Effects of Sexual Violence

The most immediate person affected by sexual violence is the victim/survivor, but the effects of sexual violence also go far beyond individual survivors, impacting their closest relationships as well as impacting communities and our society at large.

Impact on the survivor*

Each survivor reacts to sexual violence in their own unique way. Personal style, culture, and context of the survivor’s life may affect these reactions. Some express their emotions while others prefer to keep their feelings inside. Some may tell others right away what happened, others will wait weeks, months, or even years before discussing the assault, if they ever choose to do so. It is important to respect each person’s choices and style of coping with this traumatic event. Whether an assault was completed or attempted, and regardless of whether it happened recently or many years ago, it may impact daily functioning. A wide range of reactions can impact victims. Some common emotional, psychological and physical reactions follow.

Emotional Reactions

  • Guilt, shame, self-blame
  • Embarrassment
  • Fear, distrust
  • Sadness
  • Vulnerability
  • Isolation

Psychological reactions

  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Physical reactions

  • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Increased startle response
  • Concerns about physical safety
  • Lack of control
  • Anger
  • Numbness
  • Confusion
  • Shock, disbelief
  • Denial
  • Anxiety
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance use or abuse
  • Phobias
  • Low self esteem
  • Physical injury
  • Concerns about pregnancy or contracting an STI or HIV

Some health outcomes can be fatal such as suicide, homicide, maternal mortality and AIDS related deaths.

Impact on loved ones

When someone is a victim of sexual violence, it affects not only the survivor, but also all of the people around them. Sexual violence can affect many people in a victim/survivor’s life: parents, friends, partners, children, spouses, classmates and/or co-workers.

Part of what makes it so difficult for loved ones is not knowing what to say or do, but there are ways to offer constructive help as well as for you to get support.  In addition to the information below, RVA offers free confidential services to anyone who has been affected by sexual violence, including loved ones.

Let them know that you believe them

All too often, disclosure is met by skepticism or outright disbelief. Simply letting a survivor know that you believe them and that you stand behind them is meaningful. Remember that although you may be having a strong reaction to what happened, it’s important to focus on the feelings and reactions of the survivor rather than your own.

Allow the survivor to make his or her own decisions

This point can be very difficult, it can be very tempting to “take over” for a while in an attempt to help the survivor deal with the rape. It is important to remember that because of the rape, the survivor felt a loss of control over their life. Reestablishing that control is very important. Try to defer to a survivor’s decisions, even if they decide to let you make some decisions. Then at least that was their choice and not yours. If a survivor wants to talk, try to be an open listener. If they prefer not to talk about the assault, then try to be supportive in other ways, letting them know that you care about him/her and are willing to listen at a later time if so desired.

Educate yourself about the myths of rape

A great deal of harm is done, often unintentionally, to survivors because the people around them believe the myths that surround rape. Rape is never the fault of the survivor, but rather the fault of the rapist. Although this sounds like a simple, even obvious, fact, much of the misinformation that exists points to the victim as being responsible for the rape. Educating yourself allows you to provide informed, compassionate support.  Learn more about the most common myths about sexual violence. 

Be ready to listen

Being a willing listener, who acknowledges the feelings of a person, makes a significant positive impact. Sometimes it’s very useful to simply be with a person and create a safe silence. Non-judgmental support helps survivors tremendously as they recover from this traumatic event. If the victim/survivor you care about or you are in need of support, RVA provides counseling services free of charge.  You can also call the 24-hour Chicago Rape Crisis Hotline at any time at 1-888-293-2080.

Help RVA to help others

Your tax deductible donation to Rape Victim Advocates will help to continue providing services to victims/survivors of sexual violence and their loved ones.

Impact on communities**

As with any form of violence, sexual violence tears at the fabric of community well-being. Schools, workplaces, neighborhoods, campuses, and cultural or religious communities may feel fear, anger, or disbelief if a sexual assault happened in their community.

Additionally, there are financial costs to communities. These costs can include medical and mental health services, legal expenses, lost work time and productivity, theft and damage to property, and the incalculable lost contributions of individuals affected by sexual violence.

Although the economic costs of rape and sexual assault are hard to quantify and the data is limited, the existing research indicates that the costs are great.  Various research studies have examined the quantifiable cost per rape, accounting for such costs as medical and victim services, loss of productivity, and law enforcement resources.  Researchers also generally agree that intangible costs, such as decreased quality of life, though difficult to monetize, are also a necessary part of the cost calculus for sexual assault.  (Many researchers, in fact, believe the intangible costs are especially high in cases of sexual assault, due to the serious physical and mental health consequences for survivors.)  Each of the studies examined in the White House Council on Women and Girls 2014 Report Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action used a somewhat different methodology, but all found the costs to be significant –ranging from $87,000 to $240,776 per rape. (Miller, T.R., Cohen ,M.A. & Wiersema, B.(1996). Victim costs and consequences: A new look. National Institute of Justice.)

