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Psychological Aspects of Rape

Author: Dr. Ravi M Soni - Emotional and Mental Health  

Rape is any kind of sexual assault that involves sexual intercourse, that is done by one or more persons against a person's will.

Victims of rape bear severe trauma. In addition to psychological harm, rape is associated with physical trauma too. There are always chances of acquiring sexually transmitted diseases and the victim can become pregnant.

Psychological consequences that develop in a victim of rape are usually conceptualized under the heading of 'rape trauma syndrome'.

Rape Trauma Syndrome

RTS consists of an acute and long-term process of adaptation that occurs after an actual or attempted sexual assault. There are acute consequences and delayed consequences.

Acute consequences: feelings like fear, embarrassment, humiliation, shock, anger, self-blame, guilt, shame, anxiety. Fear and anxiety can continue for years. Some victims may have significant physical reactions that may be due to injuries. Others are headaches, sleep disturbance, stomach pains, genital pain, nausea, etc.

Chronic consequences: The victim usually has frightening and vivid nightmares. These are usually related to her experience during rape. They may also have phobic symptoms. For example, if she was sexually assaulted in a bus, then she becomes very anxious and uncomfortable while traveling in a bus. If she was assaulted by a tall guy, she would avoid interaction with any tall man. The victim starts avoiding everything that reminds her of her sexual assault. They may also develop unknown fear and there may be hyperarousal and excessive anxiety.

Some women cannot adjust herself in her usual surroundings where everybody knows about her past. So, as a process of reorganization, she may change her mobile number, job, move to a new city, and change her home. There may be fear of sex and men. They often feel anxious and panic when outdoor. Recovery from rape trauma is a very long process.

The clinical picture of RTS is very similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The basic symptom clusters in PTSD are three.

  1. Re-experience of the traumatic event.
  2. Avoidance of anything that reminds about the event.
  3. Hyper-arousal: arousal symptoms include being extremely cautious and watchful of the environment, decreased sleep, excessive aggression, irritability, lack of concentration, rage, and depression.

After the experience of sexual trauma, depression is a common consequence. Adult victims of sexual assault also reported current hopelessness and suicidal ideation.

Substance Abuse

A number of research articles have documented an association between rape and sexual assault and substance abuse. A high incidence of substance abuse was reported among female veterans who presented requesting help for sexual trauma.

"Rape not only affects the victim, but it disrupts every support system that was present for the victim before she was victimized"

This includes family, friends, co-workers, society and so on.

Image: Psychological Aspects of Rape Last reviewed at: 28.Dec.2018

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