Rape Trauma Syndrome Dictionaries most commonly define rape as a sexual act committed by force especially on a woman. (The American Heritage College Dictionary. 1997 pg. 740) Until a few years ago it was limited to penial penetration of the vagina. Penal Code 261 defines rape as “an act of sexual intercourse accomplished with a person not the spouse of the perpetrator without the lawful consent.”(Roberson, 1998, p.
188) Penal Code 263 goes on to say that “the fundamental wrong at which the law of rape is aimed is . . . the violation of a woman’s will and sexuality.” (Roberson, 1998, p. 190) All other sexual assaults are classified under varied names, yet the aftermath is usually the same. Rape is one of the cruelest forms of criminal violence.
The victim suffers a profound injury. Rendered powerless by physical force, threats, or fear, after which being forced to submit to sexual acts, including vaginal penetration, oral copulation, sodomy, and penetration opening with a foreign object, the victim is left virtually alone. Rape is an intrusion into the most private and intimate parts of the body, as well as an assault on the core of the self. Despite whether the victim suffers any physical trauma, the psychological impact of a sexual assault is severe. Moreover, the painful, post-trauma symptoms that result from rape are long-lasting.
Even those victims who appear to have recovered months or years later often find that an overwhelming sense of powerlessness and vulnerability remains close to the surface and can easily, and unexpectedly, be reexperienced. A critical factor in the long-term impact of rape is that the assault radically changes the victim’s view of the world. Basic beliefs about the environment, other people, and the self are shattered. These are devastating losses. Thus, many survivors report that the rapist irrevocably alters their lives.
The rapist takes away something that the victims can never wholly regain. We can examine the impact of rape in various ways. One perspective takes into consideration the underlying meaning the assault has for the victim. The grave threats and profound losses the victim suffers change their life dramatically, sometimes forever. Another manifestation of the impact of rape is the anguish of the victims.
The psychological and behavioral symptoms of distress are poignant symbols of the destructiveness of the rapist’s acts. Yet another way to understand the impact of rape is to compare it with other forms of trauma. Rape is an extreme form of human cruelty that in some ways resembles other overwhelming traumatic events. Rape trauma syndrome is the acute phase and long-term reorganization process that occur because of forcible rape or attempted forcible rape. (Bergess & Holmstrom, 1974) Researchers have identified stages that the victim goes through while suffering the effects of victimization.
(Abarbanel & Richman, 1990) The initial impact of rape is a feeling of numbness, the victim is in a state of shock and disbelief and may still feel terrorized. (B&H, 1974) The victim’s appearance can be misleading, appearing jolted or astonished, sedate and stifled. (A&R, 1990) The controlled behavior masks the serious psychological wound that they have endured.(A&R, 1990) Expressions of disbelief are most likely a reflection of the hidden inner chaos. (A&R, 1990) Usually following the initial stage of numbness follows the stage of denial. Victims have already experienced the worse of lost control. Therefore, any thoughts of this experience may risk another loss of control. Denial can vary from a direct denial; refusing to talk about it but recognizing that there was an incident, to not even recognizing that she knows anything has happened. Women will sometimes express this stage through their behavior, bathing or douching more than usual hoping to wash the rape away.
(A&R, 1990) The DSM-IV places in its diagnostic criteria many reactions in this stage such as conversation and thought avoidance. The dangerous side to this stage is avoiding reporting the incident to the police, or not seeking medical treatment. (A&R, 1990) Sometimes serious infections will grow because of this, and the perpetrator is allowed to continue living his “normal” life when the victim cannot. After sometime, most victims enter the next stage of acute stress; acute means it usually lasts less than three months. (A&R, 1990) (DSM-IV) This is a major stage containing most of the diagnostic criteria according to the DSM-IV; including sleeping disorders, anxiety, and mostly a large preoccupation with the event.
Fear is also a major feeling during this stage, victims can become hypersensitive to their surroundings and may begin to repeat safety rituals, such as checking door locks, and window many times. (DSM-IV) Other extensive symptoms include feelings of guilt and self-blame. (A&R, 1990) Rape is a hard crime to explain to a victim so they begin to turn inward to find the reason it happened. (A&R, 1990) There are two kinds of self-blame: the first is behavioral, the victim decides that she or he made a mistake in placing themselves in the situation. (A&R, 1990) The second is characterological, the victim decides that the rapist was punishing them for being a bad person. (A&R, 1990) The final stage is the victim’s final feeling about the event.
This can be either functional or dysfunctional depending on how the victim incorporates the meanings and impacts of the rape and finds a place in the world. (A&R, 1990) After being raped the victim will never be the same, but that does not mean they have to be less of a person then before. (A&R, 1990) Depending on how they analyze the entire incident they can come away with a newfound look at the world accompanied with new strengths and insights. This is usually the result after trauma treatment with a certified counselor. If the victim continues to go without help and continues to internalize the blame they can remain fixated on the trauma or even worse, continue to repress it leading to later surfacing that in some cases can be worse.
