Reactions to Rape

Being raped or sexually abused is a traumatic experience.  The effects of trauma may manifest themselves either immediately after the attack or as is frequently the case, sometime long afterwards.

What kind of reactions do people have to trauma?

When a person has experienced a shocking, unexpected or traumatic incident they are likely to develop deep emotional and physical shock or stress. These reactions are normal, but will be very unique, personal and individual.

Here are some typical reactions that people can experience after a trauma:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizzy spells/funny turns
  • Headaches
  • Hyperactivity
  • Increased, rapid heartbeat
  • Little desire to do anything
  • Sweating
  • Tension in the muscles
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Tiredness & exhaustion
  • Unsteady breathing

Other physical pains

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Guilt
  • Insecurity
  • Irritability
  • Loss in self-confidence or concentration
  • Moodiness
  • Nightmares
  • Panic attacks
  • Poor memory
  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Development of habits
  • Impulsiveness
  • Increased smoking and/or drinking
  • Nail biting
  • Non-stop talking
  • Personal neglect
  • Twitches, tapping fingers, etc.
  • Workaholism, or not turning up to work

The human brain is rational and intuitive.  When you are exposed to danger or traumatic events, the intuitive side takes over.  It does what it needs to do to survive.  The brain has five instinctive reactions:

  • Fight
  • Flight
  • Freeze
  • Flop
  • Be-friend

Your mind will choose the reaction that is most likely to lead to survival and the least harm.  It doesn’t think about how you will feel after.  During rape or abuse, the first two options often aren’t possible.  They may lead to further physical or mental harm from the abuser.  The last three options are very common as they expose the survivor to the least danger.

If there is a safe outcome (survival), the brain learns to use that reaction again.  Sometimes, this response can be used repeatedly to less and less risky situations.  This can lead to a heightened state of awareness of risk, or to a feeling of numbness.

The hormones released during these processes can also affect the part of your brain that is responsible for memory.  This can become too much and stop you from being able to access memories or associate them with a time or a place.

Further information on:

Trauma responses– Behaviour can be found here.

Trauma responses – Thoughts can be found here.


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