The immediate effects a victim may experience include shock, confusion, numbness, fear, anger, withdrawal, self-blame, guilt, shame, and denial. In the following weeks, victims often experience intense and unpredictable emotions, nightmares, flashbacks, difficulty sleeping, problems concentrating, feeling unsafe, and isolating from family and friends. Some victims may have great difficulty functioning in their daily life. Others cope by blocking their memories and feelings. Many cling to a semblance of normality as a way to deny the impact of their experience.
In the months following a rape, victims often have symptoms of depression or traumatic stress. They are more likely to abuse alcohol or drugs to control their symptoms. Nearly one-third have thoughts of suicide, and approximately 17% actually attempt suicide. Thirty-percent of victims will go on to develop Major Depressive or Post-traumatic Stress Disorders in their lifetime. Long-term negative effects on sexuality and the ability to form or maintain trusting relationships are common.
You may have noticed I have avoided gender pronouns. Although we most often think of females as rape victims, males are also victimized (estimates range from 10%- 20%). The effects on male victims are similar to those on female victims, but they are more likely to experience intense anger and aggression. They are also less likely to tell anyone about their experience or to seek help. Because the vast majority of offenders are men, it is not uncommon for male victims to question their own sexual orientation after the event.
It is essential for rape victims to seek help from mental health professionals with specialized training and experience. Rape crisis centers throughout the U.S. offer immediate support and counseling to help victims recover. You can search for a center in your community through RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network). You can also call their hotline 1.800.656.HOPE, or speak to someone online for information and support. The following video explains how the hotlines work and the kind of help available at rape crisis centers.