RCASA Therapy Thursday: The Phases of Surviving Sexual Assault

In Sexual Assault Awareness on March 17, 2011 at 9:05 am

Surviving a sexual assault is a life-long process. In the industry, three phases of survival have been named.

Acute Phase

The acute phase of sexual assault trauma syndrome occurs right after the sexual assault, and can last for several weeks. The emotional response in the acute phases can be different for every survivor. Some survivors may have an “expressed” emotional response, such crying, laughing, shouting and talking—any method of letting out any emotional tension. On the opposite spectrum, other survivors may have a “controlled” emotional response, such as being withdrawn, resistant to talking, silent, distracted, numb and disconnected. The different emotional responses may seem strange to an observer, since crying is thought to be the normal response. However, there is no “normal response”—the survivor needs to express herself or himself in any way. In addition to the emotional responses, survivors will also have noticeable changes in sleeping and eating habits.

Reorganization Phase

The next phase of sexual assault trauma syndrome is the reorganization phase. During this phase, the survivor is beginning to reorganize her life after the sexual assault. However, the survivor may feel guilty or ashamed about what happened. As a result, the survivor may punish herself with unhealthy patterns, or participate in risky behavior. Sex is still a sore subject for the survivor, as she or he may find it difficult to sexually connect with anyone.

Resolution Phase

The last phase of sexual assault trauma syndrome, resolution phase, occurs when the survivor has come to terms with her or his experience. The survivor may still be angry, sad or hurt, but is focusing on moving forward. In addition, the survivor also has more control over her or his life, in comparison to how she or he felt after the assault. However, the survivor can still have flashbacks or nightmares, even years after the assault. Healing after a sexual assault is a lifelong process, and the survivor is never “over it.”


It is important to remember that not all victims/survivors go through these phases in order. Also, victims/survivors can move back and forth through the phases. Sometimes it may take a few weeks or less, some times it may take years.


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