Rape Trauma Syndrome
Evidence of Rape Trauma Syndrome was first documented by Ann Burgess & Lynda Holmstrom in 1974.
It refers to the acute phase and long-term reorganisation process that occurs as a result of forcible rape or attempted forcible rape. This syndrome of behavioural, somatic and psychological reactions is an acute stress reaction to a life-threatening situation. Although some things have changed since 1974 (eg. the term "sexual assault" is now more widely accepted than "rape", and society has come to recognise trauma-related disorders), the original work by Burgess & Holmstrom remains current and useful in working with adults who have been sexually assaulted during their adult life. The following outlines the phases and reactions in Rape Trauma Syndrome.
Acute Phase - Disorganisation
Impact Reactions - within hours
Victims may present in a variety of ways, from
- Expressed style - feelings shown in such behaviour as crying, sobbing, smiling, restlessness, tenseness, joking.
- Controlled style - feelings are masked or hidden behind a calm, composed, or subdued effect.
Immediate effects - first weeks
- Physical trauma
- Skeletal muscle tension
- Gastrointestinal irritability
- Genitourinary disturbance
Emotional reactions that may be present:
shock, numbness, embarrassment, guilt, powerlessness, loss of trust, fear, anxiety, anger, disbelief, shame, depression, denial, retriggering, disorientation.
Short-term effects - up to 3-4 months
- Generalised anxiety & fear.
- Disturbance - of eating, sleeping, thoughts, relationship.
- Disruption - to create safety e.g. change of phone number.
- Impaired social functioning
- Difficulty in maintaining/ establishing relationships.
- Guilt for not preventing assault (often).
- Sudden, unpredictable changes of residences and disappearances.
- Negative impact of legal processes.
Intermediate effects - up to 1 year
- Disruption and change in lifestyle – e.g. move house, change job.
- Increased dependence – e.g. on family.
- Sleep disturbance, often nightmares.
- Fear and phobias e.g. going out or being alone, cleanliness,
- Sexuality – e.g. body image, flashbacks, loss of enjoyment
- Past rape/incest - brings up past abuse.
- "Damaged" goods – e.g. thinks others can tell.
Long-term reactions - up to 4 years
- Anger – e.g. towards offender, legal system, family/friends
- Diminished capacity to enjoy life.
- Hypervigilance to danger – e.g. fearful of new and risky situations.
- Continued sexual dysfunction - may engage in regular sex as before, but with decreased desire and arousal, and many experience flashbacks.
Reference:Atosha Clancy 2009