How Does Sexual Violence Affect You?

Sexual violence takes many forms and can affect anyone of any age, any sex or gender identity, from any background or culture. It can be experienced by a partner, family member, friend, acquaintance or a complete stranger. It can be physical, emotional or psychological. It can lead to a range of long-term consequences including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety as well as risk of a sexually transmitted infection.

Sexual assault and other forms of sexual violence can be hard to identify, particularly for the victim/survivor themselves. It is important that the person seeks immediate safety and medical attention. They may require a range of support services and assistance in order to find the right path forward, whether that be seeking legal action or not. They may need to be provided with safe housing or other accommodation, access to education and/or employment, financial assistance, counselling, etc.

Victims and survivors often experience a wide variety of reactions to their experience of sexual violence, some or all of which can be highly disruptive to daily life. They are likely to have difficulty concentrating and sleeping, and may also feel jumpy or on edge. They may also have very strong or repeated memories of the sexual assault, and nightmares. Some women may not want to talk about their experience of sexual violence at all, while others will be ready to do so in their own time.

The most significant impact of a sexual assault or other form of sexual violence is likely to be the harm caused to the survivor’s physical, mental and emotional health. The trauma they have experienced can lead to a number of long-term effects including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, poor self-esteem and low levels of confidence and social functioning. In addition, the risk of a sexually transmitted disease, such as HIV, can be increased.

Research suggests that a range of individual, relationship and community factors can increase or decrease the risk of sexual violence perpetration. These are known as risk factors and can include:

It is important to recognise that victims/survivors of sexual assault are often abused by someone they know or trust, such as an intimate partner, a family member, a friend or an acquaintance. In fact, according to the National Sexual Assault Helpline (RAINN), an American is sexually assaulted every 68 seconds. This makes it even more important to learn about the warning signs, so that you can be aware of the possibility that a loved one is in danger and take action accordingly. Some of the most common sexual assault warning signs are listed below.