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"One year ago, I locked my door and went to sleep; like we all do on any given night. Unfortunately, this night was like no other before and was one I will never be able to forget. I woke up that night to a co-worker who had undressed himself, crawled into my bed and raped me. "
Kathleen, rape survivor
Rape is a crime, talking about it isn't.
Rape and Sexual Assault
Rape is a crime that revolves around power, hostility, and violence. It is not a crime of sex and passion. The actual definition of rape varies from state-to-state in the US and it varies from country to country internationally. It is usually defined as one person forcing another to engage in a sexual act against their will, most commonly intercourse. Rape is also commonly known as sexual assault. Victims can be male
or female and of any age, race, physical appearance, and sexual orientation.
A person should never be forced to participate in a sexual act with another through the use of force. Rapists use violence, or the threat of violence, to take control of another person. Rapists may also utilize pharmaceutical agents ("date rape drugs"
) in order to render the victim immobile enough that they are unaware of what is happening and unable to give consent. It doesn't matter how the rape has occurred, it is a crime, and a frightening experience that is severely traumatizing to the victim.
No two victims will react in the exact same way. There is no concise guide that will fit every rape scenario. If you have been the victim of rape, the most important thing to remember is that you are not to blame and that you can heal from the assault. You may choose to report the crime
to the police right away in order to help put the rapist in custody as soon as possible, and you may want to contact a rape crisis center and undergo counseling to help you cope with the aftermath of the rape. Even if you choose not to report the crime committed against you, there are three things that every rape survivor should do: seek medical care, deal with your emotions and feelings, and acknowledge that the rape was not your fault.
Seeking Medical Attention
Hospital emergency rooms and medical centers have doctors or other health care professionals that are trained in dealing with rape victims and will know exactly what to do in those crucial first moments after the attack.
If you are unsure about where to go, look up your local crisis hotline number or rape crisis center number for immediate help. There is also a national sexual assault hotline number at 800-656-HOPE.
When you seek immediate medical attention be sure to do so without bathing, douching, or changing clothes in order to help medical examiners as much as possible. You will also be given a test to see if you have been exposed to any sexually-transmitted diseases or internal injuries. Rape victims under the age of 18 may not want their parents to be notified of the rape, however this will depend on the laws in your state and country. While some may treat rape victims completely confidentially, others will require that a parent or guardian be notified and sometimes present.
The sooner you receive medical treatment, the better the chances are that evidence can be preserved and help bring your attacker to justice. If you are not examined immediately, you can still go in for a checkup later on and be treated for STDs, injuries or pregnancy. Additionally, in some instances doctors may be able to obtain evidence even days after the rape has occurred.
During the medical exam, you may request that a trained rape counselor be there to help you through the first part of your emotional recovery. They will listen to you while you talk about what happened. This is extremely beneficial to rape victims, as it helps them feel safe and calm again. A trained sexual assault advocate will also walk your through the rest of the examination process and cover your state's laws on how rape victims are treated. Medical care following a rape includes:
- Treatment to prevent an unwanted pregnancy.
- Testing for sexually-transmitted diseases including the HIV/AIDS virus. This is extremely important, as the sooner a STD is found, the quicker treatment can begin.
- Collection of evidence left behind by the rapist including skin, bodily fluids, nails and hair from their body or clothing.
- Testing for internal injuries and appropriate treatment.
- Identification of any pharmaceutical substances such as the date rape drug.
At no time are you under any obligation to go through with any of the medical proceedings. You are free to stop the examination at any point.
Your Emotions and Feelings
Rape is a very traumatic experience. However, with the emotional care of a trained sexual assault advocate, the healing process can begin right away. Rape victims may feel a swirl of emotions directly following their rape including anger, sadness, loneliness, anxiousness, nervous, frightfulness, confusion, and numbness. It is completely normal to go through a mix of emotions as your body and mind try to cope with the trauma.
Rape victims may also experience physical symptoms as a result of the rape, such as having trouble eating, sleeping or even concentrating on work or school. These physical effects are known as rape trauma syndrome and are entirely normal given the circumstances. It can be a daunting task to talk about your feelings resulting from the rape. Feelings of fear, shame, and the prospects of bringing back memories that are too painful to bear may cause you to avoid treatment. You may feel as though you will not be able to get through the after effects of rape, but you are stronger than you know, you have survived, and seeking professional help will greatly increase your chances of recovery.
Rape is Not Your Fault
There is never a time when any person has the right to have sex with you without your consent. The rapist is the only person to blame for the rape. A common tactic of rapists to further subdue their victims is to tell them that it was their fault that the rape occurred, further instilling feelings of guilt and shame in the victim to break them down emotionally. They may say things such as "You know you wanted it to happen," or "You were asking for this to happen when you did this..." This is just a way for them to exercise a feeling of control over the victim. No matter what the victim said or did before, in the middle, or after the rape occurred, they are never to blame.
Since the majority of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows, survivors may feel torn between reporting the person or not. Rape survivors must always remember that their safety and comfort is their first priority and that they must do what is right for them in order to facilitate healing and recovery.
If you have been a victim of rape, you are welcome to join our message board and chat room for support and validation. Use your voice, connect with other survivors, and heal. You deserve to be heard and supported.
© 2007 After Silence - rape and sexual abuse victims message board, support forums, and chat room.
This article may not be reprinted or reproduced without express permission.
For more information on rape, read this article resealed by Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology, 2nd ed. Gale Group, 2001.