Living through sexual abuse or assault can have significant psychological repercussions for a survivor. One common outcome is post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, which can have both physical and emotional symptoms. PTSD from sexual trauma can last weeks, months or even years. Understanding PTSD can help you get the care that you need as a sexual abuse survivor.
What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a term that was once reserved for military veterans who had served in active war zones. Back then, it was known as “shellshock” and characterized by flashbacks, nightmares, fatigue, confusion and tremors. Today, much more is understood about the psychological effects of experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event and how this can result in PTSD.
Post-traumatic stress disorder can affect an individual after any type of traumatic event, including a car accident, act of violence, explosion, serious injury or assault. It stems from the brain’s reaction to the intensity of being bombarded with a fight-or-flight response during a traumatic event – resulting in feelings of helplessness that can manifest as panic, anxiety, and various physical and emotional symptoms.
Signs of PTSD From Sexual Trauma
Sex crimes such as child molestation, sexual harassment, rape, attempted rape or forced sexual contact can have an extreme psychological impact on a victim. Many survivors experience signs of PTSD in the aftermath of a traumatic event such as sexual abuse or assault. Some statistics show that up to 94 percent of women who are raped experience symptoms of PTSD in the two weeks following the attack.
Signs and symptoms of PTSD from sexual abuse can include:
- Physical effects, such as nausea, body aches, headaches or fatigue.
- Flashbacks, intrusive thoughts or unwanted memories of the sexual assault.
- Nightmares, trouble sleeping or insomnia.
- Distrust or difficulty forming personal relationships with others.
- Emotional avoidance, or blocking out thoughts or feelings of the traumatic event.
- Loss of interest or pleasure in favorite activities and hobbies.
- Chronic anxiety, fear and hypervigilance to your surroundings.
- Changes in how you feel about yourself, including guilt, shame and low self-esteem.
- Depression or difficulty feeling joy, satisfaction or positive emotions.
PTSD from sexual trauma can have long-term effects, including chronic pain, physical health declines, depression and anxiety, decreased success in school or a job, and trouble developing and maintaining relationships. In severe cases, PTSD from sexual assault can lead to self-destructive behaviors, including eating disorders, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts or tendencies, and self-harm.
Treatment for PTSD After Sexual Abuse or Violence
Post-traumatic stress disorder from sexual abuse or assault can last for many years without treatment. Is critical for survivors who are suffering from PTSD due to sexual trauma to get the professional help that they need. Healing is possible with the correct treatments and resources, which may include:
- Trauma-focused therapy
- Cognitive processing therapy (“talk therapy”)
- Prolonged-exposure therapy
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing
- Medications, such as to combat anxiety or depression
- Self-care and coping techniques, such as journaling
- Support groups for sexual abuse survivors
Help is available for survivors of sexual assault and abuse. Seeking justice with assistance from a sexual assault lawyer can result in financial compensation for related medical care, therapies or lost wages. A survivor may also be entitled to financial compensation for pain and suffering, including PTSD.