Sexual Abuse and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Sexual Abuse and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

As someone who has suffered sexual abuse, you may grapple with feelings of fear, anxiety, and loss of control that persist long after the traumatic events. These lingering effects are symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. PTSD can develop when a person experiences or witnesses a terrifying event involving threat of injury or death. Sexual abuse, in particular, can be an intensely traumatic experience that shakes a person's sense of safety in the world.

The emotions and memories may feel inescapable. However, with professional support and treatment, people with PTSD from sexual abuse can heal and reclaim their lives. A personal injury lawsuit may also provide a path to justice and financial compensation to support recovery needs. No one deserves to suffer the long-term impacts of abuse alone. A sexual abuse lawyer can help you. You have the power to overcome PTSD and build the safe, fulfilling life you deserve.

What Is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that's triggered by a terrifying event. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

What Causes PTSD?

PTSD is caused by traumatic life events that threaten your safety or the safety of others, such as:

  1. Sexual abuse or assault. Sexual trauma is one of the most common causes of PTSD. Victims experience immense suffering and loss of control.
  2. Violent personal assaults. Events like mugging, torture, kidnapping, terrorist attacks, or being taken hostage can lead to PTSD.
  3. Severe accidents or injuries. Experiencing or witnessing events like a violent automobile accident, plane crash or industrial accident can trigger PTSD symptoms.

Symptoms of PTSD

PTSD manifests in several ways, including:

  • Re-experiencing the trauma through intrusive memories, flashbacks, nightmares.
  • Avoiding reminders of the trauma. This could include people, places or situations that remind you of the traumatic event.
  • Negative changes in thoughts and mood. This includes negative thoughts about yourself or the world, feelings of guilt, or decreased interest in activities.
  • Hyperarousal. This includes difficulty sleeping, irritability, difficulty concentrating, hypervigilance or an exaggerated startle response.

If you exhibit these signs, consult a mental health professional. PTSD is a serious condition, but treatment options like therapy, medication or both can help you cope and feel better.

How Sexual Abuse Can Lead to PTSD

Sexual abuse can be an extremely traumatic experience that often leads to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a mental health condition triggered by a terrifying event. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, and uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

Sexual abuse survivors with PTSD may relive the traumatic experience through intrusive memories, flashbacks, or nightmares. They may experience intense distress when exposed to cues that remind them of the trauma. This can significantly disrupt their daily activities and make it difficult to lead a normal life.

PTSD can also cause negative changes in beliefs and feelings. Sexual abuse survivors may develop a negative view of themselves or the world, experience feelings of shame, guilt, or mistrust. They may become detached or estranged from others or lose interest in activities they used to enjoy.

Other PTSD symptoms include difficulty concentrating or sleeping, irritability, agitation, or aggression. In severe cases, a person may even experience dissociation, losing awareness of their surroundings. These symptoms can start within 3 months of the traumatic event but sometimes emerge years later.

The good news is PTSD is treatable. Treatment options include medication, psychotherapy (talk therapy), or a combination of the two. The most effective psychotherapies for sexual abuse-related PTSD are exposure therapy, cognitive processing therapy (CPT), and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. With proper treatment and support, survivors of sexual abuse can heal and reclaim their lives.

Common Symptoms of PTSD From Sexual Assault

Common symptoms of PTSD from sexual assault include:

  • Flashbacks: Reliving the traumatic event through intrusive and unwanted memories, flashbacks, or nightmares. These can feel intensely real and scary, even though the event is not actually happening again.
  • Severe anxiety: Feeling intense distress or anxiety when reminded of the traumatic event. This can include rapid heartbeat, sweating, tense muscles, etc.
  • Uncontrollable thoughts: Frequently thinking about the traumatic event when you don't want to. These thoughts can be very upsetting and hard to stop.
  • Insomnia: Difficulty falling or staying asleep due to anxiety, racing thoughts, and nightmares. Lack of sleep can intensify other PTSD symptoms.
  • Irritability or aggression: Feeling irritable, angry, or even violent. Irritability is often a result of hyperarousal and sleep problems.
  • Difficulty concentrating: Finding it hard to focus or concentrate on normal tasks. Thoughts of the trauma can frequently intrude and derail your attention.
  • Hypervigilance: Feeling jittery, on guard, and constantly on alert. This includes difficulties relaxing, startling easily, and always anticipating danger.
  • Avoiding reminders: Purposefully avoiding people, places, thoughts, or situations that remind you of the traumatic event. This avoidance can disrupt relationships and everyday activities.
  • Emotional numbness: Feeling detached or estranged from others, lacking interest in activities you used to enjoy, or difficulty experiencing positive emotions. Emotional numbness is a way to avoid distressing memories and feelings.

If you or someone you know exhibits these symptoms, seeking counseling or professional mental health treatment can help address PTSD and find healthier ways of coping with traumatic experiences.

