What Impacts Does Sexual Assault Have on Victims and Their Family/Friends?

This post is a part of our guide series to support anyone who may have been sexually assaulted or has questions around the topic:

What is Sexual Assault? Definitions & Meanings of Rape
Who Commits Sexual Assault & Why?
What are the Signs of Sexual Assault?
Date Rape & Staying Safe
What Impacts Does Sexual Assault Have on Victims and Their Family/Friends?
Coping, Healing & Recovering From Sexual Assault & Rape
How to Help Someone Who has Been a Victim of Sexual Assault
How to report Sexual Assault (and Who to Report it to)
How is Sexual Assault & Rape Proven in Court?
Punishment and Sentencing for Sexual Assault
How can Sexual Assault and Rape be Prevented?
Sexual Assault Data & Statistics
Sexual Assault Helplines, Support & Further Reading

Sexual assault can have lasting effects on victims and their families/friends. The effect will depend on a number of factors and will vary as each individual will respond differently to what has occurred. In this guide, we will discuss the impacts of sexual assault and how this affects people in different ways. Remember if you are ever in this situation, it’s never your fault, no one deserves to be mistreated, speak to someone and get help.

How does sexual assault immediately affect a victim?

Sexual assault victims may find it extremely difficult to deal with the aftermath, the impact will vary for each victim. The following are some of the effects a victim of sexual assault may experience immediately:

  • Physical – bruising, bleeding (vaginal or anal), difficulty walking, soreness, broken or dislocated bones
  • Emotional – distrust in others, self-blame, guilt, shock, anger, loss of control, disorientation, helplessness, fear, sense of vulnerability
  • Anxiety
  • Change in sleeping and eating patterns
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Involuntary shaking
  • Muscle tension
  • Isolation

Please note these effects are not exhaustive and each victim will react to the trauma in their own way. Some victims find it difficult to concentrate at work or to socialise, causing dissociation. They may feel that they don’t deserve to live a happy life and begin to develop a negative outlook, these overwhelming emotions can lead to risky coping mechanisms such as substance abuse.

How does sexual assault affect a victim longer term?

The long-term effects can have life-long consequences on the victim’s physical and mental health. In addition to the immediate effects, they may include the following:

  • Physical – unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases like HIV,
  • Mental – Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), flashbacks, continued anxiety, nightmares, depression, suicidal thoughts or attempts.
  • Women may experience trouble with their menstrual cycle and fertility
  • Low self-esteem
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Substance abuse and dependence
  • Relationship problems
  • Persistent fear
  • Paranoia
  • Localised pain

Again the effects are not exhaustive and each victim will respond differently to the experience. Other related issues that may emerge as a consequence of sexual assault are eating disorders, changes in sexuality and mood disorders. Depending on the age of the victim, there is also an increased likelihood of re-victimisation as the sexual assault can affect the survivor’s development, decreasing their sense of danger.

What impact does sexual assault have on the victim’s relationships with partners, family members and friends?

Sexual assault and abuse can have physical, physiological and emotional effects on the victim, this can be extremely difficult to deal with. Many victims tend to blame themselves and feel guilty and ashamed for not fighting back or trusting someone, trying to take responsibility for something which was not their fault. Many victims lose confidence in themselves and trust in others including family and friends. The trauma of the incident can make them question whether the world is a safe place and if there are any good people. Some victims struggle with intimacy after being sexually assaulted, flashbacks and memories of the assault may lead to panic or not wanting intimacy in a sexual relationship. Victims can be left shocked and overwhelmed with emotions which can invariably lead to damage if they do not reach out for support.

What wider impact does sexual assault have on people close to the victim, such as a family and friends?

Sexual assault can have a significant impact on the family and friends of the victim. They may experience some of the emotions as the victims, they may be in shock after finding out about the incident, feel confused, angry or try to deny that it happened. Family and friends may feel helpless or unsure about how they can support the victim or guilty for not being able to prevent it from happening. Sometimes relationships can be damaged as the victim may have difficulties trusting people after the incident or if family and friends were not supportive. It is equally important for friends and family to reach out for support too, there are many organisations that can offer advice and guidance if you are in this situation.

We understand how difficult it is to see someone you know or love experiencing abuse, sometimes trying to help a victim is not easy. It’s important to remember that you are not alone and the first step that you should take is to talk to someone. No one should have to deal with abuse alone.

Here at the Criminal Injuries Helpline, we help victims of violent crime and abuse recover compensation. You may want to help the victim gain some justice, get in touch with us today to see if the victim would qualify.

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