The nature of my work requires that I work not only with victims, but their families, law enforcement, court personnel, school officials, social service staff and other community agencies. Rape and sexual assault victims are not the only people these agencies serve. So it is never surprising that these and other community members are confused by what a “typical” response to rape looks like. Let me just say there is no one way, no right way, or wrong way that someone who has been assaulted might react. Linda Ledray states, “There is no such thing as a normal response to rape. “Normal” only means the way most people react, the average response of a large group of people.” Her book Recovering from Rape sheds some light on what one might see in a victim following a sexual assault.
Four General Phases of post rape response:
- Shock and Disbelief
- Denial, forgetfulness, black outs.
- Confusion and Fear
- Fear of death, fear of seeing the rapist or being raped again, fear of similar sounds, smells, places; depression; anxiety; loss of self-esteem; guilt; social withdrawal; anger
- Resolution and coping
- Positive and negative coping skills used
- Long term adjustment
- Living life.
It is important to keep in mind that other factors might affect response: environment, other stressors (kids, financials, relationships), personality.
It is important to note that “normal” helps us have an idea of what to expect but shouldn’t be used to judge a response as right or wrong, good or bad. It is important that as service providers we help the person who has been raped or assaulted figure out what is the best means to help them heal from the traumatic experience.
We must take time to address the facts and help empower the victim to take back control over their life. Often times after a rape, a victim is left feeling powerless and fearful. As therapist, we help them identify the tools they possess and help learn to use those tools to move through and past their trauma. It is important that we have an understanding of the grief and loss process that takes place after a rape, so we can assist the victim in moving toward healing.
Linda E Ledray, R. P. (1994). Recovering from Rape. New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC.