Effects of Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is a personal and destructive crime. Its effects can be psychological, emotional, and/or physical, and they may be brief in duration or last a very long time. While there is not one "normal" reaction to sexual assault, here are some of the more common effects that sexual assault victims may experience.


One of the most common emotional and psychological reactions to sexual assault is depression. “Depression” can be a confusing term since many of its symptoms, including feelings of sadness, are experienced by people as normal reactions to difficult events in their lives. Recognizing depression can also be difficult since symptoms can easily be attributed to other causes. Depression becomes something more than just normal feelings of sadness when five or more symptoms last for more than two weeks. There is help for those struggling to cope with the symptoms of depression.


Click here learn more about how depression may be affecting you or someone you love.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are not uncommon among survivors of sexual assault or abuse. Sexual assault and abuse can have an effect on the victim’s perceived body image and sense of control, which may contribute to the development of an eating disorder. People with eating disorders often use the control of food as a way to cope or compensate for feelings and emotions that may otherwise seem overwhelming. It is possible to get help for these disorders and provide support for those struggling with these serious emotional and physical issues.


Click here to learn more about eating disorders, their symptoms, or how to help a loved one. 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can develop as a direct result of sexual assault and abuse. Survivors may experience feelings of anxiety, stress, or fear. While it is natural to experience these symptoms after a traumatic event, if the symptoms last for more than a few weeks and are an ongoing problem, it may be PTSD.  Only a medical professional can diagnose PTSD. If you or someone you know is struggling with these symptoms, medical and mental health professionals can offer treatment options and help.


Click here to learn more about the signs, symptoms, and treatment options for PTSD, or go to the National Center for PTSD for more information.


Some victims of sexual assault may use self-harm as a way to cope with difficult or painful feelings. Deliberate self-harm is when an individual inflicts physical harm on themselves, believing it will help them cope with their experiences and emotions. Self-harm is only a temporary relief, which can lead to permanent damage to the body and add more psychological problems that hinder the healing process. Friends and family are often the first ones to recognize the signs of self-harm.


If you or someone you know is struggling with self-harm click here to learn more about ways to support a loved one, the risk factors, and treatment options.

Sleep Disturbances

Many survivors of sexual assault may experience sleep disturbances and disorders. Trauma survivors may experience nightmares, insomnia and sleep terrors that are a result of feeling scared or threatened. Sleep disturbances and disorders can also be a result of depression and/or PTSD.


Click here to learn more about how trauma can impact and individual’s sleep cycle. 

Substance Abuse

Victims of sexual assault may turn to alcohol or other substances in an attempt to relieve their emotional suffering and cope with the reality of what happened to them. Substance abuse is a way that many deal with the trauma of sexual assault and can cause additional problems such as addiction and dependency. Survivors may use drugs and/or alcohol as a way to cope since they may not think that friends and family will understand them, they may not know how to access resources, or may feel embarrassed to talk about their experiences. Those struggling with substance abuse and trauma do not have to suffer alone. There is help and support for those on the road to recovery.


Click here to learn more about the treatment options available for substance abuse disorders or contact the toll-free Substance Abuse Referral Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).


Many of the devastating emotional and psychological reactions to rape and sexual assault can eventually lead survivors to experience thoughts of suicide. Within the military community there are many specific factors, such as frequent deployment to hostile environment, physical or sexual assault while in the service, and service-related injuries, that can increase the risk of suicidal thoughts. If you or someone you know are thinking about suicide, do not wait to get help.


Click here to learn more about the risk factors and prevention of suicide. To talk to someone go to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or the Veterans Crisis Line

Please note that content on this site does not constitute medical advice and Safe Helpline is not a medical expert. If after reading this information you have further questions, please contact a local doctor or hospital.