Sexual assault is a gutting experience for survivors. Feelings of loss, anger, fear and confusion are all common in the wake of an assault. It is also common for people who have been sexually assaulted to experience PTSD — post-traumatic stress disorder.
Flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety and avoidance of circumstances or people that remind the survivor of the event are common symptoms of PTSD. These symptoms can dramatically interfere with a person’s quality of life following an assault.
A recent meta-analysis of assault survivors’ recoveries offers a clear picture of the typical PTSD trajectory most experience over the first year following sexual assault. The findings, by University of Washington researchers, reflect the experience of more than 2,100 assault survivors and the findings from 22 studies.
Recovery followed a bell curve. Eighty-one percent of survivors had symptoms of PTSD one week after the assault. By the time PTSD can officially be diagnosed at one month post-incident, 75 percent of assault survivors met the diagnostic criteria for PTSD. After three months, 54 percent of people still met the criteria for PTSD, while after one year that number fell to 41 percent.
The CDC estimates that each act of assault costs $122,461 in lost productivity, medical costs and criminal justice expenses.
Sexual assault is a public health crisis. According to RAINN, every 68 seconds an American is sexually assaulted. Every year over 400,000 Americans are raped or assaulted. The CDC estimates that each act of assault costs $122,461 in lost productivity, medical costs and criminal justice expenses.
Researchers hope that this study can be used to help mental health professionals develop more effective recovery tools to enable survivors to overcome the lasting effects of trauma. The team, led by Emily Dworkin of the University of Washington School of Medicine, is working on a smartphone app that guides survivors to supportive resources and may help them overcome their PTSD symptoms earlier.
No matter how long ago an assault has taken place, Dworkin believes it’s always worth seeking help if PTSD symptoms are interfering with your quality of life. Both cognitive processing therapy and prolonged exposure therapy have been shown to reduce PTSD symptoms.
“We hope this will give survivors and clinicians a sense of what to expect and convey some hope.”
“One of the main takeaways is that the majority of recovery from post-traumatic stress happens in the first three months,” said Dworkin, in a statement. “We hope this will give survivors and clinicians a sense of what to expect and convey some hope.”
This research shows that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for sexual assault survivors. The first three months are often the most difficult, but it is common to struggle with PTSD symptoms for the first year or even longer following an assault. If you or a loved one are dealing with the aftermath of a sexual assault, hope and help are available. Talk to a trusted loved one and find a professional trained to assist victims of assault. RAINN's sexual assault hotline is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-656-4673.
This study is published in the journal Trauma.