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The aftermath of a sexual assault may leave an individual feeling shocked, isolated, guilty, disorientated, and anxious amongst many other feelings. Rape is a severe defilement of personal boundaries which has the potential to shatter and individual’s sense of self-worth.

It is an extremely delicate situation where one needs to treat the individual with nothing more than unconditional love, respect and dignity. There is a significant amount of research which indicates that when an individual discloses a sexual assault and it is not handled well. This leaves the individual feeling betrayed and ashamed. That experience is then used as a ‘template’, if you will, for any other potential disclosures to others. Hence, the individual might learn not to disclose certain experiences as they will think that it will only be received with judgement, and shame.

It is quite common that individuals who experience a sexual assault do not want to discuss the experience, even within a secure relationship. This is done in order to try to bury it and disown it as an experience. Disclosing a sexual assault may also re-victimise the individual, in which the individual re-lives the trauma which happened years ago. Re-victimisation can expose the individual to re-experiencing the assault, which may elicit symptoms such as; anxiety, disorientation, insomnia, eating issues, self-harm, suicidal ideation, and dissociation amongst others.

In essence, it is understandable and it serves to protect the individual if they would not like to bring up a previous sexual assault which occurred in the past. However, there are also some downfalls of such a decision not to inform a partner about the incident. The fact that there is something which a partner is hiding may cause some emotional distance within a couple as the individual would never fully trust their partner. This emotional distance can be interpreted as many things by the other partner which might leave the couple feeling disinterested in each other due to this emotional blockage between them. It would be recommended to speak to a mental health practitioner if one is experiencing these issues in order to process the impact of the sexual assault and to explore the way forward.

Check out my blog “4 interventions you can do to help someone who discloses a sexual assault.” to find out what you can do if someone discloses a sexual assault to you.

References:

  • Rees, S., Simpson, L., McCormack, C. A., Moussa, B., & Amanatidis, S. (2019). Believe #metoo: sexual violence and interpersonal disclosure experiences among women attending a sexual assault service in Australia: a mixed-methods study. BMJ open, 9(7), e026773. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2018-026773

Karl Grech is a counsellor. He offers counselling to both individuals and couples within Willingness. He can be contacted on karl@willingness.com.mt or call us on 79291817.