Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Survivors of sexual assault may experience severe feelings of anxiety, stress or fear known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as a direct result of the assault.1 While it is natural to have some of these symptoms after a traumatic event, if they last more than a few weeks and become an ongoing problem, it might be PTSD.

The symptoms of PTSD can be grouped into three categories:1

Re-experiencing symptoms

  • May cause problems in everyday routine
    • Flashbacks – reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like racing heart or sweating
    • Bad dreams – subconscious memories of the event
    • Frightening thoughts – can be triggered by specific words, objects or situations

Avoidance symptoms

  • May cause the survivor to change his or her personal routine
    • Avoiding specific places, events or objects
    • Feeling emotionally numb
    • Feeling strong guilt, depression or worry
    • Losing interest in activities that were enjoyable in the past
    • Having trouble remembering the frightening event

Hyperarousal symptoms

  • May cause difficulty in completing daily tasks, such as sleeping, eating, or concentrating
    • Being easily startled
    • Feeling tense or “on edge”
    • Having difficulty sleeping, and/or having angry outbursts

Children and teens can have extreme reactions to trauma, and their symptoms may not be the same as adults.  Symptoms may include:1

  • Bedwetting
  • Inability to talk
  • Acting out the assault during playtime
  • Being unusually clingy with a parent or other trusted adult

To be diagnosed with PTSD, a doctor who has experience helping people with mental illnesses, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, must speak with the survivor.1


Contact Safe Helpline to be connected with military or civilian resources for PTSD treatment.  For help online, visit the Online Helpline or call 877-995-5247 (the phone number is the same inside the U.S. or via the Defense Switched Network (DSN)).

For more information, visit:
National Center for PTSD:

If you know or suspect someone you love is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder:

  • Offer emotional support, understanding, patience and encouragement.
  • Learn about PTSD, including available recovery resources, so you can understand what your loved one is experiencing and help him or her seek help.

Remind your loved one that, with time and treatment, he or she can get better.

Please note that content in 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.

  1. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  National Institute of Mental Health.  2009.

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