Know the Signs

Every survivor of sexual assault or rape has a unique response to the trauma. However, it is common that when a sexual assault occurs, a survivor may initially be in shock and/or may have a hard time processing what happened to him or her. Additionally, a person may experience an array of overwhelming feelings such as fear, shame and guilt for what has happened.

Physical signs indicating that a person might have recently been sexually assaulted or raped include bruising, bleeding (vaginal or anal), difficulty walking, soreness or broken or dislocated bones. However, not all sexual assaults or rapes cause visible injuries. Injuries can often be internal, such as internal bleeding or sexually transmitted diseases and/or infections. And there might not be any injuries at all after an incident of violence or abuse.

To learn more about the effects of sexual assault and rape on physical, mental and emotional health, click here.

The signs can also vary depending on the context of the assault and the person who has experienced the assault. The overall impact of sexual assault also depends on the individual’s natural reactions to stress and ways of coping with stressful situations. Other factors can include age at which the trauma occurred, previous exposure to unrelated traumatic incidents and extent of therapy or timing of intervention.

Someone who has experienced a pattern of sexual violence over a long period of time may have developed alternate coping mechanisms, whereas someone who experienced one incident might have a completely different reaction.

Universal signs that someone has been sexually assaulted can include trust issues. In some cases, a survivor may have difficulty trusting others. Being sexually assaulted can cause a survivor to have a general distrust in others and possibly experience difficulty in maintaining relationships. In some cases, a survivor may not be able to tell who can be trustworthy and instead, create a fantasy in which everyone can be trusted.

Survivors may also remove themselves from their community and loved ones, and can demonstrate changes in behavior such as outbursts of anger or disproportionate reactions.

Although there are no definitive characteristics that can help identify a perpetrator, there are some red flags that can alert us to the abusive behavior:

  • Using derogatory sexual terms
  • Sexually harassing others
  • Exhibiting an aggressive demeanor
  • Seeing and treating others as sexual objects

If you or someone you know has experienced a recent or past abuse, you could still be experiencing symptoms of trauma. To read more about effects of sexual assault and rape, click here.

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