(A&R, 1990) Treating a rape trauma patient can be a long and stressful process. There are several techniques available and the counselor must have knowledge of them and decide the best for each patient. One thing each technique has in common is helping the victim confront, cope and continue with a new sense of self. The first group of techniques are behavioral which include flooding, systematic desensitization, and eye movement desensitization. (Jerabek, 1998) Also available is the cognitive approach to rape trauma treatment including, cognitive-behavioral therapy and cognitive therapy. (Jerabek, 1998) Last alternative treatments are including relaxation, rational-emotive therapy, group therapy, hypnosis, family/couple therapy, existential therapy, humanistic approach, and psychodynamic therapy. (Jerabek, 1998) Flooding is a behavioral technique based on perishing responses to anxiety-provoking cues.
Each session begins with a five minute relaxation exercise. (Gallers & Grossman) After the exercise the survivor begins with a memory about the rape. (G&G) While explaining the memory the counselor will begin to ask questions about the specifics, when the counselor asks that the survivor recall details memories will begin to enter their head and will usually result in a highly emotional reaction. (G&G) The counselor will then tell them to run through the relaxation exercise when they become highly excited. The point is to get the survivor to a place where they can recall the incident in its entirety and not become highly emotional.
Survivors have reported feeling more in control and self assured after completing this treatment. (G&G) This technique is used with caution because it is not always the best for everyone, some patients cannot take the stress of the rapid exposure in imagery used. (Jerabek, 1998) Cognitive therapies are usually a great benefit to the rape victim because they deal with changing the irrational beliefs and expectations that are present after the trauma. (Jerabek, 1998) Feelings of guilt and self-blame, and anxiety attacks are usually present because of false evaluations of the trauma. (Jerabek, 1998) The counselor will deal at the cognitive level by explaining the feelings the victim is having, proving they are irrational, but common, finding solutions and other ways to cope. (Jerabek, 1998) Group therapy is another beneficial way for the survivor to cope. Being in a group helps the patient see that there are other people that have gone through similar ordeals and realize that they are not alone.
Patients affected with numbness, isolation or fear of isolation are greatly helped because they realize that there are people they can trust. (Jerabek, 1990) Victims also gain a feeling of control because they can choose what they will discuss that day, as they see others coming out with fears and anxieties they may find the courage to speak of their own. (Jerabek, 1990) All in all I do believe that people have become more open about this horrible crime. Although not everyone can except it I’m happy to know that there are plenty of ways for people to become educated when they are ready, and I cross my fingers for them that it’s not too late. When I first started this term paper I had a completely different topic in mind.
As I went on with that topic I found that I had no passion behind it and that made it hard for me to writing it. On October 1st I started training to become a rape crisis advocate for the Valley Trauma Center. I have to admit, it’s a really hard task to take all the information about rape with out trying to block parts out. As we went on in my training I found that I wasn’t as educated about it as I thought. We all have our common misconceptions about a rape, and of course we’ve all said, “It won’t happen to me.” After learning everything I have I wanted to go more into the information and if I could, I wanted to educate others. One of the first things we went over was rape trauma syndrome and it struck me as being very interesting.
There are still many people that don’t believe that it’s real, usually the people that have just recently come to terms with the fact that maybe no one can do anything to deserve to be raped. After researching it I found so much evidence of it going on it wondered how anyone could not believe it. But I guess that’s because they aren’t educated. My standing on this is obvious, rape is a horrible thing and no one should have to go through it, but until we find a way to stop it we have to continue to fight for the victims. We have to continue to find ways to help them through the horrible feelings and self torture.
We need to make it easier for women to come out and admit that they were raped without being ostracized from the group. There are still plenty of silent survivors that need someone to reach out to them because without help the effects are life lasting and very harsh. I believe that through education we can begin to help the survivors of this horrible crime, past and future. Bibliography 1) Abarbanel, G., & Richman, G. (1990).
The Rape Victim. In Crisis Intervention Book 2: The Practitioner’s Sourcebook for Brief Therapy. Milwaukee: Family Service America 2) American Heritage College Dictionary, The. (1997). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company 3) Burgess, A.W., Holmstrone, L.L., (1974). Rape Trauma Syndrome.
In American Journal of Psychiatry (pp. 981-986) 4) DSM-IV: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder 5) Gallers, J., Grossman, R. (1990). The Use of Flooding with Adult Survivors of Sexual Trauma 6) Jerabek, Ilona, (1998). Retrieved October 13, 1999 from World Wide Web: Http://www.queendom.com/articles/rapebeh.html. Behavioral and Cognitive Approaches to Rape Trauma Treatment 7) Roberson, C.
(1998). Sex Crimes. In California Criminal Codes (pp. 188 & 190). Incline Village: Copperhouse Publishing Company.