FAQs for Women

Who can be a perpetrator of female sexual assault?

Anyone can be a perpetrator. Rape and sexual assault can be committed by someone the victims knows or by strangers. You can also be raped or sexually assaulted by a partner or someone you are in a relationship with.

What are the typical reactions during or after a sexual assault or rape?

Sexual assault can be a traumatic experience.

Reactions during an assault

People often say that if they were assaulted they would fight back or run away. But, in fact, most people do not. Their automatic reaction is to freeze and not do anything. This is because they do not believe this can be happening to them; they are frightened they might get injured or killed if they resist; and/or they feel completely helpless. If this happened to you, it does not mean that you agreed to the assault. You were trying to survive the ordeal.

Your attacker may have frightened or threatened you. Or you may have been drunk, drugged, unconscious or asleep at the time.

It is possible for people to have a physical (sexual) response. This is an involuntary body reaction which can be very confusing. If this happened to you, it does not mean that you wanted to be assaulted or enjoyed the experience.

Reactions immediately after an assault

Immediately after a rape or sexual assault you may feel numbed and shocked. You may be very anxious, upset and tearful. You may laugh uncontrollably, talk a lot, shout, cry or be tense and restless. Or you may be very calm and not want to say what happened. It is also common for people to talk about the attack as if it happened to someone else, you can disassociate to help you cope with the trauma. You may also feel upset at times and yet in control on other occasions.

If you have not been fully aware of an assault you may feel confused and disoriented.

The way you react can be affected by various fears including:

  • Fear that you will not be believed
  • Fear that in some way this was your fault
  • Fear about how your friends and family will react
  • Fear for your safety and that it might happen again
  • Fear that people can tell what has happened by looking at you
  • Fear of sexually transmitted infections including HIV.
  • Fear of being pregnant

You may feel some or all of the following immediately after an assault:

  • Numb
  • Helpless or powerless
  • Physically sore – you might not know which parts of your body were hurt and you need medical attention
  • Confused about the detail of what happened
  • Unable to concentrate
  • Unable to sleep or that you want to sleep all the time
  • Sick or unable to eat (particularly if the attack was oral) or that you want to binge
  • The need to forget what happened and block out feelings by using alcohol or drugs
  • The need to wash constantly as you feel dirty
  • Shame, embarrassment and anger
  • Guilt

These symptoms may continue for some time and they may include flashbacks, nightmares, addictions and many of the above but they can reduce and you can learn different ways to contain the thoughts through support services including counselling.

Moving on

The important thing to remember is that there is support for you, through many different pathways – you can call the The Rowan Helpline on 0800 389 4424 or look at the Contacts section of the site to get in touch with one of the many organisations that you can talk to in confidence.

People adapt to difficult and traumatic experiences in different ways. You may wonder if you will ever recover from a sexual assault. People do, in the same way that they recover from other forms of loss. But it may change the way you see the world, and it may take time to come to terms with it. You may need help at different times to cope with practical, health or emotional issues.

Some people tell no one and find a way of carrying on with their lives as if nothing happened. But many people say that talking to someone helped them. Talking to someone early on can prevent longer-term problems.

Our information leaflet provides details about our Centre and will hopefully answer some of the more general questions you may have. 

If you think you might harm yourself, seek help immediately. You should:

  • Call 999
  • Call Lifeline on 0808 808 8000 For Deaf and hard of hearing, dial 18001 0808 808 8000
  • Get someone to take you to your local emergency department
  • Discuss your suicidal thoughts with your doctor – talk about ways to keep yourself safe. Ask your GP or Lifeline about help for suicidal thoughts
  • Call the Samaritans Helpline on 116 123