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‘Horror is followed by rape trauma syndrome’

After-effects of sexual assault can be equally devastating, so the victim should be made to feel comfortable and accepted. There should be no stimuli to trigger flashbacks of the incident.

lucknow Updated: Mar 16, 2018 12:01 IST
Hindustan Times, Lucknow
Horror,Rape trauma,Sexual assault
The trauma for the victim is immense, affecting both her physical and psychological well-being.

Violence against women and children is a matter of grave concern . This violence may be in various forms . One of the major forms of violence is sexual assault or rape which may be better defined as an assault on the privacy and esteem of an individual. This brutality of the assaulter is perpetrated on individuals ranging from 3 to 80 years. As per the National Crime Records Bureau, despite stricter laws after the 2012 Delhi gang rape case, there has been considerable rise in rape cases of minor girls , adolescents and women between 45 and 60 years and above in 2015 and 2016 .

Whoever the assaulter may be (a close acquaintance or a stranger), the trauma for the victim is immense, affecting both her physical and psychological well-being . It leaves the victim trapped in a syndrome which was termed Rape Trauma Syndrome by Wolbert Burgess and Homlstrom in 1974. Its includes disruptions to normal physical, emotional, cognitive, and interpersonal behaviour. The individual may remain trapped for months or even years in certain cases .

When in the acute phase (days and weeks after the rape) of the syndrome, the victims may show varied types of response patterns . Some show expressed responses, where they act hysterically and have anxiety attacks,others show controlled responses where they appear apathetic, acting as if nothing has happened, and still others may show shock/disbelief, portraying a strong sense of disorientation. They may even have poor memory of the assault itself.

The traumatic experience may be so devastating that the victim may experience dulled sensory, affective and memory functions, disorganised thought content, paralyzing anxiety , pronounced internal tremor, obsession to wash or clean themselves, hysteria , confusion and crying, bewilderment and acute sensitivity to the reaction of other people. In addition to this, the victim of sexual assault experiences a number of other mental health issues:-

Anxiety/hostility: The feeling of assault on one’s own body without one’s consent causes intense anxiety to the victim and even triggers panic attacks. The victim may experience insomnia, night terrors, mood swings, extreme anger and hostility.

Acute depression: This encroachment over one’s privacy is very difficult for the victim to accept, creating feelings of hopelessness and despondency . These further aggravate the depression which may be very intense at times and difficult to deal with.

Heightened post traumatic stress levels: Anxiety, depression and intense memories of the assault may cause post traumatic stress. Intensely disruptive flashbacks may also occur .A related condition is complex post traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). It yields symptoms of traditional PTSD(post traumatic stress disorder) as well as fear of being left alone.

Personality disruptions/phobias: Some evidence suggests that personality disruptions like borderline personality can sometimes be the result of sexual abuse. The behaviour associated with these personality disruptions could actually be an adaption to abuse. Victims may develop phobias like hapnophobia(fear of being touched) or agoraphobia(fear of going out at all)

Relationship disruptions: It is possible specially in children who have been abused, to have difficulty in forming healthy and secure relationships with others. Adults who were abused as children may experience insecure attachment patterns, struggle with intimacy, or be too eager to form close attachments.

Lowering of self esteem/dissociation: A sense of self worth is lowered. The person may stop identifying with one’s own body and feel dissociated.

In addition to these mental health issues caused due to physical violence, the victim’s pain is aggravated by the social violence which follows this traumatic experience and hinders the normalization of the victim .

The social stigma attached to sexual assaults may lead to stigmatisation of the assault victim .It begins with skepticism and blame when the victim reports the experience. the victim’s clothing ,behaviour, choice of entertainment and place and timing may be held responsible for the occurrence of such acts. Is this not indirectly supporting the assaulters and trying to establish a rape culture where attitudes that permit and promote rape pervade?

Furthering this is the issue of future family life and marriage of rape survivors.

Questions are raised as to who will accept and marry a rape survivor? Isn’t it high time that our youth who are the biggest catalysts for change should come up and give acceptance to such marriages and make the society realize that rape is by force and not choice? The victim cannot be blamed for it and penalised by social isolation.

Serious cognizance should be taken of the victimisation of the individual . Insensitive treatment by the police and examining physicians, followed by intrusive questioning of the investigating officer and compelled psychological evaluations by the prosecution should be checked.

The victim should be professionally counselled .The family members should also be counselled so that they can make the victim comfortable and feel accepted.They need to be mindful of triggering language and stimuli which may bring flashbacks for the victim.

--Manini Srivastav

The writer is an assistant professor of psychology in Lucknow University.

First Published: Mar 16, 2018 11:57 IST