The most important thing to try to remember is that what happened is not your fault. Rape and sexual assault can happen to anyone and are always the perpetrator’s fault; they alone are responsible for their actions. Whatever the circumstances, however you behaved, whatever you said or did or drank, the person who raped or assaulted you chose to do that, and it was a violation of your body and your trust. You are not to blame.
How should I feel?
Being raped or sexually assaulted can be a very traumatic experience, and you may experience a range of different emotional responses. Different people have different reactions to rape or sexual assault – there is no ‘normal’ or ‘right’ way to react. You may feel:
- Different or strange
- In shock, dazed, or confused
- Shame or guilt
- Anger (at the perpetrators, others, or yourself)
These feelings might manifest in different ways: crying, shaking, laughter, physical sickness, exhaustion. Whatever you are feeling, and however you are reacting is valid; you do not need to justify or explain your response.
Questions some survivors have
What if I didn’t fight them off?
There’s no right or wrong way to respond to being raped or assaulted. It’s common for people to find that they ‘freeze’ when something very traumatic happens to them, and to find themselves unable to move or shout. It may also have felt safer for you to not fight back – moment by moment we all make decisions which are necessary to preserve and protect our personal safety. Being unable to fight someone off or not feeling able or safe to do so does not mean you agreed to what happened, or make you responsible for it.
I didn’t say “no”— is it my fault?
Consent means actively agreeing to do something with someone. Even if you didn’t say ‘no’, this doesn’t mean you consented. It may be helpful to think of consent as about ‘saying yes’ rather than just not ‘saying no’. It is the responsibility of the other person or people to make sure that you are happy with everything that goes on, not to assume that it is okay.
How long will it take me to get over it?
There is no set amount of time that it takes to come to terms with sexual violence – everyone is different. Many people find that there are days or weeks when they feel better, and days or weeks when they feel worse, which is natural, although it can be frustrating. It is important to try not to put pressure on yourself, and to give yourself as much time as you need. Some people find it helpful to seek out other survivors, as this helps them remember that others have similar experiences and worries.
What if I feel like I’m going mad?
It can be very confusing and scary trying to understand your feelings after a rape or sexual assault, but this does not mean that you are going ‘mad’ or ‘crazy’. Sexual violence can provoke a range of emotional responses, and these can feel overwhelming and take time to process. Writing down your thoughts or speaking to someone you trust about how you feel can sometimes help your feelings seem less overwhelming.
If you are frequently feeling depressed or anxious or are worried about your mental health, information about what you might want to consider doing is available on our page about mental health problems.
What should I do now?
The right thing to do in this situation is whatever feels right to you. If you want to talk about your options with someone who will listen without judging you or telling you what to do, you can get in touch with OSARCC.
Reporting or collecting evidence
It is entirely up to you whether you report any abuse to the police. You can report now, later, or not at all, and there is no ‘correct’ way to feel about it, or a ‘right’ thing to do – what is important is that you do what feels right for you. There is more information about what might happen on our page about reporting.
It’s also possible to go to a place called a Sexual Assault Referral Centre – you can refer yourself here to have evidence collected. There’s no obligation to pass the details on to the police, but it means the evidence is there if you do later decide that you want to make a report. SARCs can also offer you emergency medical care.
If you are physically injured, a GP or an Accident & Emergency (A&E) department in a hospital can help you without you needing to tell them any details of what has happened to you.
There is more information about this on the health and pregnancy page.
Although it can be difficult to think about immediately, if you have been raped or sexually assaulted you may also have contracted a sexually transmitted infection (STI). You can be tested at your local family planning or sexual health/GUM clinic without having to give any details about what has happened to you, or even your real name. Many GUM clinics, including the Oxfordshire service, are confidential, which means they won’t share information about your visit with anyone, including your GP. As some STIs are symptomless, it is important to think about getting tested.
There is more information about Oxfordshire’s sexual health clinics this on the health and pregnancy page. Contracting an STI is nothing to feel ashamed or embarrassed about, and many STIs can be easily treated. You can find more information about STIs on the NHS choices website.
Depending on what has happened to you, you may be at risk of becoming pregnant. If you are concerned about this then emergency contraception is available from your GP, family planning or sexual health clinic, or from a pharmacy (you will normally have to pay if you choose this option).
There is more information about this issue on the health and pregnancy page.