How Sexual Violence Affects People of All Ages and Genders
Sexual violence affects people of all ages, backgrounds, cultures, faiths, sexualities and gender identities. It can occur in any relationship, but is most commonly experienced by women and girls, older adults, LGBT+ people and people with disabilities. It can be perpetrated by anyone who has a power or control over a person. It can be physical, emotional and/or psychological.
A survivor may feel overwhelmed, disoriented or disconnected following the experience of sexual assault. They may not remember parts of the incident or have nightmares about it. They may avoid talking about it, or only do so with close friends and family members. They may also develop secondary consequences of maladaptive coping mechanisms such as substance abuse, eating disorders and self-harm. They may have difficulty trusting others, start or stop relationships, and experience changes in their sexuality, eating habits or sleep patterns.
Survivors sometimes think the sexual assault was their fault. They may blame themselves for being dressed seductively, drinking or using drugs, being out at night alone or being on a date with the perpetrator. Survivors may also minimize the impact of the abuse, thinking that the violence was not as bad as other people’s experiences or believing that it was a ‘normal’ part of life.
It is very common for survivors to have guilt, shame and self-blame. They may be afraid to talk about the experience or believe that they did it to themselves. People who are supporting a survivor should let them know that it is not their fault and that the impact of sexual assault/rape can be very different for everyone.
The support system for a victim of sexual violence can include family members, partners, friends, children and coworkers. They may also be affected by the sexual violence themselves, experiencing depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and/or feeling angry or resentful of the perpetrator. Sexual violence can also have economic and social impacts, including medical bills and time off work. It can also have an impact on the family structure, resulting in domestic violence and child abuse.