The Department of Veteran Affairs in the United States has recently published an article in an attempt to help military women that have experienced sexual assault to recognise some of the symptoms that result from victimisation. These symptoms can be very varied depend on the type and duration of the sexual trauma faced by the military woman.
The first is depression. Often characterised as Major Depressive Disorder or (MDD), the symptoms appear to generally affect the mood. However the patient may experience problems with eating, sleep, concentrating, making decisions, feeling guilty, feeling hopeless, and lowered self-esteem. The research indicates that almost 1/3 of victims that have been raped go through these symptoms at some point in their lives and that the symptoms can be long lasting.
Anger is also a major reaction to a sexual assault in the military women. Anger is a reaction to experiencing a violent event and is normal however a prolonged response of anger can lead to the victim feeling unable to recover from the sexual trauma that occurred.
Shame and guilty feelings are also quite common when it comes to reactions to sexual violence. The woman might blame herself for the incident occurring or feel bad about being a victim of sexual violence. The reaction can be increased if the woman does not feel that she is receiving enough support from friends and family following the incident or if the woman does not have anyone trustworthy to speak with about what happened or the negative feelings that they experienced.
Some social problems are also common when it comes to a response to sexual violence. The social problems could include social dysfunction where a women is unable to engage in normal sexual activities with a trusted partner following the incident. A lack of trust in other people in general is also common following a sexual assault. Sexual desire could be absent or decrease significantly following an incident of sexual violence.
Many women victims of sexual trauma choose not to cope with their feelings and instead indulge in negative behaviour such as alcohol or drugs as a result of trying to deal with the trauma that they feel inside. The women may feel that it is easier to mask the feelings with drink or drugs however the outcome is usually that the alcohol and drugs can result in other social problems or deadly outcomes.
PTSD is the final major reaction to suffering sexual violence. The symptoms include nightmares, flashing memories, trying to avoid thinking about the incident or any feelings associated with the incident. Anger may also be a symptom of PTSD. A study showed that women who suffer from PTSD following sexual trauma often show symptoms within two weeks after the incident has occurred.
The VA encourages women in the military that have experienced sexual assault to get help as soon as possible to treat the symptoms. The VA has provided a number of resources to help women in this situation and the details are available on the website.