One of the main issues I treat in therapy is the trauma of rape. Since so many women and men face this type of trauma, I feel it is important to talk about how it could impact one’s life. Although each client is unique in how they respond to a trauma, there are certain feelings and reactions that many rape survivors deal with. Here are a few to be aware of:
- Being on guard/hyper-vigilant: feeling jumpy, anxious, difficulty sleeping, exaggerated emotional and startle responses
- Physical symptoms: such as sweating, muscle tension, increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, headaches, stomachaches, etc. when triggered by a reminder of the trauma.
- Mental process: ruminating thoughts, racing mind, etc. Many survivors also try to forget what happened because the memory is so painful. Other may have intrusive imagery or flashbacks of the trauma, making them feel like they are re-experiencing the feelings and sensations associated with the rape.
- Abrupt mood swings: going from anger, to crying, to temper tantrums. This can lead to withdrawing from people and activities
- Feelings of helplessness and fears about personal safety
- Shock and disbelief
- Dissociated: feeling numb or checked out
- Shame and lack of self worth, particularly with body image and sexuality
- Sleep problems: such as insomnia, nightmares, and night terrors
What to do if you are raped or sexually assaulted:
- Get Medical Care as soon as possible: you may have injuries you are not aware of or that you cannot see. Getting tested for STDs and doing a pregnancy test is also advisable. Having a medical exam will also help you in collecting physical evidence should you make a police report
- Safety and support: reach out to someone you trust to give you support. Have them join you if you decide to make a police report.
- Find a therapist that works with rape survivors. Therapy can be a safe place where you can talk about the trauma and learn ways to cope with the aftermath of the rape.
- A great Resource is RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network). They can connect you to a rape crisis center near you. (800)656-HOPE
- Another great Resource is “Peace Over Violence:” http://www.peaceoverviolence.org/