How people are affected by sexual violence

How people are affected by sexual violence

Everyone responds differently to a traumatic event. Whatever you feel is a completely valid response to what has happened. You might be experiencing some of the emotions listed below. You might feel none of these things at all.

Talking to someone can help – look at the page showing Services that can Help for local help and the Contacts page for local and national services.

If you have been attacked recently you might be in shock. This can mean that you feel numb or unemotional. You might be in total disbelief, be crying, shaking, laughing or physically being sick.

  • You might feel to blame and responsible for what has happened.
  • You might be having nightmares or experiencing difficulties sleeping.
  • You might be ‘reliving’ the events (having flashbacks). This can be triggered by a sound, situation or smell and can be very frightening
  • You might have lost confidence, trust in yourself and/or in others.
  • You might be feeling worthless or hating yourself.
  • You might be finding it difficult to cope with day-to-day life.
  • You might be feeling angry, irritable and be short-tempered with those close to you.
  • You might feel dirty and ashamed about what has happened.
  • You might be depressed, upset and tearful a lot of the time.
  • You might feel suicidal.
  • You might be afraid of people, of places, of being on your own.
  • You might be experiencing relationship or sexual difficulties.
  • You are not to blame and you are not alone – please do contact one of the Services listed in this website to get the information and help you need at this time.

After the attack

If you do decide to report to the police, or if you want a forensic medical examination at the SARC, time is an important consideration. If you want forensic evidence to be collected, you should try and go to the SARC (Serenity) straight away if you can, or at least within 72 hours – 7 days after the rape or assault.

Also try, if possible, to take these steps:

  • Do not wash
  • Do not brush your teeth
  • Do not have a cigarette
  • Do not eat or drink
  • Do not change your clothes
  • If you do change your clothes, do not wash them and put them in a clean plastic bag
  • Try not go to the toilet
  • Do not clear up anything from the area of the incident

Don’t worry if you have already done some of these things. It’s possible that there is still forensic evidence to collect.

Even if you don’t want to report, or you are still thinking about it, or it is more than 7 days after the attack, you can still have a medical examination by a specially trained doctor.

The doctor will assess any health risks and offer you appropriate treatment or referral to specialist clinics.  This will cover emergency contraception up to 5 days after the event (eg: morning after pill), pregnancy testing, HIV, Hepatitis and sexually transmitted infections.

For more information about this please go to the Serenity SARC website.

Reactions of partners, family and friends

The reactions of partners, family and friends can have a significant impact on a victim and although most will want to be supportive, they may struggle with their own feelings and attitudes.

Anger – it is often easier for those close to a victim to express anger about what has happened and make threats about the offender as a way of coping with their emotions.  Although understandable, this is not helpful for the victim

Guilt – they may feel guilty for not protecting the victim, or for doing or not doing something.

Helplessness – they don’t know what to do to help, or how to respond and fear doing or saying the wrong thing.

Emotional withdrawal – partners may be confused about how to show affection or love and fear being rebuffed or making things worse for the victim so they withdraw and become remote.

Blame – they may believe the common myths and stereotypes that seek to put the blame on the victim rather than the offender.   It can be easier for them to do this than to try to understand and cope with the emotions and needs of the victim.

It can be very helpful for a partner or carer to talk to someone about how they are feeling and how they can help the victim.