What Are the Mental Health Effects of Sexual Assault?
Sexual abuse survivors no longer feel like their bodies belong to themselves anymore and feel the traumatizing effects of the sexual assault. In the UK, according to the Office for National Statistics, 85,000 women and 12,000 men were sexually assaulted in England and Wales every year. One in five women aged 16-59 have experience sexual assault. In order for those mental effects to be lessened over time, it is important to seek treatment and to know that recovery is possible.
Many survivors feel shame, depression, terror, guilt, and tend to blame themselves. They feel hopeless and lack self-worth, leading to mild or intense depression. They can also suffer from anxiety where they live in fear of an attack occurring again. Survivors can develop agoraphobia where they are terrified to leave the house. Panic attacks can happen as well as being scared of running into someone with a similar profile to the rapist. PTSD can also be a mental effect factor of experiencing intense memories of abuse with intense flashbacks and losing track of their surroundings.
Survivors can also develop insecure attachment patterns as well as having trouble with intimacy or being too eager to have close attachments. Triggers tend to remind survivors of the sexual assault whether a certain song was playing during the time or how the room looked. Addiction can be another result of sexual assault in that many drink or do drugs as a way of feeling better. The feels that come from trauma can be too intense that they feel the need to self medicate in order to feel numb. Survivors can also feel like they are lacking support and that no one understands them that they feel the need to take their stress and anger out with abusive substances.
Exposure therapy is about helping to overcome a specific fear. If you are suddenly afraid of a certain article of clothing because of what the rapist was wearing as well as being afraid of bedrooms, exposure therapy can be beneficial. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy is using subtle eye movements to rewire the brain and change how a survivor processes abuse. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can discover the underlying issues that can cause a survivor to lack intimacy and help them work towards healthy relationships and behaviors. It is important to remember you are a survivor and that help is always available when needed.