Essay, Research Paper: Rape Trauma Syndrome


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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.

Bibliography1) 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://
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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