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Stages of Trauma and Recovery

Shock or Acute Stage of Trauma

After sexual assault, victims experience numerous reactions, some of which include the following:10

  • Shock: Victims may feel stunned or dazed and may shut down emotionally.
  • Denial and disbelief: Protects victims from experiencing the full intensity of emotions following the crime.
  • Confusion and irritability: Victims may have difficulty fully remembering the assault. They may feel in control one minute and out of control the next, or they may go from blaming themselves to becoming enraged by people trying to help them.
  • Flashbacks of trauma: Triggers can include anniversaries of the event, media events, or other circumstances that connect the victims' physical senses with the facts of the crime committed against them.
  • Fear and startle response: Victims may be concerned about their safety in situations that may or may not be dangerous and may be easily startled.
  • Disrupted sleep: Victims may have trouble falling or staying asleep and may also experience nightmares.
  • Disrupted eating patterns: Victims may lose their appetite or have an increased appetite.
  • Interpersonal conflicts: Arguments with family members, friends, and coworkers are common following sexual assault. Victims also may have trouble experiencing feelings of love.
  • Changes in sexual behavior: Many victims fear resuming or having sex after a sexual assault. Others lose interest in sex.
  • Withdrawal: Victims may isolate themselves and avoid normal activities as a form of self-protection. They may avoid conversations about the trauma and choose to stay away from places, activities, or people that remind them of the sexual assault.
  • Self-harm or suicidal thoughts: Some victims may hurt themselves as a method of coping, and others have suicidal thoughts.
  • Physical symptoms: Some common physical reactions following sexual assault include trembling, sweating, headaches, nausea, physical numbness, and chest pain. Preexisting medical conditions also may worsen due to stress.