One only needs to tune in to popular police shows and courtroom dramas to understand why so many cases of rape go unreported each year. The line of questioning alone suggests that victims of rape are at least partially responsible for the assault – they are asked about their choice of clothing at the time of the incident, whether they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol or whether they physically engaged with the perpetrator prior to the attack. In other words, victims get the sense they are accused of having “asked for it” – a statement that, sadly enough, is often thrown around in the media by insensitive individuals and parties who have yet to understand the concept of consent.
A victim of rape is going through enough emotional turmoil and the fear of being made to feel they are somehow responsible for this violation, is one of many factors that will deter survivors from contacting the police or other authority figures. Every individual will react differently in the initial stages following a rape – medically referred to as the acute phase – and there certainly is no right or wrong way to respond, let alone a time-frame that is considered “normal” for the initial process of coming to terms with the event.
Healing Takes Time
For the first days or even weeks following the attack, many survivors go through life in a state of shock, feeling completely numb within themselves and toward the external world, while others are plagued by anger nightmares, nausea, a loss of appetite and anxiety. Dealing with physical or psychological symptoms or feeling stuck in a state of numbness can make it all the more challenging to deal with practical problems such as undergoing medical examination and a STD and/or a pregnancy test, let alone issue a report with the police. There are a number of charities that can assist you in making these appointments for you and can even accompany you.
Following the initial reaction, major crisis features are characterised by a series of temporal phases that are identified by the predominance of specific symptoms and concerns. It is vital that hospital staff, police offers and/or crisis help centers adopt a sensitive approach to talking the survivor through the subsequent reactions that may occur weeks following the assault. These reactionary phases are described as Rape Trauma Syndrome, and the intensity of it will vary from person to person, experience to experience. Therefore, it is important that social workers and volunteers involved in the case, have a detailed understanding of RTS in order to tailor their service to the survivor’s needs.
Subsequent reactions are the effects a survivor might experience weeks, months and even years after the assault. Regardless of whether the victim suffered physical injuries or not, a high percentage will experience psychosomatic symptoms such as gynecological problems, soreness, fatigue and aches as a result of heightened anxiety and bouts of depression. One of the worst reactions, and one that is universally common, is the question “why me?” repeatedly racing through a survivor’s head. This is a psychological response to working through a life-changing event, one that attempts to undo what happened, regain control and find a new way to adapt to life. This subsequent reaction is closely linked to feelings of guilt and blame – survivors look for answers as to why the assault occurred, often leading to an exaggerated sense of responsibility. This, of course, is not helped by deeply-rooted social structures and mentalities that tend to reinforce these feelings.
Let a Support Charity be Your Guide
There are a good number of support charities who can be your trusted guide in seeing you through your healing process. Their teams of experienced crisis workers and volunteers will offer a safe environment for you to relay your story, share your thoughts, fears and struggles, and take the first steps to a new start. Don’t keep your story bottled up inside to fester and result in poor mental health that could become increasingly psychosomatic. You are not at fault and deserve the right to a happy, healthy life that is not weighed down by your experience or current, domestically violent circumstance. They can help you achieve this new chapter in your life through expert advice and information available, often 24 hours a day, 7 days a week via a helpline.