Below is a list of some common reactions and feelings after a sexual assault/rape. You may be experiencing some of them, all of them, or none of them and that is absolutely normal.
Every survivor of a sexual violence will respond in their own way and that is normal. These feelings and reactions may change quickly or slowly, emotions may go up and down, you may not even know how you are feeling.
Most importantly, whatever you are feeling today, right now, is okay.
It’s my fault it happened …
There are no circumstances where any of this is your fault. No matter what happened no one ever asks to be raped or assaulted. You are not to blame, and you did not deserve for this to happen. The only person/people responsible for sexual violence are those who choose to commit it.
It does not matter if you were drunk, what you were wearing, if you flirted with them, or if you decided to go home with them. It does not matter if you froze and didn’t fight back or scream or shout. You did not choose to be assaulted or hurt. It is not your fault.
Sometimes blaming yourself makes you feel in control, because if it was your fault, you can stop it from happening again. It can be a hard feeling to shake off but what happened to you was not your fault. Keep telling yourself that.
I should have fought back…
People think that they know how they will act in a dangerous situation but our body’s response to dangerous or traumatic situations is not something that we consciously choose or can control.
Fight or flight are quite commonly known responses to danger, but it is also very common and normal to freeze. Fight, flight and freeze are all protective responses. You don’t know, and can’t control, how you will respond.
In very dangerous or traumatic situations our brain goes into survival mode and quickly assesses what the best tactic is to survive. Sometimes the best tactic to survive is to freeze. This might be because fighting back would lead to more harm or because there is no safe way to run away.
A trauma response of freezing is not “doing nothing to stop it” it is actually your body’s way of keeping you as safe as possible.
I can’t stop thinking about it …
It is common for anyone who has experienced trauma to go back to the event in their minds again and again.
Your brain is trying to make sense of what happened and trying to figure out how it can stop it from happening again.
These thoughts might be intrusive and intense at times. It might affect your sleep and you might have nightmares. It can be very difficult to deal with, but this is a normal part of trauma and it will happen less with time.
You can cope with and reduce some of these feelings by trying to find out about your options, choices and what you can do immediately to take care of yourself.
I feel scared all the time …
You have experienced a trauma and it is normal to feel scared and fearful. You might be afraid that the perpetrator will assault you again. You might be scared of strangers, or people you know and trust, you may be scared of being alone or in crowds. Finding out about your choices and options and what you can do immediately to look after yourself can help you to cope with and manage these feelings. If you have people around you who make you feel safe they might be able to help you at this time.
I feel nothing …
It is easy to feel overwhelmed after what has happened. One of your brain’s functions is to protect you in times of danger and trauma. Sometimes your brain will decide that the best thing for you at the moment is for you to feel numb until you feel safe again. This is normal and your feelings will come back when you are ready.
Sometimes survivors tell us that they felt ‘spaced out’ ‘not really there’ confused and unable to make a decision. Some survivors tell us they also can’t really remember what happened to them they just know something has happened. This is normal, take your time and be kind to yourself.
I don’t feel in control anymore …
When someone is sexually assaulted/raped they have had control taken away from them in that moment.
You may feel that you will never have control again or that the way you are feeling is out of control. This is a normal reaction to what has happened.
Finding out about your options, choices and what you can do immediately to take care of yourself can help you to cope with and manage these feelings. Try to make as many decisions for yourself as possible, even if it is only what you will have for dinner.
I am so angry …
You may feel anger and rage. Anger at the perpetrator, anger at yourself (self-blame), anger at the world that has changed and no longer feels safe, anger at others who could not stop what happened. These are normal feelings.
You have a right to be angry that you have been hurt and angry about what you have experienced. These emotions do not make you a bad or angry person, they are a way for you to work through the hurt.