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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.

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.


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