You will experience both the initial physical trauma, as well as psychological and emotional trauma:
Physical trauma could take the form of:
- Visible bruising and injuries
- Internal injuries
- Bleeding in and around the vaginal or anal area
- It can also result in painful intercourse with your partner, urinary infections, uterine fibroids, pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV, genital warts, syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia and others.
Psychological trauma could take the form of:
- You may have distressing thoughts or mental images relating to the event, dreams or flashbacks.
- You may want to persistently avoid things associated with the event such as places, people, activities, situations or experiences that may trigger memories of the event.
- You may withdraw from activities and people.
- You may experience negative changes in mood such as having thoughts and feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, feelings of mistrust, sadness, and anger.
- Anxiety that could express itself in irritability, jumpiness and difficulties concentrating.
- You may not be able to sleep well and have recurring nightmares.
- You may experience changes in your sexual behaviour.
- You may have difficulties with intimacy, which could impact on your sexual relationships and other relationships.
- You may feel responsible and blame yourself.
Remember - the rape was not your fault - the rapist chose to rape you. Believing it is your fault slows down the healing process.
- powerlessness and a loss of control
- inability to speak about the rape
- a fear of touching
- grief about loss
- desire to use drugs and alcohol, desire to hurt themselves
- suicidal thoughts and feelings.
How can rape affect men who have been raped?
- Male survivors of rape often experience many of the same symptoms as women
- Many male survivors themselves did not think of the possibility of being raped, which makes it an even greater shock to them
- This could make a man doubt whether it was rape and stop him from reporting it
- This feeds into a silence around male rape which perpetuates the myth that it doesn't happen
- Men have often been socialised not to show their feelings and so they will often not process it, which could result in substance abuse problems, physical illness because of it being bottled up
- Heterosexual men who have been raped often go through a phase of doubting their own sexuality, especially if no physical force was used
- Men who have been victims of child sexual abuse often struggle with an inability to create meaningful relationships, personal shame, some form of sexual dysfunction including sex addiction, porn addiction and incapacity for intimacy, relationship problems including excessive anger at their partners, homophobia and excessive reliance on alcohol and drugs,
A key difference is the way society and other people respond to them:
- Women are often told the rape was their fault because of what they were wearing, what they were doing and where they were
- Men are often questioned about their manhood - What kind of man are you to let that happen? Why didn't you defend yourself?
How do rape survivors experience secondary trauma?
The responses of the police, health, social and other services, can play a key role in helping a survivor heal or influence their ability to recover from the trauma.
Secondary victimisation is defined as the insensitive attitudes, behaviours and practises of service providers towards a rape survivor after the rape incident. This adds to the trauma they experience. A negative experience impacts significantly on recovery. For women, reporting rape they may not be believed or blamed, for men reporting rape they may be ridiculed for having been raped, for sex workers it may not be accepted that they have been raped and may be exposed to further violence. Survivors also experience secondary victimisation through the ways in which family, friends and the community respond to the rape, when myths around blaming the survivor are used to explain the rape.
How does rape affect the family/partner?
- Initially, a partner/close family member may go through a period of denial and then move into feeling shocked or angry.
- If you are angry, it is important for you to work through this and to KNOW that no matter what the circumstances surrounding the rape, it is never the survivor's fault.
- You may feel guilty or responsible as if you could have helped to prevent it.
- You may feel helpless in seeing how it has affected your loved one, and not knowing how to help them.
- You may be overly protective of the survivor, as you see how emotionally fragile they are.
- The survivor may pull away from you emotionally, which may make you feel alienated and hurt as you are wanting to help and support. Re-establishing independence for the survivor is an important part of the healing process.
- There are likely to be changes in your relationship with the survivor as they process the rape and go through their healing journey. It is important for you to get the necessary help and support for yourself as you support and help them.
- As a partner, be patient with and around sexual intimacy, as the survivor may want to be close to you, or they may pull away from you. Be there for them, in the ways that they need, at the pace that they need you to be.
Remember you need to look after yourself too, in order to support a rape survivor. Find a support base that you can draw on in an ongoing way.