The 3 Stages of Rape Trauma Syndrome
Rape Is Not about Sex, It’s about Control
Rape appears to be about sex, and it is. But it is also about control. People who rape others want to dominate the other person and can use all sorts of methods to get what they want. It is about someone taking something from someone else who does not want to give it.
What is Rape Trauma Syndrome?
Rape trauma syndrome is a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. The term was first used in 1974 to describe the physical, emotional, and behavioral reactions that occur after a life-threatening event. The rape survivor will experience symptoms such as depression, nightmares, fear, anxiety, impairment of social functioning, and sleep disruption. Women, men, and children can be victims of rape.
Stage 1: The Immediate Aftermath
Immediately following the rape, the survivor will try to make sense of what happened. Reactions will vary depending on the emotional strength of the survivor and the support system she experiences. The most common reaction is post-traumatic stress. The survivor is often in shock and is not able to believe that such a thing could happen to her. The reactions of survivors vary and may include shock, denial, and a refusal to talk about the incident. This stage usually only lasts a short time. She may even try to rationalize the rape as she tries to make sense of what happened to her. It may also appear to others that she is coping with the situation.
Stage 2: When the Shock Wears Off
The second stage occurs when the shock begins to wear off. The rape survivor may experience physical symptoms, some of which are actually physical and some of which are psychosomatic and are primarily related to the rape. She may experience sleep and eating disturbances. She may feel shame and guilt because she was unable to control what happened to her. As a result, she may try to suppress thoughts of the attack, leading to nightmares and flashbacks.
The survivor is often traumatized again by the police and the hospital staff as she is forced to relive the incident over and over again, and as she is subjected to the indignities associated with having a rape kit done. In some cases the survivor may feel that no one cares because she experiences a lack of compassion from those around her.
Stage 3: The Difficult Path to Healing
It may eventually feel as though the crisis has resolved itself, but any reminders can trigger the memories of the rape and cause the survivor to return again to the physical and emotional symptoms she originally experienced.
Some survivors will blame themselves, questioning whether or not they could or should have done something more to protect themselves. When the rapist is someone she knows, as it often is unfortunately, the survivor will question herself about what she did to encourage him. “If only I hadn’t gone to the party…” “I should have known something was going to happen…” “if I had listened to my gut…” are some of the things that a survivor may say. The sad thing is that survivors often won’t report the rape to anyone due to self-blame.
Often a survivor will think that she should have done more to stop the rape. Even though she felt that her life was being threatened at the time, she will believe that she should have fought harder or screamed louder.
If a survivor has lots of good resources for coping and a supportive network of friends and family, she may be able to begin the healing process quickly. But for many survivors a healthy recovery will be difficult, even with a strong support system. One key issue is trust. The survivor does feel that she cannot trust anyone, not even those closest to her, and trusting God is also difficult. Building trust again will take time and effort.
If You Are That Survivor: Christian Counseling to Heal from Rape
If you are having trouble with trust, or experience other symptoms of rape trauma syndrome, don’t wait to get help. You are not to blame for what happened to you. The sooner you can talk with a therapist and begin the healing process, the better.
ʺWater Lilly 1-Artistic,ʺ courtesy of Scott Fleming, Flickr Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0); ʺpeaceful-peace…ʺ courtesy of Olga Lednichenko, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0)