The Effects of Rape

and Sexual Assault


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Many rape and sexual assault victims suffer from Rape Related PTSD and the disorders listed below. Immediate reactions can be either expressive or subdued.

The four major symptoms of Rape-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are:

  • Re-experiencing the trauma (uncontrollable intrusive thoughts about the rape)

  • Social withdrawal

  • Avoidance behaviors (a general tendency to avoid any thoughts, feelings, or cues)

  • Irritability, hostility, rage and anger

The most common long term effects of sexual assault and rape are the invisible ones. The immediate symptoms of rape trauma include having unpredictable and intense emotions. The victim may have an exaggerated startle response (jumpy), may have memories and intrusive thoughts about the assault, nightmares, difficulty sleeping and difficulty concentrating. The long term psychological effects of rape can include PTSD and rape trauma syndrome (RTS), OCD, DID, Eating Disorders, Self Injury, Self blame, Panic attacks, Flashbacks, Body memories and Sleeping disorders. Unfortunately in many cases these effects can be life long if the victim does not get immediate support and care. Some people mask these symptoms in order to cope with society.

According to NCPTSD: "Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is a common reaction following sexual assault.

Symptoms of MDD can include a depressed mood, an inability to enjoy things, difficulty sleeping, changes in patterns of sleeping and eating, problems in concentration and decision-making, feelings of guilt, hopelessness, and decreased self-esteem."

"NVAWS strongly confirms the negative mental health and social costs of rape victimization. Of those raped since age 18, 33 percent of the female rape victims and 24.2 percent of the male victims said they received counseling from a mental health professional as a direct result of their most recent rape ... The survey found that 19.4 percent of the female victims and 9.7 percent of the male victims raped as adults said their victimization caused them to lose time from work." National Violence Against Women Survey

Learning about the health and psychological conditions effecting survivors of assault has been cited by researchers as a positive coping skill associated with faster healing. (Matsushita-Arao, 1997 )









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Journal articles

Smith, M. & Kelly, L. (2001). The journey of recovery after a rape experience. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 2(4), Jun pp. 337-352. link

"The purpose of the study was to discover the meaning of recovery from the perception of the victim, how recovery is experienced, and what contributed to the growth and recovery of the woman who has been raped...The thematic structure of a woman's recovery from rape comprises 3 main themes: reaching out, reframing the rape, and redefining the self."


Ball R. (1982). Victims and Their Psychiatric Needs (From National Symposium on Victimology - Proceedings, P 211-219, 1982, P N Grabosky, ed. - See NCJ-90209)


Victims of violent crime are likely to experience a psychic erosion of a sense of personal invulnerability, a yearning for interaction with and service toward others, and a sense of control over personal destiny. Such a psychic and bodily assault can elicit the use of a number of categories of coping abilities: (1) denying or minimizing the seriousness of a crisis; (2) seeking relevant information and using intellectual resources effectively; (3) obtaining reassurance and emotional support from concerned friends, family, and experts deemed competent to provide help; (4) learning injury-related procedures; (5) setting practical goals; and (6) rehearsing alternative outcomes. Adaptive tasks related to physical injuries include dealing with pain and incapacity, adapting to hospital and other medical environments as well as special treatment procedures, and developing relationships with various professional staff. General needs involve maintaining a reasonable emotional balance, retaining a satisfactory self-image, preserving relationships with family and friends, and preparing for an uncertain future. Eight references are provided.


Matsushita-Arao, Yoshiko. (1997). Self-blame and depression among forcible rape survivors. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 57(9-B). pp. 5925.


The purposes of this study were four-fold. The first purpose was to determine the relationship between rape survivors' self-blame (behavioral, characterological, and total amount of self-blame) and time (retrospective and current assessments). For the retrospective assessment, survivors rated their feelings of self-blame immediately following their rape and before receiving Rape Crisis Center (RCC) treatment. For the current assessment, survivors rated their feelings of self-blame at the time of completing this study's questionnaire and after having received RCC treatment. The second purpose was to identify whether perceived severity was a better predictor of current total amounts of self-blame and depression than actual severity. The third purpose was to determine the relationships between current self-blame and depression and various pre-assault, assault, and post-assault variables. The fourth purpose was to identify the relationships between RCC contacts (number of contacts and amount of satisfaction) and current self-blame and depression. Participants were women survivors of adult forcible rape identified by staff members at 14 RCCs. Questionnaires were mailed to 50 women who agreed to participate, and of these, 42 (84%) returned them. Wilcoxin Signed-Ranks test for matched pairs, simple correlations, and multiple regression were used to analyze the data. The major findings were: (1) RCC survivors reported experiencing less total, behavioral, and characterological amounts of self-blame currently than they retrospectively reported experiencing right after their rape. (2) The best predictor of current total amount of self-blame using pre-assault, assault, and post-assault variables was the relationship to the assailant(s). Survivors who knew their assailant(s) reported experiencing more self-blame. (3) The best predictor of current amount of depression was the amount of time since the rape. As the amount of time increased, the survivors reported experiencing less depression. (4) Three types of RCC counseling responses were judged to be helpful in reducing feelings of self-blame: (a) supportive responses, (b) psychoeducational responses, and (c) those responses addressing the issue of blame. (5) There was an inverse relationship between the number of RCC counseling contacts for the rape and the current total amount of self-blame. As the number of contacts increased, the survivors reported experiencing less self-blame. Implications of the findings are discussed.