Getting a PTSD Diagnosis and Treatment Options

To obtain an official diagnosis of PTSD related to sexual abuse, you will need to consult with a licensed mental health professional. They will evaluate you for symptoms that match the criteria listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). These include:

  • Re-experiencing the traumatic event through intrusive distressing memories, flashbacks, or nightmares.
  • Avoiding reminders of the trauma like people, places or situations that trigger memories of the event. This is known as emotional numbing.
  • Hyperarousal, such as difficulty sleeping or concentrating, irritability, hypervigilance or an exaggerated startle response.
  • Significant problems in social, occupational or other areas of functioning.

The diagnosis process typically involves an interview where you describe your symptoms and history of abuse in detail. Psychological assessments and checklists may also be used. Getting an accurate diagnosis is critical to developing an effective treatment plan.

Once diagnosed, various evidence-based treatment options are available for PTSD from sexual abuse. The most effective are trauma-focused psychotherapies like:

  • Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) which helps you reframe negative thoughts about the trauma.
  • Prolonged Exposure (PE) therapy which involves revisiting the traumatic memory in a controlled setting. This helps desensitize you to the memory and reduces distress over time.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) which uses eye movements to help process traumatic memories and reduce their distressing effect.

Antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications may also be used to help manage symptoms. Ongoing support from others who have had similar experiences can be an important part of the recovery process. With proper diagnosis and treatment, PTSD from sexual abuse is a condition that can be successfully managed.

Pursuing Justice: Filing a Lawsuit Against Your Abuser

Filing a civil lawsuit against your abuser can be an important step in the recovery process. While no amount of money can undo the trauma you suffered, a successful suit can hold your abuser accountable for their actions and help you regain a sense of power or control.

Build Your Case

To have a strong chance of winning your lawsuit, you will need to build a solid case. Gather any evidence you have to support your claims, such as photographs, videos, emails, text messages, or journal entries. Seek counseling to discuss your trauma in detail. Your therapist can provide records to validate your diagnosis of PTSD or other psychological harm. Talk to others who witnessed interactions between you and your abuser. Their statements can strengthen your case.

Find the Right Representation

Pursuing legal action against your abuser is complex. Work with a personal injury law firm that has experience handling cases involving sexual abuse and PTSD. They can advise you on the merits of your specific case and the likelihood of success in court. They can also guide you through the legal process, handle all paperwork, and negotiate with the defense. Make sure you feel comfortable with your legal team, as you will have to share sensitive details about your experiences.

Prepare for Potential Challenges

Be ready to face potential scrutiny and questioning of the validity or severity of your trauma. The defense will try to undermine your claims in an effort to avoid liability. Discuss this with your lawyers and therapists to develop strategies for remaining composed during cross-examination. You may also encounter other roadblocks, like lack of physical evidence due to delayed reporting. However, many abusers can still be found legally culpable based primarily on witness testimony.

\n\nWhile confronting your abuser in court can be extraordinarily difficult, a successful lawsuit may provide a sense of justice and resolution that allows you to move forward from your trauma. With the right legal team and a well-built case, you have a fighting chance to hold even the most powerful abusers accountable for their crimes.

Contact Fletcher Law For Help With Your Sexual Abuse Case

If you or a loved one has suffered sexual abuse, contacting an experienced personal injury lawyer can help you pursue justice and hold the perpetrator accountable. The legal team at Fletcher Law can advise you on the merits of your case, collect evidence, and help build a strong claim on your behalf.

Gathering Evidence

Collecting evidence in sexual abuse cases may involve obtaining medical records, witness statements, photographs, and other documentation that can help prove your claim. An attorney has the experience and resources to thoroughly investigate what happened and determine the liable parties. They can issue subpoenas to obtain records and question individuals with relevant information.

Filing a Lawsuit

Once sufficient evidence has been gathered, a lawyer can file a lawsuit against the perpetrator and any institutions that failed to prevent the abuse or properly responded to reports of inappropriate behavior. Lawsuits may be filed against individuals, schools, churches, youth organizations, or workplaces. The type of case will depend on the details of your specific situation.

Negotiating a Settlement

Very few civil cases actually go to trial, with most being settled out of court through negotiations between the involved parties. An experienced lawyer can advocate on your behalf to secure a fair settlement that provides compensation for damages like medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and emotional distress. Settlements in sexual abuse cases often depend on the severity of the abuse and the evidence showing liability.


If a settlement cannot be reached, the case may proceed to trial in civil court. At trial, a lawyer presents arguments and evidence before a judge and jury to prove the defendant's guilt and liability. Witnesses provide testimony and records and documents are submitted as exhibits. If the jury finds the defendant liable, they will determine appropriate compensation for the harm caused.

Contacting Fletcher Law to discuss your sexual abuse case is the first step towards justice and healing. Our experienced attorneys can evaluate your claim, fight for your rights, and help you recover damages to move on from this traumatic experience.