According to the U.S. Department of Justice (1996) the cost of crime to victims is an estimated $450 billion per year. Rape is the most costly to its victims, totaling $127 billion annually. According to the 1995 U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, sexual harassment alone cost the federal government an estimated $327 million in losses associated with job turnover, sick leave, and individual and group productivity among federal employees.

Fifty percent of rape victims lost or were forced to quit their jobs in the year following their rapes due to the severity of their reactions (Ellis, Atkeson & Calhoun, 1981). Scholars at Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health indicated that development of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is likely in 50 to 95 percent of rape cases (1999). Lifetime income loss, due to sexual violence in adolescence, is estimated at $241,600 (MacMillan, 2000).

In another study, the National Crime Victimization Survey found that between 2005-2010, 58% of female sexual assault victims were injured, 35% of whom received medical treatment.

For women who are raped by an intimate partner, about 36.2% are physically injured and, of those, 31% receive some type of medical care.  NCIPC (2003). Costs of Intimate Partner Violence Against Women in the United States. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 2003.  The injuries for intimate-partner rapes range from scratches, bruises, or welts to lacerations, broken bones, dislocated joints, head or spinal cord injuries, chipped or broken teeth, or internal injuries. (NCIPC 2003)  Nearly 80% of those who receive medical care are treated in a hospital, and 43.6% of those victims spend one or more nights there. (NCIPC 2003)

A 2003 CDC report on the costs of intimate partner violence found that the average medical cost for victims who received treatment was $2,084 per victimization. In half of these cases, private or group health insurers were the primary source of payment; survivors bore most of the financial burden one-fourth of the time. Many survivors incur at least some out-of-pocket costs for their medical care.

Also among intimate-partner rape survivors, more than one-fifth lose time from paid work, with an average loss of 8.1 days.  Additionally, over one-eighth report losing time from household chores, with an average of 13.5 days lost.  Nationally, rape survivors lose an estimated 1.1 million days of activity each year. (NCIPC 2003)

Together, we can help

A 2006 study found that when victims receive advocate assisted services following assaults, like the 24-hour crisis response RVA provides to 14 hospitals across Chicago, they receive more helpful information, referrals, and services and experience less secondary trauma or re-victimization by medical and legal systems (Campbell, 2006). Furthermore, the same study found that when advocates are present in the legal and medical proceedings following rape, victims fare better in both the short-and long-term, experiencing less psychological distress, physical health struggles, sexual risk-taking behaviors, self-blame, guilt, and depression. Rape survivors with advocates were 59% more likely to have police reports taken than survivors without advocates, whose reports were only taken 41% of the time.

Your support, too, makes a difference.  How you respond to a victim/survivor can positively impact their healing process.  In studies of sexual assault survivors, receiving social support has been associated with many positive outcomes, including positive life change and growth as well as reduced PTSD and depressive symptoms (Borja, Callahan, & Long, 2006; Filipas & Ullman, 2001; Schumm, Briggs-Phillips, & Hobfoll, 2006). Some of these studies found that the greater the amount of support survivors reported receiving, the fewer PTSD symptoms they had.


*Taken from Impact of Sexual Violence Fact Sheet, 2010, National Sexual Violence Resource Center

**Adapted from Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action, 2014, White House Council on Women and Girls Report, and Economic Costs of Sexual Assault, Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault


Borja SE, Callahan JL, Long PJ. Positive and negative adjustment and social support of sexual assault survivors. J Trauma Stress. 2006 Dec; 19(6):905-14.

Ellis, E.M., Atkeson, B.M., & Calhoun, K.S. (1981). An assessment of long-term reaction to rape, Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 90:3, 263-266.

Erdreich, B.L., Slavet, B.S., & Amador, A.C. (1995). Sexual harassment in the federal workplace: Trends, progress, continuing challenges. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board.

Filipas, HH, Ullman SE. Social reactions to sexual assault victims from various support sources. Violence Vict. 2001 Dec; 16(6):673-92

MacMillan, R. (2000). Adolescent victimization and income deficits in adulthood: Rethinking the costs of criminal violence from a life-course perspective. Criminology, 38, 553-577.

Miller, T.R., Cohen, M.A., & Wiersema, B. (1996). Victim costs and consequences: A new look. Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Justice

Population Information Program. (1999). Population reports: Ending violence against women. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health.

Schumm, JA, Briggs-Phillips M, Hobfoll SE. Cumulative interpersonal traumas and social support as risk and resiliency factors in predicting PTSD and depression among inner-city women. J Trauma Stress. 2006 Dec; 19(6):825-36.