Survivors of sexual assault will typically feel much emotional distress following the incident. Along with emotions like anxiety, fear, or even guilt, survivors may also contend with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Below, we will examine what PTSD is, how it impacts the lives of sexual assault survivors, and how sexual assault survivors can get help.
What Is PTSD?
PTSD is a mental health condition triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Those with PSTD may experience flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, and uncontrollable thoughts about the event.
There are four categories of PTSD symptoms, and each symptom can range in severity:
- Avoidance: Sexual assault survivors may find themselves avoiding reminders of the traumatic event. This can include avoiding people, places, activities, objects, and situations that may trigger distressing memories. Survivors may also avoid talking about the situation.
- Intrusion: Intrusive symptoms are "recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive memories" (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Many individuals with PTSD report re-experiencing the traumatic event through intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, and nightmares. These symptoms can be so intense and distressing that they cause individuals to avoid people, places, activities, objects, and situations that remind them of the trauma (see "avoidance" above).
- Changes in cognition and mood: PTSD can cause survivors to have negative changes in their thoughts and mood. They may feel detached, guilty, or ashamed and have trouble remembering details of the traumatic event. Or, they may develop new beliefs about themselves, other people, and the world (e.g., "I can't trust anyone," "Nowhere in the world is safe," "I'm a bad person").
- Changes in arousal and reactivity: PTSD can cause survivors to experience changes in their levels of arousal and reactivity. They may feel irritable, have difficulty concentrating or sleeping, be constantly on the lookout for danger, or become easily startled.
These symptoms can significantly interfere with day-to-day life and make it difficult to continue normal activities. For sexual assault survivors, the mere act of living can be a struggle.
How Does PTSD Impact Sexual Assault Survivors?
The effects of PTSD can be far-reaching and devastating for sexual assault survivors. In addition to the symptoms listed above, survivors are also at a higher risk of suffering from:
- Substance abuse
- Sleep disorders
- Eating Disorders
- Social isolation
PTSD can also make it difficult to maintain employment and healthy relationships. The constant state of stress that PTSD puts the body in can also lead to physical health problems.
It’s important to remember that every survivor will react differently to their trauma and will experience different symptoms. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to feel after a sexual assault.
Help and Support for Sexual Assault Survivors
If you or someone you know is struggling with PTSD, there is help available:
- National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-HOPE (467)
- RAINN: Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network: 800-656-HOPE (467)
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-SAFE (727)
These hotlines can provide you with support, resources, and information. You are not alone.
Giving Survivors a Voice
At The Zalkin Law Firm, P.C., our award-winning legal team is committed to seeking justice and financial compensation for survivors across the United States. Our mission is to help you rebuild and move forward. Schedule your free, confidential consultation with our experienced and compassionate staff.