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Stages of Trauma and Recovery

Pre-Impact Terror

This stage occurs during the very frightening moments just prior to the assault itself, when the victims know, without a doubt, what will happen but are totally powerless to stop it. In other words, trauma does not start after the assault; it starts before it. The concept of pre-impact terror has been used to describe the pain and suffering (beyond loss of life or limb) of airplane passengers who know the plane is going to crash (Haley v. Pan American World Airways, 746 F.2d 311, 5th Cir. 1984).

Similarly, sexual assault victims are permanently changed right before the assault happens by the intentional disregard for their physical and psychological well-being. Knowing they are powerless to stop the sexual assault and knowing that another person intends them harm can intensify the agony of rape for victims before it ever happens.