Recent sexual assault

In the days following a sexual assault, the effects may be unique and influenced by a number of factors, such as: age, personality, type of assault, connection with the attacker, past trauma, degree of violence involved, reaction from family and friends and other stress factors. The following section describes the different stages of short-term effects you may experience in this type of situation. Note, however, that you may not necessarily have all these reactions or have them in the order shown. Each person’s experience is unique to the individual. It’s very important for you to keep in mind, too, that no matter what you feel or how you react, it’s completely normal.

1. Initial shock: Immediately after the assault

You may feel your life has been completely shattered and may also experience very intense emotions that can range from extreme sadness to euphoria.

Possible reactions and feelings
  • Anger and aggressiveness directed at those around you for no apparent reason
  • Confusion and anxiety
  • Depression
  • Feelings of being misunderstood and loneliness
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Feelings related to your inner self (feeling empty inside, despair, revulsion for your own body, feeling tainted)
  • Frequent mood swings
  • Intense fear
  • Lower tolerance for situations perceived as a threat to your safety and security (not wanting physical contact or being in close proximity to others)
  • Sadness
  • Shame and humiliation
Possible physical symptoms
  • Generalized or specific pain
  • Loss of appetite, stomach pain, nausea
  • Nightmares and sleep disorders

This phase is usually the most intense. You can react in any number of ways. You may exhibit unusual behaviours or thought patterns, try unsuccessfully to push away the constant thoughts of the assault, continuously relive the attack and wonder “why me?” and what you could have done differently. You may no longer recognize yourself, feel you’re losing touch with reality or want to hide from others. You can feel extremely calm and in control and may try to hide your emotions. You may be eager to return to your normal activities as soon as possible, try to avoid crowds or do the opposite—seek them out, etc.

2. Reorganization: The weeks following the assault

You want to forget the assault, return to normal and focus on the aspects of your life that you’ve been neglecting.

Possible reactions and feelings
  • Fears or phobias (staying inside, group, loneliness, individuals resembling your attacker, smells, objects, sounds, textures or places reminding you of the attack, sexual relations)
  • Increased energy
  • Nightmares or violent dreams
  • Relief that you’re less obsessed with what has happened to you

You may have a less urgent need to talk about what happened and your feelings. You may try to deny that the sexual assault is still affecting you. You may also be startled when someone enters the room or if someone suddenly touches you. You may want to change your phone number, move to another residence or change jobs. You might want to get right back to life where you left off. The reorganization phase can last several weeks. As you emerge from your state of shock, you’ll begin the process of reorganizing your daily life, although you may still have some difficulty functioning as you did before the attack.

3. Reintegration: The months after the assault

During this period of introspection, life will slowly start to return to normal.

Possible reactions and feelings
  • Anger at people who don’t seem to understand or who treat you unfairly or with indifference (you may also take your anger out on those close to you)
  • Discouragement (if you’re afraid, having nightmares, unable to have sex, etc.)
  • Feelings of being very apart from others
  • Frustration, anger and guilt related to the assault
  • The need to be alone in order to reflect on what’s happened
  • The need to move forward with your life
  • The need to think about the assault in order to gain insight into questions or emotions that continue to bother you

This phase can last several months. During this time, you may feel uncertain about some of the progress you’ve made. You may have or will begin to recover your peace of mind. This is a time when you may try to reconcile your thoughts and emotions related to the sexual assault. You may have resolve rationally certain aspects of the assault. You may feel a need to talk to someone who can help you shed some light on certain points. You might find you question some of the decisions you made in order to make yourself feel safe, such as moving in with family members or friends, etc.

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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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