Content Warning: Sexual violence and assault are discussed in this article. If you or a loved one is the victim of rape or sexual assault, know that there are safe places you can go to find help and support. RAINN is an anti-sexual violence organization that’s partnered with over 1,000 assault service providers nationwide and offers confidential support 24/7.
Sexual assault takes many forms and impacts millions of people across the globe. According to the Department of Justice’s 2019 National Crime Victimization Survey, in the United States alone, there are more than over 450,000 rape and sexual assault victims each year. While sexual violence has a deep and lasting physical and emotional toll, there are many effective coping strategies that can help survivors heal.
If you’re looking for support, you’ll need tools, like online therapy, to help you learn how to deal with being raped. It’s important to understand the impact sexual assault can have on you — keep reading to learn more. Remember, help is available if you need it.
The Impact of Being Sexually Assaulted or Raped
While we all respond to trauma in different ways, the effects of sexual violence can be devastating. Sexual trauma survivors often experience intense psychological and physical symptoms that can be difficult to recover from. Understanding these symptoms can help as you learn how to cope with sexual assault or rape.
Survivors may struggle with a range of emotions after experiencing sexual violence. Many people suffer from intense feelings of guilt and shame, while others may experience fear and even anger. It’s not unusual for people to go through mood swings or conceal their feelings from family and friends.
The trauma of sexual violence can put survivors at increased risk of developing a number of mental health conditions. Someone who has survived sexual abuse may be at risk for:
- Anxiety: Persistent feelings of fear and anxiety are common in survivors. Panic attacks, agoraphobia, and other phobias are all normal reactions.
- Depression: Depressive symptoms are frequently experienced by victims of sexual violence. After an assault, it’s common to feel empty or hopeless.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): PTSD is very common in sexual assault survivors. They may have intense memories or flashbacks to their trauma.
- Rape trauma syndrome (RTS): Rape trauma syndrome is the specific type of PTSD that happens after rape or sexual assault.
- Substance abuse: Some survivors turn to drugs or alcohol when coping with sexual assault. According to RAINN, victims of sexual abuse are 10 times more likely to use major drugs.
While traumatic events can leave behind emotional scars, they can also cause physical damage. When we’re threatened, our bodies naturally release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol to keep us on high alert.
Not only can these hormones impact bodily function during times of duress, but research shows us that the body can continue to send stress signals even after the traumatic event has passed.
It’s important to be aware of these symptoms when you’re learning how to deal with being raped or sexually assaulted. Physical symptoms experienced by victims of sexual violence may include:
- Hyperarousal: Thinking about trauma can put the body into high alert. Survivors may be easily startled or feel like they’re always on edge.
- Fatigue: It’s common to struggle with insomnia or nightmares that make it difficult to sleep. This can leave someone recovering from assault feeling chronically exhausted or fatigued.
- Psychomotor agitation: When people feel restless and anxious, it can cause them to engage in repeated, unintentional movements. This could include things like pacing, nail picking, or biting lips until they bleed.
- Aches and pains: It’s natural to tense up muscles when feeling stressed or anxious. The persistent stress of sexual assault can leave some victims with chronic aches and pains.
How to Deal with the Effects
Both the physical and emotional effects of sexual violence can be deeply damaging. By learning how to deal with being raped or sexually assaulted, you can find ways to manage your symptoms as you recover and begin to move forward with your life.
How to cope with physical effects
“Physical effects of sexual trauma can look different for each person who experiences it. If there’s something serious going on, a medical doctor is the best person to assess the victim. Therapy can help with more emotional scars but can also provide coping strategies to help deal with any physical symptoms.” – Talkspace therapist Bisma Anwar, LMHC
Seek medical attention
It’s important to be treated by a doctor after sexual assault or rape, even if you don’t think you’ll report the incident. During the visit, you should receive a rape kit and be examined for physical injuries and tested for sexually transmitted infections. Part of figuring out how to cope with sexual assault or rape is making sure that you receive any medical care you might need.
