Although rape is a topic not often discussed, it is unfortunately still a major problem that many men and women face on a daily basis. Once you are a survivor of rape, it may be difficult to overcome the physical and emotional barriers that result from this unwanted act.
The attitude towards rape has evolved over the years. Traditionally, a husband could not be charged with raping his wife even if it was an unwanted sexual act, and men could not be considered rape victims. Today’s definition of rape varies from state to state, but typically refers to an act of non-consensual sexual intercourse that is forced upon someone by physicality, threat of injury, or other forms of pressure or threat.
Unfortunately, rape is not uncommon and happens more often than may be expected. Here are some statistics about rape in the United States:
Although women are most often the victims of rape, with 9 out of 10 survivors being female in 2003, men are not exempt and face many of the same issues during recovery. Rape survivors must address the physical and emotional trauma from the event and must make choices about how to deal with these factors. It is important to provide an individual in this situation with information about the options he or she has so that they can make their own decisions regarding their physical and psychological health.
Sexual assault can lead to many unwanted physical and mental changes in a victim. Sometimes, victims may revert to substance abuse in the form of alcohol or drugs to ease the pain that they feel. This form of “self-medication” may provide temporary relief, but can be detrimental to the overall health of the victim. Instead of using alcohol and drugs as a way of numbing the pain, survivors are encouraged to find activities that they enjoy. Consistent exercise has been found to be a helpful alternative that relieves stress.
Flashbacks and body memories are also common effects of sexual assault. Traumatic events often linger in the form of flashbacks and cause the survivor to feel as if they are back in the moment of the attack. Body memories are a little different, and come in the form of unexplainable physical problems that are triggered by memories of the incident.
Depression, eating disorders and sleep disorders are also commonly seen in the aftermath of a sexual assault. The outcomes of sexual assault are traumatic for both men and women, causing changes in personality and mood. Counseling sessions with a professional therapist or psychologist can be very helpful in the recovery process.
After a sexual assault, having a medical professional do a physical examination is important. For the purposes of collecting evidence, most emergency rooms are equipped with a “rape kit”, which aims to collect possible DNA samples that can lead police investigators to the perpetrator and prevent them from committing the same crime again.
The standard procedures for this examination would also include HIV and STI tests, checking for injuries, pregnancy tests and providing emergency contraceptives for pregnancy prevention.
Not only is taking care of a survivor’s physical health important, but it is also encouraged for individuals who have been sexually assaulted to seek psychological attention or obtain a strong, social support while going through this time. There are many counseling centers and support groups dedicated to listening and helping victims of sexual assault. Many universities provide this service in their counseling centers. CSULB Student Health Services provides counseling for sexual assault survivors.
Although it is common for sexual assaults to go unreported, with less than 40% of cases brought to the attention of police, it is important to have the resources and information available to report these crimes and seek justice. Reporting a rape will not change what has happened to you or a loved one, but it has the potential to stop future attacks from occurring.
To report a rape, the victim or a friend must call 911 to report the crime to police or, when receiving a physical checkup in a hospital’s emergency room, the hospital staff will contact the police upon the request of a victim. There is no specified time limit to report a sexual assault, but it is important to know that the sooner an attack is reported, the better the chances are for justice to be served. Police are more likely to obtain DNA evidence if the crime is reported immediately following the attack and if the evidence has not been washed away. The decision is always up to the survivor on whether or not to report a crime, but it is encouraged for a person to discuss their options with a counselor or a hotline service before reaching a decision.
Having someone to talk to after a traumatic event is very important for the victim to begin the psychological healing process. Hotlines are available 24 hours a day and their trained staff can provide counseling and referrals to other trained counselors.
CSULB Health Resource Center Survivor Empowerment Group