Addressing the Mental Health Effects of Sexual Assault

Sexual assault survivors can experience short and long-term mental health effects. Some survivors can experience severe and chronic psychological symptoms, whereas others may not. Factors that influence the impacts of sexual violence include the survivor’s: previous history of trauma, pre-existing mental health conditions, positive family and social support, cultural background, perception of their rights, and relationship with the perpetrator (Sexual Violence Research Initiative, 2011; Yuan et al., 2006).

Immediately post-assault, most survivors will experience shock, fear, anxiety, numbness, confusion, feelings of helplessness and/or disbelief, self-blame, and hyperarousal (e.g., fight, flight or freeze response, increased alertness). Survivors may also experience some Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms, such as flashbacks and having problems sleeping. It is estimated that one to two thirds of survivors will develop PTSD (Sexual Violence Research Initiative, 2011; Yuan et al., 2006).

Many survivors experience a reduction in psychological symptoms within the first 3 months.  However, some survivors report symptoms that persist for years (Sexual Violence Research Initiative, 2011; Yuan et al., 2006).

Sexual assault survivors are at a higher risk of developing: anxiety, depression, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, PTSD, substance use disorder, suicidality, and bipolar disorder (Dworkin et al., 2017).

Access the links below for more information on mental health and substance use support resources for survivors.

Substance Use Support

Click this link for information on substance use support resources.

Suicide Risk

Click this link for crisis support and suicide prevention resources.

Questions? Contact our Community Coordination for Survivor Safety (CCSS) team at ccss@endingviolence.org.