Photo by Kat Smith

Are you aware of the enduring repercussions that sexual assault victims have to go through? Learn and understand them here.

The effect of sexual assault is not limited to survivors. It trickles down to their closest relationships and even society as a whole. Sexual assault, in whatever shape or form, will never be okay. It should not be taken lightly, nor should it be the butt of all jokes. Not all survivors come out the same, even though they went through similar pain.

Because some look fine on the outside, voicing out their horrific experience, it does not mean they are not victims. The same goes for those who are quiet and keep their torment inside. Both should have a proper platform where they are heard and actively listened to. Otherwise, the discourse regarding the degree of sexual offense will only be stuck on paper.

What are the typical reactions of a victim or survivor?

Books like ‘Bertha’s Son‘ by Joseph Waddy contain heavy topics like rape, deception, and seduction. This book also enlightens readers how the life of a woman who became a victim of such a despicable act.

Not all victims have the same reactions or coping mechanisms after a traumatic experience. Culture, lifestyle, and context will shape how they react to their surroundings. Time is only sometimes on their side, as they would most likely wait for days, months, weeks, or maybe years before they take action. So if you ever wonder why they chose to speak now, look at the following reactions that made them this way.

Emotional Reactions

Guilt and shame are what keep sexual assault victims from reporting the incident. They are afraid that no one will believe them. And sadly, this has happened way too many times. The system has failed them repeatedly and tremendously, with law enforcement even enabling or making things worse for the victims.

Other emotional reactions include:

  • Fear
  • Distrust
  • Vulnerability
  • Isolation
  • Impulsiveness
  • Anger
  • Confusion
  • Shock
  • Denial

Nothing could’ve happened had society listened to these victims’ pleas. And even if we do, they still feel they can’t trust the system that turns them away. Some poor souls even get shamed for a crime they did not commit.

Psychological Effects

Not only do sexual assault victims carry the weight of emotional distress, but they also have to endure a lifetime of psychological trauma, such as:

  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks
  • Depression
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Anxiety
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • Phobia
  • Extremely low self-esteem

We can’t just dismiss these effects as mere overreactions from the victims. Nor should we think that they are acting contrary to a hysterical one just because they respond well when made to recall the events that took place. It is crucial to reiterate that every victim is different. And they, too, have their demons to fight against for the rest of their lives.

Physical Torment

As a victim’s emotional and psychological aspects are afflicted, so is their physical ability to live everyday life. Because of their horrific experience, they will continue to struggle with the following:

  • Eating or sleeping difficulty
  • Constantly jumpy or startled
  • Paranoia over physical safety
  • Physical injury
  • Pregnancy issues
  • Being subjected to STIs or HIV

Despite the degree, sexual assault haunts these victims, possibly subjecting them to additional trauma without proper help and support. They won’t be able to make it alone, and what they need the most is not a barrage of lectures and self-defense. Someone needs to stand up for them and fight within a movement that supports victims of sexual violence.

The impact on loved ones

Victims may undergo individual struggles, but their inner turmoil will surely seep out to the ones close to them. Sexual violence affects family, friends, partners, children, colleagues, and classmates. These people understandably don’t know how to approach the victim without saying or doing the wrong things.

No matter how constructive their help may be, there’s only so much they can do for the victims they know. In times like these, they should be the first to advocate against sexual abuse, protecting and uplifting the victims so they can fight for themselves. Healing begins with these victims, and progress follows when the victim fights back.

The non-linear journey to healing

Knowing what sexual assault survivors have to go through, it is imperative to have empathy and understanding toward them. When they undergo such trauma, they will always feel like they have nowhere to go and no place to belong.

The least we can do for them is be kind and treat them respectfully. It’s essential to stay within our boundaries and let them take the initiative as a form of healing. Our communities are also responsible for helping these victims get back on their feet.

Victims of sexual assault must gain access to the following:

  • Justice
  • Medical care
  • Mental health services
  • Legal expenses

Although these are only part of the recovery process, the victims taking their power back might be even more impactful. Let us be part of the solution and not add more to the burden by turning a blind eye or enabling those who are part of the rape culture. Survivors need to be heard, and they deserve better.

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