Rape trauma syndrome
The Rape Trauma Syndrome has three characteristic phases and may continue over a lengthy period of time. It is important to recognize that each survivor will go through the process at their own speed and intensity.
It is essential to remember that recovery time can vary a great deal because of each survivor's personalized experience of the assault and the events that followed it.
Phase one: the acute phase
Immediately following the sexual assault, the survivor may experience a very wide range of emotional reactions which result from being faced with a life-threatening situation. Shock, dismay, and disbelief are fairly common.
During this phase the survivor is constantly thinking about the assault. There are often a lot of triggers, flashbacks and nightmares causing the survivor to experience a wide rage of emotional reactions. These emotional reactions are most commonly manifested in one of two ways:
The survivor exhibits obvious outward expression such as crying, shaking, tenseness, restlessness.
The survivor appears to be quite calm and rational about the situation.
Guilt, shame, and self-blame may be expressed. Anger and hostility, not just toward the assailant, but toward the people trying to help her/him, may be present. There may be a fear of infection or if the survivor is a female a fear of pregnancy.
During the first few weeks following the assault, acute physical symptoms are often experienced which can include soreness and bruising on various parts of the body. There may be gynecological symptoms if the survivor is a female such as vaginal discharge, burning sensations, pain or itchiness. Also, the person may experience tension headaches, fatigue, stomach pains, nausea, loss of appetite, or disturbed sleep patterns such as insomnia or nightmares.
In the period immediately following the assault, the survivor may have many practical problems to deal with:
* informing family and friends
* physical examination
* question of pregnancy, VD, STD or HIV/AIDS
* fear of retaliation by assailant or fear of being alone
* decision about pressing charges
* concerns about publicity
Phase two: outward adjustment
In this next phase toward recovery, the realities of the survivor's life may be the focus while, the trauma of the assault appears to be less obvious. This is often referred to as "denial" as the survivor is trying to get their life back on track and trying to forget about the assault.
Anxieties and fears may become less prominent as the survivor begins again to involve him/her self in their normal activities. While they may seem to have forgotten the incident and gone on with their life, there is usually a high level of denial and repression of feelings around the incident.
The survivor will most likely not care to talk about the assault during this phase. They may begin making some practical decisions around the place where he/she lives, the people she/he considers friends, her/his work associates, and activities he/she chooses to continue or discontinue.
This phase can last a few months, to a few years or several years, until such a time where the survivor experiences triggers/flashbacks which reminds them that they haven't "gotten over the assault." This event is what forces them into the next phase.
Phase three: long-term reorganization
In this phase, the survivor acknowledges the sexual assault and seeks to reintegrate the experience into their daily life. It is during this phase that the survivor is most likely to reach out for help.
Long-term adjustment to sexual assault depends on several factors that come into play around the event. Factors may include the degree of support experienced by the survivor from friends and family, previous self-concept of the survivor, personal strength of the survivor, treatment by professionals following the assault, involvement with the criminal justice system, the survivors prior knowledge of the assault and more.
Some of the difficulties of this phase are the need to integrate a new view of the self; the survivor must accept the event realistically. The survivor must resolve feelings about the assailant and their attitudes toward the gender or their assailant in general. Often the survivor will really want to talk at this stage. Many survivors feel they are losing control because they thought they had dealt with the assault in Phase Two, and may think something is wrong with them because these feelings have come back.
Rape Trauma Syndrome
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