Littleton, H. & Breitkopf, C. (2006). COPING WITH THE EXPERIENCE OF RAPE. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 30 (1), p106-116.

"The coping strategies that a victim of a rape engages in can have a strong impact on the development and persistence of psychological symptoms. Research provides evidence that victims who rely heavily on avoidance strategies, such as suppression, are less likely to recover successfully than those who rely less heavily on these strategies. The present study utilized structural path analysis to identify predictors of avoidance coping following rape and examined factors in the assault itself (e.g., force, alcohol use), sequelae of the assault (e.g., self-blame, loss of self-worth), and social support as potential direct and indirect predictors of avoidance coping. From a sample of 1,253 university women, the responses of 216 women who endorsed an experience of rape were examined. Results suggested that sequelae of the assault such as feelings of self-blame and negative reactions received from others are potentially important predictors of avoidance coping. Implications of the results for future rape recovery research are discussed."



"The model's central features were confirmed and showed that Psychological Problem History exacerbated Characterological Self-Blame, leading to more Maladaptive Beliefs, which determined initial Psychosocial Distress and its rate of decline."


Sexual Assault Among Intimates: Frequency, Consequences and Treatments NCJRS

"Sexually assaulted women reported an increased risk of femicide, rape-related pregnancy, poor physical and mental health, posttraumatic stress disorder, increased alcohol use, and suicide."


Sarkar, N. N.; Sarkar, Rina, (2005) Sexual assault on woman: Its impact on her life and living in society. Sexual & Relationship Therapy, 20 (4), 407-419
Database: Academic Search Premier

Quote: The author's aim is to bring forth the consequences of sexual assault on women with a view to abate this crime against women. Data are extracted from the literature through the computerised MEDLINE system. Women sexually assaulted in childhood are twice as likely to be sexually assaulted in adulthood. Post-traumatic mental problems, acute stress disorders, depression and other psychological problems are found in victims of sexual assault. Women often suffer from sleep disorders, nightmare, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and diminishing of sexual urge and pleasure among other disorders following sexual assault or rape. Recovery is slower in sexual than in non-sexual assault victims. Factors influencing recovery are emotional support from friends, relations, social and community supports. Overall social changes in outlook and perception towards women are needed in the modern society to curb the sexual assault on women.


Schnurr, PP. Friedman, MJ. Bernardy NC. (2002) Research on posttraumatic stress disorder: epidemiology, pathophysiology, and assessment. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58(8):877-89. Database: Medline

Quote: "Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a highly prevalent disorder in both clinical and community populations. This article reviews current knowledge about PTSD in order to assist clinicians in the diagnosis and treatment of reactions to traumatic life events. First, research findings are presented, followed by guidelines for the assessment of trauma and PTSD. Topics discussed include epidemiology, course, and comorbidity, as well as information processing and psychobiology. The review is limited to information about PTSD in adults, although some of the material may generalize to child and adolescent populations."


Burgess, A. D. & Holmstrom, . (1974). Rape trauma syndrome. Am J Psychiatry, 131(9), 981-6.


Campbell, Rebecca; Wasco, Sharon M., (2005) Understanding Rape and Sexual Assault. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 20 (1) p127-131, 6p;


"women reporting sexual assault were 5.3 (95% CI, 1.3, 21.5) times more likely to report threatening or attempted suicide within a 90-day period compared to physically-abused only women."


McFarlane, Judith; Malecha, Ann; Gist, Julia; Watson, Kathy; Batten, Elizabeth; Hall, Iva;Smith, Sheila (2005). INTIMATE PARTNER SEXUAL ASSAULT AGAINST WOMEN AND ASSOCIATED VICTIM SUBSTANCE USE, SUICIDALITY, AND RISK FACTORS FOR FEMICIDE. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, Nov2005, Vol. 26 Issue 9, p953-967, 15p link


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Macdonalds, J. (2004). World Book Encyclopedia. United States of America: World Book Inc.

rape. (2006). Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved May 2, 2006, from Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service.

Smith, M. D. (2004). Encyclopedia of Rape. USA: Greenwood Press.

Sedney, M., "rape (crime)." Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia. Scholastic Library Publishing, 2006 <> (February 1, 2006).



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