Rape trauma syndrome (RTS) is the psychological trauma experienced by a rape victim that includes disruptions to normal physical, emotional, cognitive, and interpersonal behavior. The theory was first described by psychiatrist Ann Wolbert Burgess and sociologist Lynda Lytle Holmstrom in 1974.
RTS is a cluster of psychological and physical signs, symptoms and reactions common to most rape victims immediately following and for months or years after a rape. While most research into RTS has focused on female victims, sexually abused males (whether by male or female perpetrators) also exhibit RTS symptoms. RTS paved the way for consideration of complex post-traumatic stress disorder, which can more accurately describe the consequences of serious, protracted trauma than posttraumatic stress disorderalone. The symptoms of RTS and post-traumatic stress syndrome overlap. As might be expected, a person who has been raped will generally experience high levels of distress immediately afterward. These feelings may subside over time for some people; however, individually each syndrome can have long devastating effects on rape victims and some victims will continue to experience some form of psychological distress for months or years. It has also been found that rape survivors are at high risk for developing substance use disorders, major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and eating disorders.
RTS identifies three stages of psychological trauma a rape survivor goes through: the acute stage, the outer adjustment stage, and the renormalization stage.
The acute stage occurs in the days or weeks after a rape. Durations vary as to the amount of time the victim may remain in the acute stage. The immediate symptoms may last a few days to a few weeks and may overlap with the outward adjustment stage.
According to Scarse, there is no “typical” response amongst rape victims. However, RAINN) asserts that, in most cases, a rape victim’s acute stage can be classified as one of three responses: expressed (“He or she may appear agitated or hysterical, [and] may suffer from crying spells or anxiety attacks”); controlled (“the survivor appears to be without emotion and acts as if ‘nothing happened’ and ‘everything is fine'”); or shock/disbelief (“the survivor reacts with a strong sense of disorientation. They may have difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or doing everyday tasks. They may also have poor recall of the assault”). Not all rape survivors show their emotions outwardly. Some may appear calm and unaffected by the assault.
Behaviors present in the acute stage can include:
• Diminished alertness.
• Dulled sensory, affective and memory functions.
• Disorganized thought content.
• Paralyzing anxiety.
• Pronounced internal tremor.
• Obsession to wash or clean themselves.
• Hysteria, confusion and crying.
• Acute sensitivity to the reaction of other people.
The outward adjustment stage:
Survivors in this stage seem to have resumed their normal lifestyle. However, they simultaneously suffer profound internal turmoil, which may manifest in a variety of ways as the survivor copes with the long-term trauma of a rape. In a 1976 paper, Burgess and Holmstrom note that all but 1 of their 92 subjects exhibited maladaptive coping mechanisms after a rape. The outward adjustment stage may last from several months to many years after a rape.
RAINN identifies five main coping strategies during the outward adjustment phase:
• minimization (pretending ‘everything is fine’)
• dramatization (cannot stop talking about the assault)
• suppression (refuses to discuss the rape)
• explanation (analyzes what happened)
• flight (moves to a new home or city, alters appearance)
Other coping mechanisms that may appear during the outward adjustment phase include:
• poor health in general.
• continuing anxiety
• sense of helplessness
• inability to maintain previously close relationships
• experiencing a general response of nervousness known as the “startle response”
• persistent fear and or depression at much higher rates than the general population
• mood swings from relatively happy to depression or anger
• extreme anger and hostility (more typical of male victims
• sleep disturbances such as vivid dreams and recurring nightmares
• insomnia, wakefulness, night terrors
• dissociation (feeling like one is not attached to one’s body)
• panic attacks
• reliance on coping mechanisms, some of which may be beneficial (e.g., philosophy and family support), and others that may ultimately be counterproductive (e.g., self harm, drug, or alcohol abuse
Survivors in this stage can have their lifestyle affected in some of the following ways:
• Their sense of personal security or safety is damaged.
• They feel hesitant to enter new relationships.
• Questioning their sexual identity or sexual orientation typical of men raped by other men or women raped by other women.
• Sexual relationships become disturbed. Many survivors have reported that they were unable to re-establish normal sexual relations and often shied away from sexual contact for some time after the rape. Some report inhibited sexual response and flashbacks to the rape during intercourse. Conversely, some rape survivors become hyper-sexual or promiscuous following sexual attacks, sometimes as a way to reassert a measure of control over their sexual relations.
Some rape survivors may see the world as a more threatening place to live in, so they will place restrictions on their lives, interrupting their normal activity. For example, they may discontinue previously active involvements in societies, groups or clubs, or a parent who was a survivor of rape may place restrictions on the freedom of their children.
That was a complete copy and paste jobby, but, well it troubles me just how much I was nodding and silently agreeing with every part of it.
Piece of mind is completely robbed, when something like that is done to you, by someone you trusted with your life, your child’s…
Sick. Days like today when I’m not busy, sitting around with nothing to occupy my mind is when it really stings, the lack of humanity, by him. Times like this it truly hits me just how long karma is really taking.