Health Library

Coping With the Aftermath of Rape

IMAGE Terry could not believe it had happened. It did not seem real. She trembled as she sat in the rape trauma center. The prior night, she had been raped in her apartment. The man who did it was someone she thought was a friend. Like other people who have been raped, Terry faced many decisions.

Rape: One of Many Types of Sexual Assault

Rape is forced penetration or intercourse. It is one of many types of sexual assault. Sexual assault is any type of sexual activity that you do not want or agree to. It includes:

  • Rape
  • Attempted rape
  • Unwanted sexual touching
  • Being forced to do sexual things to others
  • Someone having sex with a child—or sexually touching a child
  • Non-contact sexual behaviors, such as
    • Being watched while naked or having sex
    • Having someone expose their genitals
  • Unwanted sexual contact from a family member

Sexual assault can happen in many types of situations. It can happen on a date or with someone you do not know at all. It can even happen with a sexual partner.

If You Have Been Raped

The first step is to go to a safe place. Next, call the police to report the crime—if you decide to do so. Then call someone who you trust, like a close family member or friend. You can also call a rape hotline for support and guidance.

It is important to have evidence from the crime. Because of this, you should NOT:

  • Take a shower
  • Clean any part of your body
  • Comb your hair
  • Change your clothes
  • Touch anything from the place where the rape happened

Take care of yourself by going to the hospital. Many hospitals treat rape survivors without payment up front. They may do this even if you have no health insurance. You will be checked and treated for injuries and sexually transmitted diseases. Women may also be checked for pregnancy.

You will likely have blood tests and a pelvic exam and swab. During the exam, evidence will also be collected. This includes hairs, semen, saliva, clothing, and fibers. These may help the police find the person who did this.

Deciding Whether to Report the Rape

There are many decisions to make after being sexually assaulted. Do you want to report the crime? Do you want to prosecute the person who did this to you? Others can help you know what to expect if you report the crime. Counselors can help you make these decisions. So can other people who have been sexually abused.

You may choose to report the rape. Your reasons may be to:

  • Punish the rapist
  • Protect others from being raped
  • Feel stronger and less like a victim

For many reasons, you may choose not to report the crime. You may not feel confident in the police or the courts. Or the rapist may have said he would harm you or a loved one if you reported it. You may also feel many emotions, like guilt and shame.You may not want to share this traumatic event with others.

Dealing With the Effects

Rape is a traumatic event. It can have a huge effect on your life. It is common to feel confused, scared, guilty, numb, angry, or sad. You may feel like withdrawing from others. You may have problems focusing, making decisions, and sleeping. It may be hard for you to talk about it.

During the first few months after the rape, you may have:

  • Self-protective behaviors—such as changing your phone number or address
  • Nightmares
  • Phobias, such as:
    • Fear of being indoors or outdoors —this may depend on where the rape happened
    • Fear of being alone
    • Fear of crowds
    • Fear of being followed
    • Sexual fears
  • Problems in relationships—especially with your partner
  • Physical symptoms—such as headaches, problems sleeping, or loss of hunger

Sometimes rape leads to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is an anxiety disorder. Symptoms may include:

  • Having nightmares over and over
  • Flashbacks of the rape
  • Withdrawal from others
  • Nervousness
  • Depression
  • Problems feeling any emotions

Moving Toward Recovery

Recovering from rape can be long and difficult. Be patient with yourself. Each person has their own way of coping and healing. Some people want to carry on with their routine. Others need to take time off from work and other duties. Here are some things you can do to help yourself heal.

Seek Support From Family and Friends

Seek supportive people. They can offer comfort without blame or control. It is good to have a mix of support people. They can help you in various ways. For example, some people are good at dealing with intense emotions. Others may be good at helping with tasks or childcare.

Consider Counseling

A rape crisis center can be a good source of support for you. These centers usually have a hotline. You can call for information and guidance. Some offer therapy, support groups, and other help. You can also find a therapist who works with people who have been sexually assaulted. Rape can trigger many difficult feelings. Counseling is important to help you recover.

Try a Support Group

Look for a sexual assault support group. These groups help victims feel less alone and less shame. Group members are at different stages of healing. They share their experiences, coping methods, and progress.

After rape, you may feel that your life has changed forever. As you get better, you will think less and less about the rape. It will no longer rule your emotions. As you set and reach goals, your life will move forward.

Resources

Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network
http://www.rainn.org

Women's Health—US Department of Health and Human Services
http://www.womenshealth.gov

Canadian Resources

Mental Health Canada
http://www.mentalhealthcanada.com

Women's Health Matter
http://www.womenshealthmatters.ca

References

If you have been sexually assaulted. After Silence website. Available at: http://www.aftersilence.org/what-to-do.php. Accessed June 29, 2021.

Post-traumatic stress disorder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/posttraumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd. Accessed on June 29, 2021.

Recovering from rape and sexual trauma. HelpGuide website. Available at: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/ptsd-trauma/recovering-from-rape-and-sexual-trauma.htm. Accessed June 29, 2021.

Safety planning. Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network website. Available at: https://www.rainn.org/articles/safety-planning . Accessed June 29, 2021.

Sexual assault—emergency management. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/management/sexual-assault-emergency-management. Accessed June 29, 2021.

State crime victims compensation. Benefits.gov website. Available at: https://www.benefits.gov/benefit/4416. Accessed June 29, 2021.

  • EBSCO Medical Review Board
  • 202106
  • 20210629