Common Reactions to Rape

sadwoman2After a sexual assault, it is normal to experience a range of emotions.


Additionally, a person may experience one emotion one day and the opposite reaction the next. For example, a survivor may feel the desire to isolate and be alone, but later fear being left alone.

No matter when the sexual assault occurred–if it happened a day ago or ten years ago–it is never too late to get support. Rape crisis advocates at The Blue Bench are available 24/7 at 303-322-7273. Please see the Referrals page for more information on where to go for help.

Listed below are some common reactions to sexual assault. Because everyone reacts to trauma differently, it is important to remember that reactions listed and not listed are both normal.


Frozen Fright: During a sexual assault, some people “freeze” or “tense up” and are unable to move. This is physiological response that our bodies use to survive a life threatening situation and is completely normal.


Dissociation: this occurs during trauma when the mind tries to separate from the trauma occurring on the body. During an assault, a victim may dissociate by focusing on the details of a wallpaper pattern or reciting poems in their head. After an assault, many people report feeling that they are in a dream-like state.


Memory Loss: sometimes victims are unable to recall specific events of the assault or are unable to recall the events in a time sequential order. This is because our brains function differently under trauma, and often this can be misconstrued by some to mean the victim isn’t telling the truth.


Denial: victims may have a hard time believing that the assault occurred. Sometimes people report that the assault “felt like a dream,” or that it couldn’t have really been rape.


Shock: victims often appear to be calm and collected and are able continue with their day-to-day lives as if nothing happened. Sometimes outsiders misinterpret this behavior to mean that the victim made up the sexual assault. It is important to remember that this often is not the case, and a victim’s ability to “go on with life” could really mean that they are in a state of shock and disbelief.


Guilt/Self-blame: a person may blame themselves for causing the assault because of their behaviors before or during the attack. They may also minimize the assault as not a “real” rape, because they felt responsible. Remember, no matter what a person did or didn’t do was right because they survived, and the only person who is responsible for rape is the rapist.


Withdrawal: a person may isolate from others as well as stop engaging in activities they once enjoyed.


Change in sexual activity: a person may abstain from sexual activity altogether or seek sexual encounters as a way to try to “forget” the assault.


Destructive behaviors: some may use drugs or alcohol to cope with the assault. Others may engage in self-harm (i.e. cutting) or develop eating disorders.


More common reactions:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Decreased self-esteem/self-worth
  • Numbness
  • Mood swings
  • Muscle tension
  • Fear of being alone or leaving home
  • Hopelessness
  • Shame
  • Difficulty concentrating