cannot trust people anymore. Is that bad?
It’s natural not to trust after an abusive experience. This can be especially hard if the assault was committed by someone you knew and may have trusted before they assaulted you. Learning to trust again is a long process. Allow yourself time and don’t feel rushed into any relationship or sexual activity. Always feel free to call WEAVE with questions.
I haven’t been able to have or enjoy sex since I was assaulted. Will I ever enjoy sex again?
For the perpetrator, sexual assault is not about sex, it’s about power. But for the survivor there is now a very traumatic experience that is associated with sex. It makes sense that trying to engage in sexual activity would trigger painful, disturbing, or scary memories and feelings. This does not mean that sex will always be a negative thing. It may take time and help to start to separate the violent experience you survived from loving and healthy consensual sexual activity. If your partner was not the perpetrator and this discomfort with sex is causing difficulties in your relationship, your partner may find it helpful to seek counseling themselves to better understand what you are going through. WEAVE offers counseling for significant others of sexual assault survivors too.