Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center

Survivors of Sexual Assault Handbook

Initial Crisis:  For the first few days or weeks, the assault may seem unreal.  You may feel numb or you may experience intense or heightened emotions.  You might even have physical symptoms of shock: feeling weak, nauseated, moving slowly, nightmares or inability to sleep.  There is nothing wrong or unusual about these kinds of reactions.

Outward Adjustment:  This is the time when pressure to “get on with your life” might come from within or from others in your life.  Many survivors may appear, on the outside, to have forgotten about the rape or be satisfactorily “dealing with it” as they deal with practical matters such as returning to school, work, or other normal routines.  Sometimes well intentioned family members, friends, or significant others encourage this.  You may find yourself trying to block the experience out of your memory.  This can be an important and self-protective coping mechanism for the short term.

Secondary Crisis:  For many people, something happens in their life (a trigger) which may make their previous coping mechanisms ineffective, causing them to face the assault.  Acknowledging the assault may be quite painful.  What formerly seemed unreal or was denied may become very real to you.  Survivors of sexual assault describe feeling depressed and/or having flashbacks or obsessive thoughts about the assault.  You may replay the assault or parts of the assault in your mind many times.  You may also experience intense anger.  Again, it is important to remember that these responses are completely normal.

Integration:  You are changed by the assault, but have integrated the experience as one event among many life experienced.  You may feel as though you have survived the assault and have dealt with the thoughts and emotions of the trauma.  You may still spend time thinking about and talking about the assault, but may find that when triggers and flashbacks do occur, the feelings surrounding the experience do not last long and may become less intense over time. 

Healing is possible; however, it will take work.  You may need the support of loved ones or the help of caring professionals.  Remember that others have gone through this and YOU ARE NOT ALONE.  See the resource section as the end of this book for more information about local resources.