Potential repercussions for victims
The impact of sexual assault on a victim can vary greatly, because each individual deals with the experience of victimization differently. That said, victims may have common symptoms and reactions to sexual assault:
- Emotional reactions. These may include depression, shock and disorientation, spontaneous crying, self-blame, despair, anxiety and panic, fearfulness, suicidal thoughts, feeling out of control, irritability, anger, emotional numbness, memory lapses, difficulty making decisions and concentrating, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
- Self-harming behavior. Abuse of alcohol or other drugs, self-mutilation, and suicide attempts are common among victims.
- Physiological reactions. These may include changes in sleep, eating, and hygiene patterns, and aversion to touch.
- Social behavior. Victims of sexual assault often withdraw from relationships; avoid certain individuals, places, or both; change the way they dress (for example, wearing multiple layers of clothing in public); and may demonstrate aggressive behavior, regression, sexually inappropriate behavior, excessive attachment, or some combination.
- Physical symptoms and concerns. These may include physical injuries from the assault; pregnancy risk (for women); and exposure to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
 West Virginia Sexual Assault Free Environment Partnership, WV S.A.F.E. Training and Collaboration Toolkit: Serving Sexual Violence Victims with Disabilities (West Virginia Foundation for Rape Information and Services, Northern West Virginia Center for Independent Living, and West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, 2010). References are drawn from the sections “Indicators of Sexual Violence” and “Understanding and Addressing Emotional Trauma.”
TRAUMA AFTER SEXUAL ASSAULT
A variety of factors influence an individual’s experience of emotional trauma in reaction to sexual assault, including the severity and frequency of the event; his or her personal history (for example, if a prior victimization took place); the person’s coping skills, values, and beliefs; and the level of support the individual has to help him or her heal.
Many factors may exacerbate the emotional trauma experienced by sexual assault victims in correctional settings, including the following:
- continuous contact with perpetrators;
- repeated sexual assault, as well as degradation and threats of violence;
- general distrust and a perception that seeking help is a risk to personal safety;
- lack of privacy and control over the environment;
- physical consequences of the sexual assault;
- punitive consequences imposed by the institution for aggressive or self-destructive reactions to sexual assault; and
- negative mental health effects of being placed in isolation for protection.
Recovery from sexual abuse can obviously be difficult, especially in correctional facilities. For many people living in these settings, survival is the focus and healing is not yet a consideration. But with support and by using the resources a SART offers, recovery can progress to healing.
 Santa Barbara Graduate Institute, Center for Clinical Studies and Research and LA County Early Intervention and Identification Group, Emotional and Psychological Trauma: Causes and Effects, Symptoms and Treatment. (Reprinted from helpguide.org, 2005).
 J. Yarussi, and B. Smith, The Impact of National PREA Standards on Community Corrections (Washington, DC: National Institute of Corrections and American University, Washington College of Law, Project on Addressing Prison Rape, 2013); and Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), Recommendations for administrators of prisons, jails, and community confinement facilities for adapting the U.S. Department of Justice’s A national protocol for sexual assault medical forensic examinations, adults/adolescents (Washington, D.C.: OVW, 2013).
 Victims in corrections settings may be at greater risk than others are for physical assault and subsequent injury during a sexual assault. They may also experience multiple incidents and perpetrators, both of which may contribute to physical injury and heightened risk for contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. (Note that numerous communicable diseases are more prevalent among incarcerated populations.) C. Abner, Preventing and Addressing Sexual Abuse in Tribal Detention Facilities: A Policy Development Guide Lexington, KY: American Probation and Parole Association, 2011; Robert W. Dumond, “Confronting America’s Most Ignored Crime Problem: The Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003,” The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law 31, no. 3 (2003): 354—360; and James E. Robertson, “Rape Among Incarcerated Men: Sex, Coercion and STDs,” AIDS Patient Care and STDs 17, no. 8 (2003): 423–430.
To get a sense of the range of experiences of victims of corrections-based sexual assault, see Just Detention International’s survivor testimony.