Even more concerning, another study showed that those who experienced sexual abuse were more likely to develop PTSD than those who had lost a loved one or been in a major traffic accident. Symptoms can include:
Sadly many sufferers of sexual asssault then turn the experience on themselves in the form of self-blame, haunted by questions like, “What if I hadn’t gone to that place that day? Was I too reckless? What if I fought harder?” When the responsibility lies with the person who carried out the attack, not you.
Are you experiencing low or flat moods, or have you lost interest in the hobbies and activities you used to enjoy? Have you stopped planning your future even? And do you feel detached from everyone around you, as if you can no longer connect?
These are all symptoms of depression, a common side effect of sexual assault. The same study that looked at post-traumatic stress disorder found that a good half of the participants were suffering severe depression even six months after they experienced an assault.
It is not unusual to turn to coping strategies after an ordeal. Although such activities might feel like they ease your emotional distress, they do not address the source of the problem and can just cause more damage, both emotionally and physically.
Destructive coping strategies you might find you turn to can include:
disordered eating (overeating, under eating, binge eating, purging)
5. Pain and Other Physical Symptoms
One unexpected but common consequence of sexual assault is the onset of chronic pain and other unexplained medical symptoms. A 2013 study at the University of North Carolina showed that even 3 months after assault sufferers of sexual assault were prone to suffering physical pain in areas of their body that had nothing to do with the attacks they suffered, and also suffered ‘somatic’ symptoms like insomnia, headaches, and nausea.
But sexual issues are not the only obstacle you might encounter in the aftermath of a sexual assault.
Many individuals find that a sexual assault negatively impacts on their trust and connections with others. And this is not limited to partners but can be friends, family members, and colleagues too.
In one study, all participants reported difficulties in emotionally engaging and being vulnerable with their partner.
Another study found that survivors of sexual assault had lower levels of growth in their interpersonal relationships compared to individuals who had experienced other traumas.
So what can I do?
If you thought you could just ‘get over’ an experience of sexual assault or harassment, it’s time to see that such an event can cause ongoing effects that nobody should have to deal with alone.
It’s important to turn to friends and family for support, but if reading the above you find you recognise yourself in many symptoms, don’t overlook professional help as well. You can talk to your GP, or if that feels too intimidating, consider the support of a private counsellor or psychotherapist (if finances are an issue, there is also low-cost counsellingoptions available in the UK).
You might also find there are support groups in your local area where you can find the understanding of others who have experienced something similar.
The following charities can provide useful information for you: