The Most Common Symptoms after a Sexual Assault

Sexual Assault and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

What usually happens after someone suffers any kind of traumatic experience, including a sexual assault, is that they develop certain symptoms which form a pattern of re-experiencing the event, reliving it in repeated thoughts and constant memories, even in nightmares. They try to avoid any situation, thought, person, location or feelings that reminds them of the assault.  They are so anxious they have a hard time sleeping and are in a constant state of being agitated or jumpy, not to mention in a bad mood.  These symptoms are common with a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, more widely known as PTSD.

Sexual assault and PTSD are highly related.  One study found that about 94% of rape victims had these symptoms during a two week timeframe after the assault.  And about 30% of the rape victims were still living with PTSD symptoms nine months later.  Almost a third of women who have been raped suffer from PTSD during their lifetime.  And if you look at the overall statistics, 11% of women who have been raped currently have PTSD.

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is commonly experienced

Sexual assault and PTSD are further complicated because anyone who has been sexually assaulted is likely to suffer from depression following the event.  The symptoms are widely known and easily observable.  These individuals are in a depressed state, are not able to enjoy daily life and even little celebrations are no longer enjoyable.  They have a hard time getting to sleep or sometimes spend days on end sleeping.  Their eating habits undergo changes and they have difficulty concentrating or focusing on anything for very long.  Their decision-making ability is compromised and sometimes they feel guilty, sense that everything is hopeless and have lowered self-esteem or confidence.  They can even let their appearance go.

Nearly a third of rape victims experience a period of MDD during their lifetime and for many of these women, their depression lasts a long time with a third of them thinking about committing suicide.

Sexual Assault and PTSD: Pervasive Anger

It’s a very natural reaction to feel angry after being sexually assaulted.  Some women actually experience a very intense anger that goes on for a long time and when this happens it can interfere with her recovery and have the effect of further destroying her life.  She needs counseling to help this.

Sexual Assault and PTSD: Guilt and Shame

A certain percentage of women actually blame themselves for the assault and feel ashamed about it, especially if the perpetrator is someone they know.  When a woman’s friends or family do not support her during this crisis women tend to question themselves and this can lead to a sense of shame and guilt.  If she’s experiencing this it makes it harder for her to tell people what happened and to get help, so the recovery process is lengthened.

Sexual Assault and PTSD: Withdrawal

It’s not surprising that many women who have been sexually assaulted just can’t go on as before emotionally or socially.  Their relationships can suffer and even the dynamics of friendship change.  If she’s just too upset, depressed or anxious to go out and be social, others may feel neglected.  Trust becomes a thing of the past when someone has been assaulted so making new friends, carrying on at school or at a job becomes very difficult.

Sexual Assault and PTSD: Decrease in sexual interest

Women who have been raped very commonly experience long-standing problems with sex.  This is part of the pattern of avoiding all things related to the assault.  They can’t help but associate sex with the assault and they’re just afraid to try it again.  They’ve just lost their interest and desire to engage in sex and it may not return for a very long time.

Sexual Assault and PTSD:Drugs and Alcohol

Because women want to feel normal again after being raped they may try to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs.  A large-scale survey revealed that victims of rape were 3 – 4 times more likely than others to use marijuana.  The study also showed that they were 6 times more likely than others to self-medicate with cocaine.  The study showed that they are 10 times more likely than non- rape victims to use other kinds of major drugs to quell their fear and anxiety and all the other symptoms they’ve been suffering from since their rape.

Because our treatment center relies on evidence based practices, our Intensive Outpatient Program shares many common methods with other successful treatment methods.  The foundation of our treatment program for relies on the principles of the stages of change, cognitive behavioral therapy, solution focused treatment, skills training and identifying repetitive dysfunctional behavioral relationship patterns to promote recovery from depression and other mental health disorders.  In fact, our Intensive Outpatient Program in Memphis, TN that has been proven to be effective in the treatment of women who have been sexually assaulted in six peer reviewed treatment outcome studies.   Our treatment center provides services to those who need more treatment than one hour a week, but less than 24 hour care, by providing three hours of treatment per day, three to five days per week, in an intensive outpatient setting.  If you or a loved one has been the victim of a sexual assault and is showing signs of depression or anxiety, they should be assessed by a trained mental health professional who can help design a treatment plan that can result in recovery.  Treatment for depression and anxiety can be highly successful.  Call us at 901-682-6136 to schedule an appointment.