Sexual assault and survivors

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month; it’s only appropriate to explore the effects of sexual assault on that victim’s mental health. Individuals who have experienced sexual assault are three times more likely to develop a psychiatric disorder. These disorders include post-traumatic stress disorder, acute stress disorder, depression, eating disorders, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Sexual assault takes a huge toll on an individual’s sense of control. The individual will often experience a loss of control in their life. Naturally, this lack of control will have the individual looking for ways to find control in their life, and often taking strong measures to do so.

I am a survivor. Image from Tumblr.
I am a survivor. Image from Tumblr.

Sexual assault survivors can increase their chances of successful mental health recovery through a few simple measures. The first way is having a sexual assault crisis counselor (known as an emergency advocate) at the emergency room if the person decides to complete a rape kit. Studies have shown that having an emergency advocate — a third party specifically trained to comfort victims immediately after the assault — present greatly reduces the amount of time needed for mental health recovery after the event.

Another way victims can increase their chances of a successful recovery is by finding strength in a higher power. Other studies have shown that individuals who are more spiritual find themselves feeling less stressed. An individual’s loss of control can be re-found in the hands of a deity. The higher power can be seen as having control over life; therefore, the person can derive strength by thinking that the higher power is doing this in order to make the person stronger. This is a powerful tool.

A victim’s chance of a successful mental health recovery is also increased by seeking mental health counseling and support as soon after the event as possible. It’s important for an individual to feel loved and supported; without unconditional love and the support, an individual can start to feel alone and that will increase their chances of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

People who suffer through this aren’t asking for it. They aren’t being assaulted just because the perpetrator wants to spread disease. They are certainly not victims — they are survivors. If you’re looking for support or need to talk to someone about your experience, contact the Women’s Resource Center at (540) 639-9592 to make an appointment or (540) 639-1123 to reach their 24-hour crisis hotline. If you’d like more information on the impact of sexual assault on mental health, check out this fact sheet here.