Rape Trauma Syndrome

The following article originally appeared in the Humboldt Sun:

Current statistics suggest 1 out of 3 women worldwide has experienced rape or sexual assault and it is now estimated that 1 in 3 American women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime as reported by Worldwide Sexual Assault Statistics from George Mason University. This means that if you go out to lunch with a group of four friends, it is likely that three out of four of you have been a victim of rape. That is a very scary thought and to put it into even harsher terms, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, in the United States a woman is raped every two minutes.

Rape is legally defined by NRS 200.366 Sexual assault as: “A person who subjects another person to sexual penetration, or who forces another person to make a sexual penetration on himself or another, or on a beast, against the will of the victim or under conditions in which the perpetrator knows or should know that the victim is mentally or physically incapable of resisting or understanding the nature of his conduct, is guilty of sexual assault.”
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Syndrome or Rape Trauma Syndrome is often associated with an assault. Following a rape, women generally react in two different ways; they may show intense emotion or maintain a false sense of control. Rape Trauma Syndrome sufferers often exhibit a cluster of psychological and physical signs, symptoms and reactions which is common in most rape victims.

There are three stages associated with Rape Trauma Syndrome. There is an acute stage which occurs within days to weeks after the incident has taken place. The amount of time that a victim remains in this stage is variable. They may show intense emotion, which ranges from hysteria to numbness. How soon the survivor tells someone about the rape provides an indication about her own feelings about guilt, what happened to her and her role in it. Talking to someone you can trust is very important, because it can help clarify feelings and justify your emotions and reactions. It may also be helpful to talk to an advocate who can provide information about the decision to report the rape in addition to other options, including medical and legal assistance if desired.

Phase two is the outward adjustment phase in which the survivor has resumed their normal lifestyle. They may still be suffering from internal turmoil which can manifest in a variety of ways as the victim copes with the long-term trauma of a rape. RAINN identifies five main coping strategies during the outward adjustment phase which are: minimization, dramatization, suppression, explanation, and flight. During this phase, the victim often chooses how they will handle the assault and it is important to remember that one is capable of going from a victim to survivor.

The final phase of Rape Trauma Syndrome is the Renormalization Phase in which the survivor integrates the sexual assault into her life so that the rape is no longer the central focus of life. Negative feelings such as guilt and shame are then able to be resolved and the individual realizes that the attack is not through any fault of their own and they are not to blame. The trauma experienced from an assault is something that never goes away, however it is important to remind yourself or your loved one that the worst is over and there are support groups available to both victims and secondary survivors.

This column is not is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical or psychological advice or treatment.
Community Advocates Against Sexual Assault
P.O. Box 1338
Winnemucca, NV 89446
Contact Information:
775-623-2328, 775-623-2312
Fax: 623-3251
E-Mail: humboldtcaasa@sbcglobal.net
The mission of CAASA is to empower those victimized by sexual violence through advocacy and crisis intervention and to raise awareness in the community about the cause, impact, and prevention of sexual violence.