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Understanding rape

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by DR JOZELLE MILLER

WHEN WOULD we truly appreciate the significance of the words, I was RAPED!!! In my profession, I have too often had to assist with cases of rape, where women were not only traumatized by the actual violation on their bodies, but also had a deeper shame to deal with, as a result of the open ridicule, judgment and in some instances, the hostile attack, about what they possibly did to cause the attack in the first place. I would dare to say this outright: it doesn’t matter what your perception is as it relates to what a woman may desire sexually; whenever a woman says a clear outright NO!!! {{more}}or if her actions suggest a changed mind, understand that any further advances or force on her body, is an act of violation. Let us not fall prey to fostering a ‘Rape Culture’, which essentially, is an environment, a way of life, a system of judgment and a media in which rape victims, mainly women, are vilified and blamed for their rape. They and society are made to believe that what they were wearing, their behaviour or the number of people they have slept with during their lifetime had an effect on their rape. They are convinced that it was their fault and their responsibility for letting themselves be attacked.

Rape culture is a direct infringement on the rights of women. It is an attack on our right to say yes and our right to say no. It is an attack on our right to wear what we like, our right to change our mind and our right to be free human beings.

A woman who says yes too many times or to the wrong person is branded a ‘slut’ or a ‘whore’, and so rape culture dictates that men can simply assume that her answer will always be yes. A woman who says yes can’t just decide that there is a person she doesn’t want to sleep with. She’s said yes before, and that has given her a reputation. Rape culture has led to a belief in some men that when a woman who says yes instead says no, he need not take her seriously.

Rape culture also dictates that a woman who said no must have done something wrong. She must have laughed, or giggled, or continued to act flirtatiously,or maybe she didn’t really mean no at all. Maybe she was a “tease” or “leading the guy on.” If she really didn’t want to sleep with him, she would have fought him off. She wouldn’t have let it happen…Right? Women aren’t allowed genuine freedom within a rape culture. A rape culture means women must constantly consider their steps and decisions, so that if they do become the victims of rape, they can’t be blamed for it. A person who is the victim of constant vilification, a person whose rights are constantly infringed, is not a free person.

The Experience of the Rape Victim Rape

Trauma Syndrome (RTS) is the medical term given to the response that survivors have to rape. It is very important to note that Rape Trauma Syndrome is the natural response of a psychologically healthy person to the trauma of rape, so these symptoms do not constitute a mental disorder or illness. Before looking at the effects of rape, it is therefore important to first examine the character of the trauma that is rape.

Not only is there the element of surprise, the threat of death and the threat of injury, there is also the violation of the person that is synonymous with rape. This violation is physical, emotional and moral and associated with the closest human intimacy of sexual contact. The intention of the rapist is to profane this most private aspect of the person and render his victim utterly helpless. The character of the event is thus connected to the perpetrator’s apparent need to terrorize, dominate and humiliate the victim. The victim is therefore most likely to see his actions as motivated by deliberate malice, a malice impossible for her to understand. Rape by its very nature is intentionally designed to produce psychological trauma.
 
I was raped!
 
“I was raped!”

What were you wearing?

Were you wearing that pencil skirt with the slit at the side?

Or, was it the yellow blouse that makes your eyes look like sunshine?

I bet you were wearing one of those.

I told you they made you look sexy.

“I was raped!”

Was it that boy in your class you shared lunch with the other day?

Were you smiling and flirting with him again?

Or, did you give him a slice of your famous banana cake?

I bet you were smiling with him all day.

I bet you made him more goodies.

“I was raped!”

What time was it?

Were you walking home alone after work?

Or were you at the bus stop talking to strangers again?

I bet you left work and decided to walk home.

I bet you thought it was still early.

“I was raped!”

Where were you raped?

Why did you invite him to your place?

Or, did you think that dinner was just an ‘innocent meal’?

I bet you figured you could ‘eat him out’.

I bet you didn’t even offer to pay half.

“I was raped!”

How were you raped?

How did you ask him to stop?

Or, did you even ask him to stop?

I bet you didn’t even scream.

I bet you only said no once.

“I was raped?”

(c) Adriana S. King,( 2015).

