What are the effects of Sexual Violence?
This information is for young people between the ages of 12-18. If you are over 18 you may want to read the over 18 version here.
You might have many different feelings during a sexual assault/abuse and in the days, weeks, months and years after. There is no right or wrong way to feel, and each person will be different. But remember you are never to blame for being hurt or harmed. No one ever asks to be hurt or harmed no matter what you did or where you were. This is not your fault. Some people might have many different feelings and many different ways of dealing with these feelings, some people might feel nothing. Your feelings are normal for you.
The information you are about to read is to help you understand some of the behaviours (the way you might be acting) and feelings you might be having.
During The Abuse
When we are very scared our brain can sometimes take over to help us survive (stay alive). This is called a ‘trauma response’. It is a fancy way of saying your brain makes choices without asking you what you might want to do. These trauma responses include Fight, Flight, Freeze, Flop, Faint. You can read more about these below.
Remember these responses are not decisions that you make.
- Fight –someone responds physically or verbally.
- Flight – trying to get away from the situation, e.g. by running or backing away.
- Freeze - when you want to move but you can’t. (This is the most common response)
- Flop – this is similar to freeze, but the muscles won’t work and feel floppy.
- Faint – the incident causes a response of unconsciousness.
Right after the Abuse:
Here we look at the Physical Effects and the Emotional Effects you may experience right after the abuse. Remember everyone is different so you may not experience all of these effects.
- There may sometimes be bruising, cuts and pain to your private parts or other parts of your body. Some of this may need to be seen by a doctor or a nurse. You may want to ask a trusted adult to support you with speaking to a doctor or nurse.
- Sexually transmitted infections and/or pregnancy may be a possible effect, so a visit to the doctors or nurse is very important if you are worried.
- You may feel angry, sad, lost, empty or scared. You might feel all of this at once or nothing at all. There is no right or wrong way to feel.
- You might want to be around people or you might want to be left alone, but remember there are trusted adults in your life (such as teachers, family members, school nurse) who will want to support you and listen.
- You might be feeling confused about what to do or if you should tell someone. The trusted adults in your life want you to be safe and if you speak to them they will listen and help you to be safe. You can also call us and we can help you with this. No one should every be harmed and you have a right to be safe.
Weeks and Months after the Abuse:
In the weeks and months after the abuse has happened you might find that you have lots of different feelings. These feelings might make you act differently than before. These feelings might last just a few days or much longer. But with help you can find ways to deal with these feelings so they are not so difficult and hard to live with. Remember we are here to listen to you, to believe you and help you find ways of feeling good again.
Here is a list of different feelings and effects that survivors might feel/experience. Some of the information might be hard to read, and it can be a lot to read all at once. You can choose not to read the information below, read some of it, or read all of it. But remember do what feels best for you and you can stop at any time.
Anger is a normal feeling after being hurt. You might be angry at the person who hurt you, or at other people who could not or did not keep you safe, angry that you have all these confusing and difficult feelings. You might be angry at yourself, especially if the person who hurt you told you it was your fault. It is never your fault, it is their fault, always.
This is a normal feeling after being hurt/harmed. You may be scared that this person might hurt you again, or someone you love or care for. You might find that you are scared of things you were never scared of before. This is normal, your brain is worried that you will be hurt again so it keeps you feeling scared as a way of keeping you safe. Your brain will take a while to relax again and then you will not feel so scared.
Depression is a word that mean you have very low moods/feelings. This might make your cry a lot, or sleep a lot, or have no energy, or not want to do anything. Talking about these feelings can really help you feel better and if this gets too much you can speak to a doctor.
After a difficult and scary time you might feel unsafe. You might not believe in yourself like you once did, or you may start thinking you can’t do things that you used to do. This is normal as you need time to feel safe and believe in yourself again. This can take time, but talking about it can help.
It is never the fault of anyone who is sexually abused. The fault always belongs to the abuser (the person who hurt you) Sometimes the abuser will tell you that it is your fault so that you don’t want to tell others. But it is never your fault, no one ever asks to be abused and hurt.
