Psychological Effects of Rape A victim often suffers intense emotional and psychological reactions immediately after a rape. These can be described as personal crises where the victim relives the fear, agony or anxiety, mixed with emotional feelings. For most rape victims, the reactions begin days or weeks after the rape and will sometimes decrease after two to six months. However, disturbing emotions combined with low self-respect and sexual dysfunction may last for a year or more for some. Survivors will likely feel anger, depression, anxiety, and perhaps have a general sense that everything is falling apart.
This phase is often marked by recurring nightmares, a generalized feeling of anxiety, and flashbacks to the attack. While these feelings are disturbing, they are a normal reaction to a trauma and are part of the healing process. Often it is at this time that survivors seek assistance from trained professionals who can help to put their lives back together and recover from rape-related post-traumatic stress. Even long after a sexual assault, some reactions may be triggered by people, places or things connected, or seemingly unconnected, to the assault.
These are called “triggers” and they are difficult, but common. Defense mechanisms such as denial, suppression and dissociation are common among rape victims. The function of suppression is to block out the strong emotions and thereby escape the painful feelings for a short time which can be psychologically very exhausting. Denying or putting the worst parts of the assault out of the memory allows the rape victims to cope with their altercation. Dissociation is a defense mechanism which can be employed during painful physical or psychological abuse impossible to escape.
This technique provides a feeling of “leaving” one’s body, making the trauma harder to remember, especially the details. Defense mechanisms like these may affect the victim’s ability and motivation to talk about the abuse they suffered. Professionals and health care personnel has to strongly take this into consideration while talking to a rape victim. Other long-lasting traumatic reactions following rape may be hyper-vigilance, avoidance of certain thoughts, feelings and situations that remind the victim of the abuse. Avoidance behaviors serve as a psychological defense against severe anxiety and tend to be long-lasting.
Research shows that a person’s normal work-capacity may be disrupted for as long as eight months after the rape. Depression is one of the most common effects of a rape victim and it can last for months. Suicide episodes begin to occur along with the depression. Sleep disturbances are also common, especially if the victim was assaulted in her own bed. Some examples of how a victim’s lifestyle may change after rape are that she may stop opening the door if alone at home, stop using the laundromat, avoid going out after dark, and avoid social interactions, especially with men.
I have a friend that was raped years ago and she only eats at restaurants that deliver her food. I hate that she can’t enjoy her life because, she is still young and has a lot going for herself. Spousal rape damages an individual’s psychological state more than stranger rape. It is longer-lasting than stranger rape because, it is carried out by a trusted individual whose trust is now damaged. Ongoing violence and rape within a close relationship may result in effects comparable to those of torture and war. Due to the repeated violence, the effects become even more difficult to work through, leading to deeper wounds.
Many times, marital rape involves a combination of several types of crimes, such as physical harm, threats and property damage. All this often intensify the trauma Environment can play a huge role in the recovery process after a rape. It is important for the victim to be able to talk about the assault without being interrupted and questioned as a person. Therapy may be necessary to help the victim work through the traumatic experience. It is important that the woman is not made to feel guilt or responsibility after a sexual assault because that may harm instead of help.
The immediate care by health care professionals and doctors is also very important. Some important points to cover are: The patient must be informed about examinations and tests that will be done and why. The patient must never be left alone in the waiting area, and the waiting time should be kept as short as possible. The patient must be informed that certain questions have to be asked, and why it is necessary to ask them. The immediate social situation must be evaluated. Does the patient have someone to stay with her over night? Does she wish to be admitted to the hospital or need to stay home from work?
Was a police report filed? Unfortunately, reactions from society often involve some blame of the victim’s own behavior. It is not unusual that the victim blames herself for the rape, and the public’s attitude has an effect on that action. Blame and doubt by the public most likely stem from their own psychological defense system rather than from an uncaring attitude. This mind-set is partly a result of an unconscious conviction that those who behave appropriately will escape trouble, which also strengthen our own sense of security and control.
Another reason is that placing blame on the victim relieves oneself of the responsibility to take action and help. Resistance and self-defense is another technique rape victims carry out. The perpetrator’s first objective is to gain control of the victim so the rape can be completed. Some strategies are physical violence, threatening violence, scare-tactics and the use of alcohol or other drugs. Another strategy is that the perpetrator first attempts to gain the victim’s trust and create a situation she cannot get out of.
Strategies vary, depending on the situation, the relationship between perpetrator and victim as well as on the perpetrator’s intent. All investigations clearly show that women who have been raped tended to avoid to resist. This is true for both marital and stranger rapes. No resistance is presumed to be the best defense, but the lack of resistance could be held against the victim later in court. Research in this area points to two things: Attempts by the woman to defend herself against aggression and rape in her own home are seldom successful. Physical resistance is also rare within a marriage.
To actively defend oneself and physically and verbally resist the perpetrator decrease the risk for completed rape by a stranger. By and large, the risk for injuries does not appear to be higher because the woman resisted, even if the common belief is that it is “safest” not to resist. Traditionally, women learn that no resistance is the best strategy in a rape situation. However, there are two obvious problems with this viewpoint. First, the non-resistance may be used against them in court; and, second, new research shows that women who physically resist an assault by a stranger have a good chance to avoid being raped.
Research like this must never be interpreted in a way which places resonsibility on those who are unable to or too afraid to resist or whose resistance was not effective. The fact is, and must always be, that the perpetrator is responsible for his actions. This is especially relevant when speaking of rape within the marriage, where resistance appear to be both more dangerous as well as rare. The most successful resistance strategies often talked about are kicking the assailant hard between the legs, pulling his hair, poking him hard in the eyes, and digging with the nails or other objects.
At the same time, the woman must also try to find a way to escape. As a result of the newer research, girls and women are now more often encouraged to take self-defense classes. However, this type of resistance does not appear to have the same effect on rape within the marriage. Men who assault and rape women in close relationships must be held accountable and prosecuted. They should also be offered appropriate individual or group psychotherapy. Women and their children also need help and support to leave an abusive relationship, and offered better protection as well as psychotherapy if needed.
Rapists come from all areas of society. Many times, they live in normal relationships with other women. Research has been done to find specific biological and personal reasons to why men rape, but the results vary. Therefore, it is difficult to determine a particular biological reason or personality trait of the typical rapist. . Victims of rape are found in all classes of society and are of all ages. However, one common factor emerges: almost every rape victim will have some kind of psychological problem afterwards.
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