Survivors: Common Responses

As with any traumatic event, survivors of sexual assault or rape can experience an array of feelings and reactions in response to what they have been through. These symptoms can be experiences even if the survivor does not identify what happened to her or him as “rape” or “sexual assault”. The symptoms are generally most intense immediately following the assault, but some can become chronic, particularly if the survivor lacks support and validation. The following are some common responses to sexual assault or rape.

FEAR – of the rapist, of people with characteristics similar to the rapist, of further victimization

ANGER – at the rapist, at the circumstances surrounding the rape, at her/himself

ANXIETY – especially around men/women, or situations similar to the rape situation

TENSION – in her/his body and mind

GUILT – self-blame, embarrassment, shame

MISTRUST – of men/women, or friends if the victim was raped by an acquaintance

WITHDRAWAL – from men/women, from society, even from support system

DEFENSIVENESS – both physical and emotional

FEELINGS OF BETRAYAL – if not believed by family or friends, or because of a violation of trust if raped by an acquaintance

SLEEP DISTURBANCE – too little or too much sleep

PERSONALITY CHANGES – temporary or long-term

MENTAL IMPAIRMENTS – of concentration or memory

CHANGES IN EATING – loss of appetite or overeating

MOOD SWINGS – from fearful to composed to angry, or other combinations


CHANGES IN SEXUAL ACTIVITY – avoidance or promiscuity

SUICIDE – thoughts, actions, or attempts