Anxiety are feelings of worry. Everyone has worries sometimes, but worried feelings can take over and stop us from doing everyday things. Worry can stop us going out with friends, or school, or experience fun things in life. If you worry about things a lot, have a look at our Anxiety information to help you better understand what is going on and how you can help yourself feel better. We can also help you deal with these difficult feelings too.
Flashbacks are scary memories that pop into your head when you don’t want them. You might see someone wearing a yellow jacket at the bus stop and your brain is reminded of a yellow wall that you saw when you were abused. Your brain panics (worries a lot) and shows you the memory, as it is trying to keep you safe, (so it is telling you to get away from that yellow jacket). Flashbacks can be very difficult and you might stop doing things or going places as you worry about flashbacks. Talking about these memories and feelings can help make them happen less. We are here to listen to you.
Dissociation is a word that means feeling like you are not in your body when you are having very difficult feelings and thoughts. Sometimes people feel like they have lost time – like they have been asleep then they have not. This is a trick of the brain, to help you deal with really difficult experiences and thoughts. We can help you to find ways to stay with your body when you have difficult feelings, if that is what you want.
Sleep problems and Nightmares
Our dreams can sometimes try to make sense of what happened in our lives. You might find it hard to go to sleep because you are worried about having nightmares. You might find it hard to go back to sleep after a nightmare. This will make you very tired during the day. When you are tired, it can be hard to deal with feelings and worries. We can help you find ways to get to sleep easier and to make the nightmare less scary.
Self harm is a word that means someone has very big difficult feelings that they cannot deal with, and the only way they can get these feelings under control is to harm their bodies. Sometimes this can be pulling hairs or scratching skin or punching a wall. If you find yourself hurting your body in anyway to deal with difficult feelings you might be self harming. Sometimes family and friends might be very worried if they find out that you are self harming. We can support you to find other ways to deal with these feelings and then you might not feel the need to hurt yourself.
Drinking alcohol and taking drugs
A lot of people use drugs and drink alcohol as a way to not feel or think about difficult things. But drinking alcohol and taking drugs will only feel ‘good’ for a little while and these feelings will come back. If you take drugs or drink alcohol often it will start to hurt your body, your wellbeing and your feelings will become more difficult. We can support you to find ways to deal with these difficult feelings so you don’t feel the need to drink and take drugs.
Disordered eating is a fancy way of saying that the way you eat has changed because of the way you are feeling. You might be eating more because food can feel nice and comforting when you are feeling low and you might gain weight. Or you are maybe feeling worried so you do not feel hungry so you might lose weight. Food can also give us the feeling of being in control, as we can decide what we put in our bodies. Controlling food too much can sometimes lead to health problems and we might need support from a doctor.
Thinking about Suicide
When things become too much it sometimes feels like it would be better not to feel at all and you might think about killing yourself. Most of the time when people think about killing themselves it is not that they want to die, but they want to stop feeling terrible and awful. There is always hope and ways of dealing with these big problems and feelings. We can help you feel safe again and see a positive future.
There is HOPE:
Although this may look like a very long and overwhelming list of possible effects it is important to remember that not everyone will experience all or even any of this list. And even if you have experienced every effect that you have just read, there is hope, you are not alone, we are here to listen, believe and support you when you are ready.
There are many resources on this website you can explore when you are ready. You can also call/email us for support or information:
- Self Harm – Taking back control
- Anxiety – Taking Back Control
- Rape Crisis Scotland Video on ‘Freeze’
- Information on the types of support for young people at RASAC P&K
- Information on talking about Abuse
- Information about what sexual abuse is and what is consent
- Information for your family and friends who are supporting you
How to get Support
You deserve support. You are not alone, we are here for you, to listen, believe and support you the way you want.
- Call us on our Helpline to ask a question or if you would like a chat, or make a referral 01738 630965
- Email us to ask a question or if you would like to make a referral Support@rasacpk.org.uk
If you feel too worried about calling or emailing us, you can ask a friend or trusted adult to call or email us.
If you are looking to refer any young person (12+) or adult woman to RASAC for Support please ensure you fill in all relevant sections of our referral form and ensure that the individual you are referring signs the form. We aim to offer an initial appointment to the individual within two to three weeks.