Victim Impact: The Harmful Effects of Sexual Assault
Sexual violence has a profound, long-lasting impact on victims’ mental health including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) involving nightmares, flashbacks, and severe anxiety; depression; dissociation; and suicidal ideation, attempts and completed acts. Some turn to alcohol and drugs to alleviate the pain. Each victim experiences the trauma of rape differently and may have different responses at different times. In the immediate aftermath, in particular, coping with the demands of daily life is very difficult as victims’ sense of control has been ripped away.
Although most rapes do not involve serious physical injury, there are also physical impacts to be addressed. These range from the possibility of sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy to chronic fatigue, inability to sleep, changes in eating patterns, involuntary shaking and sexual dysfunction.
A more detailed resource on victim impact is The Joyful Heart Foundation, Effects of Sexual Assault and Rape.
With respect to intimate partner and marital rape there is a myth that because the couple is accustomed to having consensual sex, forced sex is not as traumatic as stranger rape. The reality is that rape by the person the victim should most be able to trust is profoundly damaging precisely because of the betrayal of trust, flashbacks, hyper vigilance, difficulty eating and sleeping, nightmares, loss of trust, intense fear and suicidal thoughts are all common reactions among victims of marital rape. Victims of intimate partner sexual assault may also have significant physical injuries due to repeated rapes. See the National Judicial Education Program’s web course, Intimate Partner Sexual Abuse: Adjudicating this Hidden Dimension of Domestic Violence, Module 2, "Victims and Offenders" (free registration required).