Psychological Impacts and Effects

Impacts and Effects of Sexual Assault

Psychological Impacts and Effects from Sexual Assault

Canberra Rape Crisis Centre

You may find that the experience of sexual assault or abuse has affected your ability to concentrate and make decisions. It takes time to recover from the impacts of sexual assault and abuse and if you are in crisis, it is suggested you hold off making any big decisions.


At CRCC we recognize sexual assault, sexual abuse, sexual harassment and stalking as traumatic, and that they may result in some people developing a range of post-traumatic stress symptoms. Not everyone will experience the same impacts and effects, but the sooner any of the emotional and psychological impacts can be addressed the less likely they will cause long-term problems.


Many of the survivors who have come to the CRCC have talked about their struggles with thoughts such as “Why me?”, “If only…”, “What if…”, “How could this happen…”, “What did I do wrong?” Survivors can find themselves trying to find a reason to explain what has happened, something to explain why they were sexually assaulted or why the person did what they did. It is normal to be thinking these types of thoughts, a lot of people do because they are trying to understand and rationalize the abuse because it is so difficult to handle.


Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about sexual assault in the community which can make a survivor feel as though they were somehow responsible or could have prevented what happened.


Often offenders use tactics to try and place responsibility for what has happened onto the victim/survivor, or try and minimize what has happened, convince them that it was something the victim/survivor did or something they were wearing or said that caused the abuse or made it okay.


It is important to know that sexual assault and abuse are never justified under any circumstances. If the perpetrator chose to respect you and not to violate, abuse, trick, coerce or manipulate you, the assault or abuse would never have happened. Perpetrators can control their actions and decisions. It is important to remember that you are not to blame for what happened. You own your body and you should have the right to choose who touches it and when!

          The perpetrator chose to sexually assault you, nothing you did or didn’t do, said or didn’t say, gave anyone the right to sexually assault or abuse you.


Thoughts of self-harm and/or suicide

Some other common psychological impacts many survivors struggle with include thoughts of self-harm and/or suicide. The effects of sexual assault can be very emotionally, mentally and/or physically painful and sadly many survivors think about hurting themselves or suicide.


It is important to remember you do not have to go through this alone. We encourage you to try talking to people about your thoughts, if you cannot or do not want to talk to your friends and/ or family, you can contact CRCC on 02 6247 2525. If you are thinking about suicide please put your safety and wellbeing first and ask for help. Try and share your thoughts with someone you trust or a professional who understands the impacts of trauma. We encourage you to dispose of anything which you have obtained to hurt yourself with.


Always remember there are other options, and as hard as it is to keep going sometimes, you can get through this, and we are here to help you. If you have found yourself struggling with thoughts of suicide or self-harm, you can contact us on our crisis line, and we can offer you crisis phone support and we can discuss counselling if you are not already receiving it.

Drug facilitated sexual assault or ‘drink spiking’

Over the last ten years, there has been more community awareness about the use of substances by perpetrators which are given to victims without their knowledge to create vulnerability in order to sexually assault them. This form of abuse is sometimes called ‘drug facilitated sexual assault’ or ‘drink spiking’.


Some perpetrators will add drugs or purposefully increase the amount of alcohol in a person’s drinks or encourage the victim to continue drinking with the purpose of sexually assaulting them. If you are a survivor of drug facilitated sexual assault, it is important to know that when a person is under the influence of alcohol or substances, they can no longer give consent to have sex, so anyone who has been sexual with you has committed a sexual offence.


You may find that you have experienced a range of psychological impacts, including some of the ones mentioned on this page. You may also have additional impacts resulting from having little or no memory of the assault occurring, or on the other hand, having memories of what happened, but not being able to react due to the drugs or alcohol in your system.


It can be overwhelming to find out that someone has done something to your body when you were not fully conscious, or to have been conscious of what was happening but unable to do anything about it. It is important that you get the support you need and deserve to process the impacts you have experienced. If you do not already have support, please speak with a trusted friend or family member who you feel will be able to offer you support and understanding, and/or contact us at the CRCC on 02 6247 2525.

Stockholm syndrome

Whilst there are a range of other psychological impacts that victims/survivors can face, it is worth mentioning one more in this section. It is not uncommon for victims/survivors to form an unhealthy emotional bond towards their perpetrator that is based in trauma, especially if the abuse occurred over a long period of time. In its extreme form, some victims/survivors can develop what has been called ‘Stockholm syndrome’, which gets its name from a hostage situation in Stockholm where victims who were held captive ended up supporting their captors.


There are many reasons for its occurrence, including psychological tactics used by the perpetrator and psychological capacities employed by the victim/survivor to cope with the overwhelming situation. If the survivor was held by the perpetrator for an extended period of time, the survivor may start to “normalize” the experience in order to help them process such an inhuman connection.


It can be very confusing for the survivor as well as their loved ones and supporters if the survivor goes back to the abusive relationship, expresses good feelings towards the perpetrator. It can be very difficult for some people to break a trauma bond, no matter how abusive the relationship was or is, especially when threats of violence, or loss of family, money or status are made.


It is important to remember that victims in this situation can genuinely feel they are in an appropriate ‘relationship’. It can be very difficult for them to see otherwise, and some people are never able to do so. The CRCC can support anyone who has experienced sexual assault in the context of being in a captive situation or where the dynamics between the perpetrator and the victim/survivor were blurred into an unhealthy bond. If you are a survivor or family member of someone who has experienced sexual abuse in this context, please ask for support by calling on 02 6247 2525.