In many cases, victims of sexual assault display behaviors that may seem counter-intuitive or confusing to their friends and families. The neurobiology of trauma can help explain some of the behaviors. Check out the articles linked below for explanations of what happens to our brains when we are confronted with life or death situations.

"Why Rape and Trauma Survivors have Fragmented and Incomplete Memories" - James hopper, Ph.D. and David Lisak, Ph.D.


"Why Many Rape Victims Don't Fight or Yell" - James hopper, Ph.D.


"New approach helps sexual assault victims recall details" - Terri Moon Cronk for American Forces Press Service


**Although every survivor is unique, many will have one thing in common: rape trauma syndrome (RTS)**

RTS is a cluster of emotional responses to the extreme stress experienced by the survivor during the sexual assault. More specifically, RTS is a response to the innate fear of death that almost all survivors experience during an assault. RTS can last 2 years or a lifetime.

The various stages a victim goes through from the assault to recovery:

Woman on Window Sill


This stage occurs immediately after the assault. It may last a few days to several weeks. During this stage the victim may:

• Seems agitated or hysterical or she/he may appear totally calm (an indicator that she/he/they could be in shock).

• Have crying spells and anxiety attacks.

• Have difficulty concentrating, making decisions, and doing simple, everyday tasks.

• Shows little emotion, acts as though numb or stunned, or laughs. 

• Have poor recall of the rape or other memories.

Helpful to note: immediately after a rape, victims may present with very different styles including either a controlled style (numb, denial, disbelief, flat affect, quiet, reserved, difficulty expressing themselves) and/or an expressed style (verbalizing feelings of sadness or anger, appear distraught or anxious, extreme rage or hostility).



Survivors recover in stages. They may start with one stage, go to another, and go back. Each person processes the event his or her / his own way. Survivors are not to blame for the crime committed against them by another person. We cannot control the actions of another person. Survivors need a safe environment to work through their fears. You can help by providing the survivor with space and time to recover.