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Although there is no ‘normal’ or correct way to respond to sexual violence, many survivors experience major impacts to some aspect of their lives. Sometimes these impacts also affect friends and whanau.

Ministry of Women’s Affairs research found that survivors experienced a number of different impacts including:

Physical health

Including disruptions to sleep, such as insomnia and nightmares

Physical ailments, such as migraines, auto-immune diseases, gynaecological issues, digestive problems, and eating problems.

Personal and social wellbeing

Such as, changes in personality, withdrawing socially, becoming isolated and reclusive, feeling unable to sustain a social life as well as alcohol or substance use/abuse.

Mental and emotional health

Including generalised feelings of fear and anxiety and also feeling anxious or afraid about specific events, such as the perpetrator returning.

Depression; flashbacks; anger, dissociation; self-harming behaviours; and symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Intimacy and relationships

Impacts on intimacy and relationships included, a loss of trust in men, confusion around sexuality, a feeling of loss of safety which affected everyday relationships and communication.

Other impacts included:

Disruptions to work and study patterns, loss of motivation, reduced concentration, overworking to distract from feelings, a loss of self-esteem and confidence, increase in self-doubt, self-blame and self-hatred.

Impacts on supporters

Research also indicates that non-perpetrator family members, partners, friends and children of victim/survivors are affected by a sexual assault and its aftermath. Studies have found that intimate partners of victim/survivors may experience secondary trauma as a result of the sexual assault of their partner.

Similar studies suggest that friends also play a crucial role in supporting survivors, and the effects of the sexual assault on these individuals can also be profound. Following the experience of sexual violence on a family member or loved one, supporters may experience considerable emotional distress and other physical and psychological impacts that can disrupt their lifestyles and family structures. Read more about secondary victimisation here.