Learn to recognize your body’s signals
Try to become more aware of the signals that your body is sending you. Check in with yourself to see if you’re clenching your teeth, tensing your muscles, or feeling short of breath. By becoming more aware of these symptoms, you can find better ways to cope.
Find ways to self-soothe
Breathing exercises, meditation for stress, and grounding techniques are all effective tools for coping with sexual assault. Not only can these techniques address issues like a racing heartbeat or intense anxiety, but they can also help to bring your attention back to the moment if you’re starting to panic. Experiment with different self-soothing techniques to see what gives you a sense of calm and peace.
How to cope emotionally
“If someone has been the victim of rape or sexual assault, they should not stay silent. Therapy can help support them during this time. They can learn how to move forward with their life and cope with the aftermath of going through such a traumatic experience.” – Talkspace therapist Bisma Anwar, LMHC
Contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline
The National Sexual Assault Hotline provides confidential support 24 hours a day. Whether you’re looking for advice on how to deal with sexual assault or you just need someone to talk to, you can always get one-on-one help from a specialist. For assistance, call 1-800-656-4673 or chat with a specialist online. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is also available in a similar fashion, at 1-800-799-7233, or by texting START to 88788.
Rebuild your support systems
It’s common for people to isolate themselves when they’ve experienced something as traumatic as rape. Find ways to connect with people and build a support system that can give you strength during the healing process.
If you don’t feel comfortable reaching out to friends and family, consider joining a support group where you can meet people who understand what you’re going through.
Identify your triggers
A trigger is a situation or action that reminds you of your trauma. People can be triggered by sounds, dates, smells, or even certain behaviors. Finding your triggers can help you learn how to cope with being raped or sexually assaulted. When you’re aware of things that might trigger you and bring up bad memories, you can avoid them or prepare yourself for an emotional response.
Find ways to manage intrusive thoughts
At times, you may experience unwanted or unexpected thoughts related to your trauma. If you’re learning how to deal with being raped or sexually assaulted, try to find ways to control and manage your thought processes, such as journaling for mental health. Instead of trying to push them away, remind yourself that these are intrusive thoughts that will soon pass.
Talk to a therapist
Recovering from sexual violence is never easy. Instead of figuring out how to deal with sexual assault on your own, reach out to a mental health professional who can give you the support you need.
“If you have been the victim of sexual assault or rape, then please reach out for help and support. You might internalize negative thoughts and feelings after this traumatic experience but know that you don’t have to suffer through this time alone. Therapy can help address symptoms of PTSD such as nightmares, flashbacks, and anxiety. It can also provide tools to help you cope with how you’re feeling.” – Talkspace therapist Bisma Anwar, LMHC
Therapy can help you work through your trauma, develop healthy coping mechanisms, and find the best ways to move forward. It’s important to be aware of symptoms when you’re learning how to deal with being raped or sexually assaulted.
Get Professional Help
Healing from the pain of sexual violence isn’t easy, but you don’t have to do it alone. At Talkspace, you can connect with a professional who can help you learn how to cope with being raped or sexually assaulted. Talkspace is an online therapy platform that offers safe, effective, and convenient access to therapists who are trained to deal with the difficult healing process related to sexual trauma.
Reach out to Talkspace to connect with a professional who can give you support and help you manage the effects of sexual trauma today.
1. Victims of Sexual Violence: Statistics | RAINN. Rainn.org. https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence. Accessed September 27, 2022.
2. Chivers-Wilson K. Sexual assault and posttraumatic stress disorder: A review of the biological, psychological and sociological factors and treatments. Mcgill J Med. 2022;9(2):111-118.. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2323517/. Accessed September 27, 2022.
3. Butt M, Espinal E, Aupperle R, Nikulina V, Stewart J. The Electrical Aftermath: Brain Signals of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Filtered Through a Clinical Lens. Front Psychiatry. 2019;10. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00368. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6555259/