Survivor Information

Sexual Assault Survivor Information

All Amherst College policies and procedures related 
to sexual misconduct are currently under review. 
See our Sexual Respect and Title IX site for more information.


Sexual assault is a violent crime, which is traumatic and life-changing for those who survive it. This horrific experience may affect you in numerous ways, but it does not define who you are. You are much more than simply "a rape victim." You are a friend, lover, daughter or son, sister or brother, mother or father. You are an individual with strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, interests and hobbies, goals and dreams. The sexual assault may have pushed some of this to the back burner for now, but it did not erase these important aspects of who you are.

It is absolutely critical for you to realize that it is not your fault that you were sexually assaulted. You may be questioning some of your decisions just prior to the assault. Survivors often beat themselves up with "what if's," and "if only's." Judging yesterday's actions with today's information is a crazy-making approach to life. The first step toward healing is forgiving yourself for any real or imagined mistakes. You did not deserve to be sexually assaulted. You did not ask to be sexually assaulted. It is not your fault that you were sexually assaulted.

Reactions To Sexual Assault:

Every survivor responds in her or his unique way. The following are things which assault survivors have reported experiencing after sexual assault. Some of these may be similar to your experience, while others might be completely different. Sexual assault typically affects survivors on four levels - physical, emotional, cognitive, and social.

Some Potential Physical Reactions

  • Soreness/physical injuries
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Appatite disturbance/eating disorder
  • Muscular tension
  • Nightmares
  • Somatic illness (headache, back pain, diarrhea, ulcer)
  • What if I hadn't...?
  • Will others hate me?
  • If I forget about it, maybe it will go away
  • I deserved it because...
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Confusion
  • Loss of memory for part of the assault
  • Flashbacks - reliving the experience, triggered by sights, sounds, smells, tastes, sensations, or experiences

Some Potential Emotional Reactions

  • Fear
  • Shock
  • Numbness
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Shame/Humiliation
  • Powerlessness
  • Guilt
  • Anger
  • Irritability
  • Mood Swings
  • Sadness
  • Feeling Vulnerable
  • Decreased Self-Esteem

Some Potential Cognative Reactions

  • What will people think?
  • Will they believe me?
  • Will they blame me?
  • Why did this happen to me?
  • What if I had done....
  • What if I hadn't...
  • Will others hate me?
  • If I forget about it, maybe it will go away
  • I deserved it because...
  • Difficulty Concentrating
  • Confusion
  • Loss of memory for part of the assault
  • Flashbacks-reliving the experience, triggered by sights, sounds, smells, tastes, sensations or experiences

Some Potential Impacts On Social Behavior

  • Withdrawl
  • Afraid to be alone
  • Uncomfortable around other people
  • Difficulty trusting others
  • Afraid to leave home
  • Difficulty relaxing
  • Disruption in sexual relations
  • Hypersensitivity in relating to others
  • Difficulty/apprehension areound men, especially if they resemble the assailant

If you are experiencing some of these things following a sexual assault, it is important to know that these are normal reactions. It doesn't mean that you are "crazy" or "losing it." It does mean, however, that you are going through a difficult and traumatic experience. This is something that you should not deal with alone.

Reactions of Significant Others

Sexual assault is traumatic, not only for the person assaulted, but for her or his family and friends as well. The following are common initial reactions to learning of the sexual assault:

  • Anger - There is sometimes a tendency to blame the victim for the
    assault. This may be due to a belief in myths, such as women "ask
    for it" or that rape is primarily a sexual act rather than a violent
    crime. A friend or family member may express anger at you
    although they know intellectually that it was not your fault. Anger
    may also be directed at the assailant. Men who are close to you
    may feel it is their duty to seek revenge. They may be so tied up in
    anger that they are not able to be supportive to you. This may be
    because it is easier for some men to express anger than to
    express sadness.
  • Guilt - Some people close to you may blame themselves, thinking
    they could have done something to protect you. This is particularly
    true of husbands, wives, or parents. Even young children have
    expressed some guilt. Children close to you may understand more
    than you would suppose. Not telling them doesn't mean they aren't
  • Fear - Someone close to you may suddenly feel very vulnerable;
    they are facing the fact that this could happen to them also.
  • Embarrassment - It may be embarrassing for them to have to
    explain and to answer questions from acquaintances. It may even
    be embarrassing for them to have to hear about the assault.
  • Confusion - They may not know how to help. They may not have a
    clear idea of what rape is and how it affects people.
  • Rejection - You may not be able to handle close relationships.
    Intimate relationships, particularly, may scare you or be difficult.
    Boyfriend/girlfriend, husband/wife, or friends may feel shut out.

Most significant others, after their initial shock and anger, become supportive of the survivor. As the reality of the assault begins to sink in, most family and friends are able to shift their focus from their own pain, to that of their loved one who has been sexually assaulted. They can be a tremendous source of support and encouragement for the sexual assault survivor.

Taking Care of Yourself

Nancy Rich, M.A. of Trauma Management Consultants offers the following suggestions for feeling more whole after a traumatic experience:

  • Within the first 24 - 48 hours, periods of strenuous physical
    exercise alternated with relaxation will alleviate some of your
    physical reactions.
  • Structure your time--keep busy.
  • You're normal and having normal reactions--don't label
    yourself crazy.
  • Talk to people--talk is the most healing medicine.
  • Beware of numbing the pain with drugs or alcohol. You don't
    need to complicate this with a substance abuse problem.
  • Reach out--people care.
  • Keep your lives as normal as possible.
  • Spend time with others.
  • Help those around you as much as possible by sharing
    feelings and checking out how they are doing.
  • Give yourself permission to feel rotten.
  • Keep a journal--write your way through those sleepless
  • Do things that feel good to you.
  • Realize that those around you are under stress.
  • Accept offered help.
  • The nutrition Almanac recommends supplementing your diet
    with Vitamin C, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B6, Calcium and
    Magnesium when under stress

Reprinted from “Survivor Information” @
1/6/02 by Amherst College Peer Advocate Program



If You Need to Talk to Someone

The University of Massachusetts Center for Women & Community provides confidential rape crisis counseling to men and women, 24 hours a day, at (413) 545-0800.


See the Sexual Respect and Title IX website for additional contacts and more information.