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The Impact of Sexual Violence

Many survivors of sexual violence experience long term effects, which may affect many aspects of their lives. All of these effects are adaptations to a very abnormal situation (the sexual violence) and many arise out of the survivor’s best attempts to cope with an impossibly stressful situation. Survivors of childhood sexual abuse may develop patterns of coping that are carried into adulthood resulting in behaviors that no longer serve the best interests of the survivor and may, in fact, get in the way of experiencing satisfaction in life. This list may help you to see connections between your experience of sexual violence and some impacts on your life:

Physical Symptoms

  • Headaches/migraines
  • Abdominal or back pain
  • Chronic muscle tension
  • Chronic fatigue

Eating Disorders

  • Loss of appetite
  • Bulimia/anorexia/obesity

Substance Abuse

  • Prescribed psychoactive medication
  • Illegal substances and alcohol

Sleep Pattern Disturbances

  • Restless sleep/insomnia
  • Nightmares/night terrors
  • Sleep paralysis

Sexual Difficulties

  • Avoidance of sexual intimacy
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Sexual compulsiveness/addiction
  • Offender behaviour

Parenting Problems

  • Over of under protective
  • Over or under controlling

Self Esteem

  • Poor self image
  • Poor body image
  • Feelings of worthlessness

Suicidal Thoughts

  • Suicidal thoughts/urges
  • Suicide attempts

Self Injury

  • Accident prone
  • Desire to self mutilate
  • Self mutilation, self hitting, etc.

Fear and Anxiety

  • Fear of abandonment/isolation
  • Generalized fear of men/women
  • Panic attacks/anxiety attacks
  • Phobias, i.e. agoraphobia

Dissociative Experiences

  • Memory lapses/blackouts
  • Flashbacks
  • Spacing out
  • Distorted sense of reality
  • Amnesia

Emotional Difficulties

  • Depression
  • Guilt/shame/self blame
  • Anger/rages
  • Inappropriate emotional expression
  • Flattened affect (numbing)
  • Crying/sadness/feelings of helplessness

Distorted Beliefs

  • Everything is my fault
  • No one can be trusted
  • I am inherently shameful/bad

Relationship Problems

  • Poor interpersonal boundaries
  • Attraction to abusive partners
  • Lack of assertiveness
  • Neediness and/or distancing
  • Addiction to conflict/drama