Sexual assault creates havoc in the lives of victims. It causes trauma that impacts a woman on many levels and often leads to PTSD symptoms, as well as major depressive disorder (MDD).
Victims don’t just suffer during an assault. The experience continues to live on in their psyche for years to come. The damage can define a woman’s life and last a lifetime. Many women who’ve experienced a sexual assault have been too ashamed to seek emotional support, even if they have PTSD symptoms or other debilitating problems.
The level of trauma and depression may vary based on some of the following factors:
- Age of the victim
- Religious or cultural belief system of victim and family
- Circumstances in which the assault occurred
- Level of violence involved
- Amount of shame and self-blame
- Negative and damaging reactions to the assault, such as not believing the victim
- Type of support a woman receives or lack thereof
- Current, and developing, coping skills
The traumatic effects may be subtle with some women, and dramatic with others. For example, one woman may feel blue and teary, and another may have full PTSD symptoms, such as night terrors.
How To Know When It’s Sexual Assault
With so much in today’s news about sexual misconduct, sexual harassment and sexual offending, people are searching for a clear understanding of the true definition of sexual assault. Recognizing what assault is can also help a woman understand the experience she has been through and name it, which is a first step to getting help.
Sexual assault can range from someone in a position of authority taking advantage of a woman of unequaled power to rape by a stranger. It can be incest or child sexual molestation. It’s defined by the government this way: “The sexual activity involved in an assault can include many different experiences. Women can be the victims of unwanted touching, grabbing, oral sex, anal sex, sexual penetration with an object, and/or sexual intercourse.”
Essentially, it is any sexual contact or conduct that is not requested and is unwanted. It’s sexual activity that occurs without consent.
Healing the Emotional Toll
As unpleasant and painful as the experience may be, a woman’s path back to health is finding support and education about what she has been through.
How to Recognize PTSD Symptoms:
The following can be considered PTSD symptoms if they last longer than three months, and causes distress and life disruptions:
- Re-experiencing or reliving the event as if it’s happening in the moment
- Nightmares about the event or that represent the event
- Flashbacks that cause the feeling of being back in the event
- Triggers that cause a reliving of the event, such as something that is seen or heard, or a scent that causes difficult memories to flow back
How to Recognize MDD Symptoms:
The following may be considered MDD symptoms if they occur every day for at least two weeks:
- Feeling depressed, sad or “down in the dumps”
- Very little interest in things that were once extremely engaging
- Loss of interest in doing things that bring pleasure and joy
- Weight loss or weight gain that seems unrelated to food intake
- Difficulty getting a good night’s sleep, or sleeping too much
- Feeling agitated or restless
- Utter fatigue and lack of energy for even small tasks
- Severe self-esteem issues and inability to see self-worth
- Loss of focus and concentration
- Excessive guilt, self-blame and self-berating
- Ruminating about small, disturbing incidents
- Thinking of deserving or wanting to die, or attempted suicide
Sexual assault in any form is devastating. It is important for women to reach out for the emotional support needed to be able to talk about the experience without shame and to learn the best way to cope with and treat PTSD symptoms and MDD symptoms.
“PTSD Sexual Assault on Females” – US Department of Veteran Affairs
“PTSD Symptoms” – US Department of Veteran Affairs
“Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” – National Institutes of Mental Health
“Predictors of PTSD Symptom Severity and Social Reactions in Sexual Assault Victims” – Springer Link
“Structural Models of the Relations of Sexual Assault Severity” – Wiley Online Library
“Depression Symptoms for Major Depressive Disorder” – PsychCentral
“Co-occurring Post Traumatic Stress and Depression Symptoms After Sexual Assault” – Science Direct