 

Physical symptoms of rape trauma syndrome

Physical symptoms are those things which manifest in or upon the survivor’s body that are evident to her and under physical examination by a nurse or doctor. Some of these are only present immediately after the rape, while others only appear at a later stage.

  • Immediately after a rape, survivors often experience shock. They are likely to feel cold, faint, become mentally confused (disorientated), tremble, feel nauseous and sometimes vomit.
  • Pregnancy
  • Gynaecological problems. Irregular, heavier and/or painful periods. Vaginal discharges, bladder infections. Sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Bleeding and/or infections from tears or cuts in the vagina or rectum.
  • A soreness of the body. There may also be bruising, grazes, cuts or other injuries.
  • Nausea and/or vomiting.
  • Throat irritations and/or soreness due to forced oral sex.
  • Tension headaches.
  • Pain in the lower back and/or in the stomach.
  • Sleep disturbances. This may be difficulty in sleeping or feeling exhausted and needing to sleep more than usual.
  • Eating disturbances. This may be not eating or eating less or needing to eat more than usual.

Behavioural symptoms of rape trauma syndrome

Behavioural symptoms are that thing the survivor may do, say or feel that are generally visible to others. This includes observable reactions, patterns of behaviour, lifestyle changes and changes in relationships.

  • Crying more than usual.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Being restless, agitated and unable to relax or feeling listless and unmotivated.
  • Not wanting to socialize or see anybody or socializing more than usual, so as to fill up every minute of the day.
  • Not wanting to be alone.
  • Stuttering or stammering.
  • Avoiding anything that reminds the survivor of the rape.
  • Being more easily frightened or startled than usual.
  • Being very alert and watchful.
  • Becoming easily upset by small things.
  • Relationship problems, with family, friends, lovers and spouses, shown by irritability, withdrawal and dependence.
  • Fear of sex, loss of interest in sex or loss of sexual pleasure.
  • Changes in lifestyle, such as moving house, changing jobs, not functioning at work or at school or changes to her appearance.
  • Drop in school, occupational or work performance.
  • Increased substance abuse.
  • Increased washing or bathing.
  • Behaving as if the rape didn’t occur, trying to live life as it was before the rape; this is called denial.
  • Suicide attempts and other self-destructive behaviour, such as substance abuse or self-mutilation.

Psychological symptoms of rape trauma syndrome

Psychological symptoms are much less visible and can in fact be completely hidden to others; so survivors need to offer this information or be carefully and sensitively questioned in order to elicit them. They generally refer to inner thoughts, ideas and emotions.

  • Increased fear and anxiety.
  • Self-blame and guilt.
  • Helplessness, no longer feeling in control of her life.
  • Humiliation and shame.
  • Lowering of her self-esteem
  • Feeling dirty or contaminated by the rape
  • Anger
  • Feeling alone and that no one understands.
  • Losing hope in the future.
  • Emotional numbness.
  • Confusion
  • Loss of memory.
  • Constantly thinking about the rape.
  • Having flashbacks to the rape, feeling like it is happening again.
  • Nightmares
  • Depression
  • Becoming suicidal.

There are many influences on the manner in which each individual survivor of sexual violence copes and on the length of time the symptoms may be present. These factors include:

  • Support systems
  • The relationship with the offender
  • The degree of the violence used
  • Social and cultural influences
  • Previous experience with stress
  • Ability to cope with stress
  • Attitude of those immediately contacted after the assault
  • The age and developmental stage of the survivor (adolescent survivors are more vulnerable).

It is important that we recognize that two survivors may not respond in the same ways. While most survivors will experience these symptoms, some survivors may only experience a few of these symptoms, while others may experience none at all. We must be careful not to judge whether someone has been raped by the number of symptoms that they display. Because most survivors are afraid to tell anyone that they have been raped, it is often not easy to observe their reaction, or recognize them without the survivor’s own account – and this she is unlikely to give easily.

It has been observed through clinical studies that almost all rape survivors suffer severe and long-lasting emotional trauma. To this end, it is imperative that all legal, medical and police procedures not cause further trauma to survivors, who must be given all possible support to overcome and survive the ordeal.

Dr Miller is Health Psychologist based at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital

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