There are many manifestations of trauma in the aftermath of sexual assault. Maybe you are hypervigilant and perform “room checks” wherever you are so you know where the nearest exit is. Maybe you can’t stand physical touch, even from a trusted loved one. Or maybe you struggle with feeling like “damaged goods” and have sex frequently as a result of unresolved trauma.
We wanted to know what things sexual assault survivors do that people in their lives don’t realize are tied to the assault. To open up this discussion, we asked our Mighty community to share one thing they do because of a past sexual assault.
Whatever way your trauma manifests, we want you to know you aren’t alone, and you deserve the help and support you need to heal. If you or a loved one needs immediate help, please call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.
Here’s what our community shared with us:
- “I get creepy vibes off of pretty much every man I meet. I assume they’re looking at me like I’m a sexual object and thinking about what they want to do to me. It’s a daily struggle for me between wearing clothes I think are cute and clothes that won’t draw the male gaze.” — Stephanie M.
- “Something people don’t realize I’m doing is I’m not really affectionate. I’ve noticed that whenever I’m in a relationship, over-coddling makes me unbelievably uncomfortable. I also am extremely closed off, and I always say, ‘I like being single,’ but in reality, I’m just a nervous wreck over relationships because I don’t trust people. I also realized that’s why I prefer online relationships. Because whenever I’ve had something physical, I freak out. Online, I can show emotion without physical contact.” — Sloane S.
- “I flinch a lot. Even if it’s my husband or my 6-year-old. And I just automatically spew, ‘Don’t touch me.’ It could be a hug or just a light brush against my arm or something. It sucks having to explain to your kid, ‘Hey, Mommy doesn’t like to be touched.’“ — Joleen R.
- “I’m very hypervigilant! Which for me means I’m spatially aware. But also aware of people around me. Whether it be how close we are, or rather how close they are to me in a small space. I don’t drive, so I walk a lot. I look behind me to ‘check if someone is following me’ because it could be him. When entering anywhere, but especially a new place, I mentally mark all exits, cameras and number of people in the structure. Quickly. Whether it be at a restaurant or a concert, I have this yearning for constant safety.” — Allie H.
- “My husband showers with me. Most people would think of it as intimacy, but it isn’t. He showers with me to help keep me from having flashbacks in the shower. After I was assaulted, I stayed under the water until it ran cold. “ — Moon N.
- “I go through promiscuous phases and sext multiple men and sleep with them on a whim’s notice, cheating on my spouse. I do this to gain back the power that men believe they have over me. My thinking is that I then have the power in the connection.” — Shari S.
- “I can’t talk (talk meaning dirty talk or letting him know if I’m hurting or getting uncomfortable) to my partner during intercourse so sometimes I just completely shut down and he doesn’t understand why I can’t just talk to him.” — Tiffany W.
- “Cross my arms and stand away from people. I have very defensive body language and don’t near people easily. I don’t like when anyone touches me in any way. I’ll jerk away unintentionally.” — Antasia H.
- “I stop myself from enjoying sex too much. I’ve never had an orgasm because as soon as I feel that it feels too good I stop whatever the guy’s doing and change it to something that’s pleasurable, but not too much.” — Kat R.
- “I gained a lot of weight. I kept it for many years. I thought if I was fat, no one would want me. I was raped my first year of college when I had finally gotten to healthy weight for the first time in my life. I equated me looking healthy with being attractive to my attacker. The less attractive, the less likely I was to be raped again. I lived with obesity for the next 15 years… The last two years I finally changed it all and got healthy again. This is my life. I want it back.” — Cassie B.
- “Being promiscuous. People assume someone who has been assaulted would struggle with having sex, or not want to at all, but for many people it is the opposite. I don’t completely understand why this is, but I know part of it is because I felt like I was ‘damaged goods’ anyway, so why not? There’s no reason to preserve myself for someone special because I don’t believe anyone special would want me.” — Stacy A.
- “Because of my assault and no longer feeling safe, I don’t go anywhere without knowing where the exits are. I mark them in my mind when I walk in the room. I try to count how many men are in a room and which ones seem bigger or stronger than me. I try to park on the same aisle when I go to places like WalMart so if I had to make a quick escape, I know where my car is. I live with way more caution.” — Kindra L.
- “I don’t let anyone touch my head. No one can come near my head. I have a hard time getting haircuts even. I’ve had my head forcefully held during sexual assault… I come off as cold or someone who doesn’t like to be hugged. It’s because of assault and attempted assault though because a hug is near the head.” — Tracy B.
- “I always keep something on TV, radio, being on my phone because if not I panic … like really feel like my heart is going to go through my chest.” — Cindy M.
- “I do not drive. I have blackouts because I dissociate while driving. My friends don’t realize that my refusal to drive (I have a valid license) is because the car I drove that night is the one that I would have to drive. Driving is also a trigger no matter what car I try to drive.” — Moon N.
- “I sleep with my ankles crossed. I sit with my ankles crossed. It’s taken me a long time to be comfortable wearing baggy pants and skirts. I get violently defensive when people I haven’t explicitly given permission touch my hair. I very rarely get romantically involved with people and prefer to keep things at one night stands and the like.” — Amber R.
- “I wear a lot of jewelry or scarves around my neck because I’ll get anxious if it’s bare in public.” — Izzy D.
Related Video: Has Anything Changed as a Result of #MeToo?
If you are struggling with the aftermath of sexual assault, you’re not alone. Here are some stories that might help you in your healing process:
- 18 Songs That Have Helped Survivors Find Hope After Sexual Assault
- 5 Stages of Healing After Sexual Assault
- 12 Reminders for Sexual Assault Survivors