Common reactions

Whether a recent or past sexual assault, it has a devastating effect on the victim. This effect will be felt by most survivors and can take various forms or be triggered by a certain situation. The effects can show up immediately after the assault or many years later, and that is, for a long period.

Some of the effects you may experience

  • Physical problems

    Headaches, fatigue, sexually transmitted infections, unwanted pregnancy, injuries, etc.

  • Psychological problems

    Sadness, denial, depression, guilt, anger, shame, fear, nightmares, irritability, etc.

  • Sexual problems

    Decreased desire or promiscuity, disgust, pain during intercourse, avoidance, etc.

  • Interpersonal problems

    Dependence on others for support, isolation, rejection, lack of trust, victimisation, etc.

  • Frustration or anxiety

    Related to the legal process (trial, testimony), heightened sensitivity to prejudices, feelings you have no power over you life, etc.

    • Financial, social or family problems

      Difficulty at work, rejection by friends, stay in a shelter or crisis centre, loss of income, etc.

    • Addiction problems and other self-defence mechanisms

      Alcohol, drugs, gambling, medication, food, exercise, self-harm, etc.

     

    Seek help as soon as possible in order to lessen the negative effects and get the support you need.

    Particular issues for male survivors

    Sexual violence is considered mostly a women’s issue. This is why men who have experienced it have a tendency to not talk about it or seek support. Although every person reacts differently, men may experience:

    Anger and shame

    Men in our society often learn not to show or share their emotions; they have to be strong and tough to live up to the idea of “manhood.” It is very difficult for men to admit they have experienced sexual violence. They may express or act out their anger, but other feelings like hurt, shame or fear can lie underneath. They may also blame themselves, thinking it was their fault, that they could have stopped it or that they enjoyed it if they had a physiological response to sexual stimulation.

    Confusion about sexual identity

    Sexual identity is an issue that most men struggle with after a sexual assault. They may ask themselves if they are straight, gay or bisexual. They may wonder if their experience influenced their sexuality.

    • If the perpetrator is a man, the survivor might have issues trusting men or developing same-sex relationships. He might also feel that he “must” be gay to have attracted the perpetrator, or fear to be perceived as such.
    • If the perpetrator is a woman, the survivor might not define his experience as sexual assault, as men often learn that getting sexual attention from a woman is a good thing. He might be ashamed to disclose his experience or feel weak or “unmanly,” because women are supposed to be protectors and nurturers, not powerful aggressors.
    • If the perpetrator is a partner, the survivor might be confused or in disbelief and he might reframe the sexual assault as a bad sexual experience. He might also feel emasculated if he believes that men should always want sex.

    Difficulties with intimacy

    Men who have experienced sexual violence may have difficulty trusting others. This distrust might even be transferred to those in a position of authority, co-workers, friends or family and to an intimate relationship. This is normal, as an act of sexual violence is a violation of trust, especially if the perpetrator is known to the survivor.

    Difficulties with physical functioning

    A number of physical symptoms (as described above) can be experienced after a sexual assault, but men may also have difficulties with sexual functioning. They may associate sex with sexual assault and experience painful erections, difficulty maintaining erections, premature ejaculation, lack of desire or an obsession with sex.

    Tools and resources

    Please note that the feminine is used throughout this website, but it does not exclude any person who has been a victim of sexual violence.

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