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RAPE TRAUMA SYNDROME

**Although every survivor is unique, many will have one thing in common: rape trauma syndrome (RTS)**

 

RTS is a cluster of emotional responses to the extreme stress experienced by the survivor during the sexual assault. More specifically, RTS is a response to the inate fear of death that almost all survivors experience during an assault. RTS can last 2 years or a lifetime.

 

The various stages a victim goes through from the assault to recovery:

 

1. Acute stage: This stage occurs immediately after the assault. It may last a few days to several weeks. During this stage the victim may:

• Seems agitated or hysterical or she/he may appear totally calm (an indicator that she/he/they could be in shock).

• Have crying spells and anxiety attacks.

• Have difficulty concentrating, making decisions, and doing simple, everyday tasks.

• Shows little emotion, acts as though numb or stunned, or laughs. 

• Have poor recall of the rape or other memories.

 

Helpful to note: immediately after a rape, victims may present with very different styles including either a controlled style (numb, denial, disbelief, flat affect, quiet, reserved, difficulty expressing themselves) and/or an expressed style (verbalizing feelings of sadness or anger, appear distraught or anxious, extreme rage or hostility).

 

2. Outward adjustment stage: During this stage the victim resumes what appears to be from the outside her/his "normal" life. Inside, however, there is considerable turmoil, which can manifest itself by any of the following behaviors:

• Continuing anxiety.

• Sense of helplessness.

• Persistent fear and/or depression.

• Severe mood swings (e.g. happy to angry, etc.).

• Vivid dreams, recurrent nightmares, insomnia.

• Physical ailments.

• Appetite disturbances (e.g. nausea, vomiting, compulsive eating).

• Efforts to deny the assault ever took place and/or to minimize its impact.

• Withdrawal from friends and/or relatives.

• Preoccupation with personal safety.

• Reluctance to leave the house and/or to go places which remind the victim of the rape.

• Hesitation about forming new relationships with men and/or distrustful or existing relationship.

• Sexual problems.

• Disruption of normal everyday routines (e.g. high absenteeism at work suddenly or, conversely, working longer than usual hours; dropping out of school; traveling different routes; going out only at certain times).

 

 

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3. Resolution stage: during this stage the rape is no longer the central focus in the victim's life. The victim begins to recognize that while s/he will never forget the assault, the pain and memories associated with it are lessening. S/he has accepted the rape as a part of her/his life experience and is choosing to move on from there. Some of the behaviors of the second stage may flare up at times but they do so less frequently and with less intensity. In this fashion the person who has survived has moved from being a " victim" to a "survivor".

While some survivors move forward and take control of their lives, other continue to suffer and may even develop post traumatic stress disorder (ptsd) as result of the rape.

 

• They struggle with reoccurring thoughts about the trauma and find themselves in a state of hyper vigilance; easily startled and always anticipating another attack.

• Nightmares, flashbacks, and sleep disturbances disrupt their lives.

• Constant efforts to avoid the memories of trauma literally control their existence.

• Some rape survivors have post-traumatic stress disorder for years and need continuous counseling and support.

 

Recovery takes time

Survivors recover in stages. They may start with one stage, go to another, and go back. Each person processes the event his or her / his own way. Survivors are not to blame for the crime committed against them by another person. We cannot control the actions of another person. Survivors need a safe environment to work through their fears. You can help by providing the survivor with space and time to recover.