Sexual assault and rape are traumatizing and shocking life events. Victims of such horrifying events often develop rape trauma syndrome. This condition is a part of the complex group of disorders known as post-traumatic stress disorder, along with other identity and dissociative disorders.
The characteristic symptoms of rape trauma syndrome become obvious from the early stages post-trauma. Here is a list of the most prevalent signs and symptoms:
- Shock and mind block;
- Severe stress due to intensive trauma;
- Nausea and vomiting;
- Partial amnesia;
- Chronic fatigue;
- Sleeplessness and nightmares;
- Tremor, confusion and hysteria;
- Sensitivity and emotional instability.
Treatment of victims of sexual aggression must be started immediately in order to minimize long term complications and psychological swings. These survivors are very sensitive and delicate. They have a poor health status and they start to become introverted. They often feel insecure, have low self-esteem and avoid new personal relationships. If they do not follow the right steps of the treatment, they will develop malicious secondary behavior without being aware of what they are doing.
Long Term Complications of Post-Rape Traumas
The psychological instability of rape victims increases their risks of developing abnormal actions and disturbing behaviors.
One of the most common complications of rape trauma syndrome is depression. Having low self-esteem, victims start to be pessimistic, closed minded and mentally fatigued. The stress of the traumatic attack becomes an obsession and changes their life plans. Some survivors feel so depressed they start to believe that is no point in living anymore. In other words, they develop suicidal thoughts.
Also, most of the victims become overprotective and extremely vigilant. They may develop obsessive compulsive disorder, which is defined as the constant need to repeat certain actions. For example, repeatedly self-cleaning and over washing are suggestive signs. Moreover, they have permanent mistrust issues and exaggerated vigilance. They often feel the need to check the doors and the windows and to lock themselves in every time they enter a room.
Also, they lose faith in people. They are afraid to open their hearts again or to contact people. They do not go out or call their friends anymore. Solitude seems the perfect coping mechanism, but they do not realize that this aggravates the depression. Most of the victims develop identity issues. They do know who they are anymore. These are trigger factors for developing pathologic behaviors such as bipolar personality.
Victims of sexual assault or rape need special care and professional treatment. Rape is a striking happening that changes a person for the rest of their life. Recovering from such traumatic stress is very important and therapy must be initiated from the very beginning.
There is a series of signs and symptoms that a person may experience after a sexual assault, out of which the most common ones are:
- Phobias, such as agoraphobia (afraid of being outside) or the fear of being touched, being alone or in a crowded space.
- Paranoia. The victim starts to be overprotective, anxious and suspicious.
- Introversion. The raped person keeps their feelings inside and does not want to develop new relationships with other people.
- Insomnia. Many victims experience sleeplessness and repeated nightmares. They may have sudden flashbacks, panic attacks and mood swings. They are afraid to go to sleep and they often change their biorhythm.
- Depression. Having a low self-esteem, being traumatized and feeling useless and powerless, many victims fall into the depression trap.
- Insecurity. They become overprotective and some may develop obsessive compulsive disorders. For example, they may feel the need for excessive washing, check several times if the doors and windows are closed, or want to avoid going out in unknown places.
The Treatment for Rape Traumas
It is easy to ignore the symptoms of rape trauma. Even if the victim says that he or she is feeling okay and there is no need for therapy, you must not treat them superficially. Many victims try to be strong and keep up appearances, but, on the inside, they are screaming for help. Even if the treatment for sexual assault is complex, every single person that has passed through such a traumatizing event must follow the steps to recovery.
First of all, they need a complete physical examination from a doctor to see if everything is okay. Many trauma victims may have hemorrhages, bruises and even bone fractures. Also, they may need treatment for physical pain.
Secondly, they must deal with the psychological pain. A psychiatrist must examine them and establish their profile. Some of them may need anti-depressants, anxiolytics or sleeping pills. After checking out from the hospital, the victim must be put in touch with a psychologist to continue the treatment. Both therapists must work as a team in order to renormalize the patient’s physical and psychological state.
Rape trauma syndrome is a psychological experience that a victim tends to go through after rape, which generally affects emotional, cognitive and physical behavior. This syndrome was defined by psychologists and researchers after carefully observing female victims who were physically and sexually abused.
This medical condition is complex and includes a wide series of symptoms and reactions that most people experience immediately after the trauma as well as over time. Because the syndrome has multiple manifestations, the treatment needs to be done by an interdisciplinary team of doctors and psychologists.
Main Stages of Rape Trauma Syndrome
- The acute phase
- The adjustment period
- The back to normal stage
The first stage begins either in the first moments of trauma or several days after the tragic episode and usually lasts between a couple of days and a few weeks, when it passes on to the second phase. The acute episode can be hysterical, controlled or shocking. Although is a highly complex condition, victims often experience symptoms like:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Anxiety and nervousness
- Obsessive self-cleaning
- Lack of memory, confusion and weeping
- General pain and nightmares
The second stage is defined as the adjustment period. Victims may seem to come back to their normal lives, but they still may experience painful memories, insomnia due to persistent nightmares and extreme vigilance leading to panic attacks. This period is crucial because many women may become depressed and lose their self-esteem. They tend to block their feelings, pretending that everything is fine, and to suppress the memories, although they are obsessed about the trauma. It is impossible to forget such an awful experience, so psychological support is mandatory. Also, victims feel the need to change something in their lives, like having a look change, moving somewhere else or travelling. This stage is very sensible, because the assault victims can either move forward or adopt malicious behaviors.
The last stage is called renormalization. This is a smooth passage into a healthy routine and lifestyle. The rape victim has overcome the fears and the anxiety. He or she is aware of what have happened, but the traumatic event is no longer the central focus of attention. This is the time to get back to work and to reintegrate into social groups. Communication and teamwork are very important, because this is the way to regain the old trust in people and to develop healthy relationships.