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The Consequences of Sexual Assault

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT
Meet The Team >

This month – April – is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. We’ve already posted one article about sexual assault:

Sexual Assault Awareness Month: History, Facts, and Figures

During February of this year, we posted several articles about teen dating violence. We discussed the warning signs and gave tips and advice about what to do if you think your teen is either a victim or a perpetrator of teen dating violence.

Teen dating violence and sexual assault are almost identical. Therefore, we strongly suggest anyone who fears their teenager has become either a victim or a perpetrator of sexual assault to read our articles about teen dating violence. Follow these links:

Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month:  Know the Facts

How Can Parents Tell If a Teen is a Perpetrator of Teen Dating Violence?

If a Parent Thinks Their Teenager is a Victim of Dating Violence, How Can They Be Sure?

What to Do If You’re A Victim of Teen Dating Violence

While these articles were specifically about teen dating violence, all the information in them can help the victims and families of anyone who’s experienced any type of sexual assault.

This article will address the long term physical and emotional consequences common to victims of sexual assault.

Sexual Assault: What Happens to the Victims?

We addressed these consequences of sexual assault in our overview piece, mentioned above. However, the consequences are so significant that they deserve a post of their own. In case you didn’t click the link, we’ll offer an expanded list below. Awareness of  the long-term physical and emotional effects of sexual assault can make all the difference in the world.

Sexual Assault: Consequences Common to Victims

Emotional Effects

Victims of sexual assault may feel intense shame and guilt. They may blame themselves                for what happened, or they may be in denial altogether. Also, they may feel:

        • Embarrassed
        • Vulnerable
        • Isolated
        • Angry
        • Afraid
        • Out of control
        • Numb
        • Confused
Psychological Effects

Victims of sexual assault may develop psychological issues such as depression, post-                    traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety. They may also develop behavioral issues such as              substance use disorders, eating disorders, self-harming disorders, suicidal ideation, and            risky sexual activity. Some victims of sexual assault may attempt suicide. In addition, they may experience:

        • Decreased self-esteem
        • New phobias
        • Decreased focus and concentration
        • Nightmares
        • Flashbacks
Physical Effects

Victims of sexual assault may have physical injuries related to the assault itself. They may          contract a sexually transmitted disease as the result of the assault, and female victims                  may become pregnant. In addition, they may also develop:

        • Chronic gynecological issues
        • Recurring gastrointestinal problems
        • Chronic cardiovascular problems
        • Changes in sleep habits
        • Changes in eating habits

Please understand we’re not saying all of these things will happen to every victim of sexual assault. However, we are saying that it’s not uncommon for victims of sexual assault to experience many of the things on this list. Sometimes they occur alone, and sometimes they occur in combination. Each victim is unique and reacts to this serious, traumatic event in their own way.

What You Can Do

It’s important for everyone to know what the consequences of sexual assault look like. First, because the victim might not tell anyone about it. Changes in mood or behavior might seem inexplicable, until a concerned third party – a friend, a family member, a co-worker – sees a list like this and connects the dots. Second, because if you know someone is a victim of sexual assault, you can urge them to seek professional help if you observe anything on the list above. Third, because it’s critical, and potentially life-saving, for victims of sexual assault to know the emotional, psychological, and physical consequences of their experience can be addressed with the appropriate medical and/or psychiatric care. Finally, they need to know they are not alone: someone is paying attention, someone cares, and that someone wants to help them through this very difficult time in their life.

Resources for Victims

Victim Connect Hotline: 1 (855) 484-2846

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1 (800) 799-7233

Domestic Violence Hotline En Espanol: 1 (800) 787-3224

National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1 (800) 656-4673

The National Sexual Assault Online Chat: https://hotline.rainn.org/online/

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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