Impacts and Effects of Sexual Assault


Impacts and Effects of Sexual Assault

Canberra Rape Crisis Centre

The impacts of sexual assault can be broad-ranging, and will depend on a range of factors, including:

  • the age of the person at the time of the abuse
  • the number and types of incidents
  • whether other forms of abuse may have taken place
  • the relationship to and tactics of the perpetrator
  • response to disclosures and the amount and type of support received, whether that be from friends, family and/or professionals


Sexual assault can be a life threatening experience which can leave you feeling numb, shocked and overwhelmed. Everyone reacts differently. There are no right or wrong ways to feel.

A sense of unreality – did this really happen to me? – is a normal reaction to such a frightening and humiliating attack.

In the weeks after an experience of sexual assault you will probably feel a whole range of different emotions. It is important to understand that this is because you have had a very traumatic experience, not because anything is wrong with you.


Many Women Describe Feeling Some or All of the Following Things

Why Me? – You might find that you search through everything that happened prior to the assault – from the clothes that you were wearing that day, to why you decided to go out or stay at home – looking for a reason. Your behavior did not cause the assault. The only person responsible for the assault is the person who raped you.

Shame and Embarrassment – You might feel that you are different from everybody else or that people will know that you have been raped. Remember, you are not alone. Anger at the attacker, at the injustice of the situation or at the fact that while men rape, woman can’t ever be really safe. Sometimes you may turn the anger towards yourself because you think you should have been able to avoid the assault. It is important to remember that nothing in your behavior is responsible for his behavior.

If only…- The list of “if only” can be endless and this can leave you feeling guilty even though you are in no way to blame.

Powerless and Helpless – Rape is a violation of your right to control what happens to you, your body, your emotions and your senses. It can leave you feeling that nothing you do or say matters any more.

Relief – That you survived the assault.

Fear – A lot of things that felt safe before may no longer feel that way. You might feel scared or threatened in familiar places or situations – being at home, going out, being in a crowd, or walking to work.

Feeling Dirty – Some women feel unclean or dirty after a rape and want to shower a lot in an attempt to wash those feelings away. It is important to remember not to shower if you want to report the rape (see Forensic Examination)

Sleep Problems – Sleeping may be difficult or you might have nightmares. Or you may feel that you want to retreat to bed and sleep a lot. Also the stress of dealing with the rape may make you run down or unwell for a while.

You can call our crisis line between 7am and 11am every day of the week to access support and help on 02 6247 2525.