Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a debilitating and terrifying condition which follows a traumatic event, is often a major contributor to the horror of the rape experience. The violence and terror that characterise every rape render the victim unable to forget the experience, being constantly reminded by flashbacks, nightmares and persisting thoughts and memories. Numbed emotions, especially towards people who were formerly close to the victim, aggravate feelings of detachment and isolation, resulting in sleep problems, depression and changes in behaviour. In general, PTSD symptoms are more severe in traumatic experiences, which are initiated by a person, as in the case with rape.
FACTS ABOUT RAPE
1. A woman is raped every 83 seconds.
2. In South Africa alone, 1 million cases of rape are reported each year. Police estimate that for every rape case reported, another 35 have not.
3. Rape is defined as forced sexual intercourse conducted against the will of one of the partners.
4. Rape occurs in many different settings - a girl or woman can be raped by her boyfriend, husband, a family member, friend, acquaintance, stranger or gang of men. Men and adolescent boys can also fall victim to rape.
5. If someone has been raped, it is their choice whether or not to report the incident to the police.
6. If rape victims decide to report the rape, they should proceed to the nearest police station as soon as possible. They should not wash their bodies or change clothes after the rape as doing so may destroy forensic evidence that can be used to effect a prosecution in court. The victim must also be prepared to be examined by a doctor, who will search for any of the rapist’s bodily fluids, hair or skin that may remain. In addition, they must be prepared to go to court to testify if the rapist is apprehended.
7. The risk of pregnancy as a result of rape is a very real concern. All rape victims are at further risk of becoming infected with the AIDS virus or other sexually transmitted diseases.
HOW TO HELP A RAPE VICTIM
If someone you know has been raped it is important that you:
· Believe what they tell you.
· Do not blame them for what has happened.
· Listen and offer your support.
· Be understanding if their behaviour seems different or their emotions change.
· Allow them to make their own decisions so that they still have a sense of control in their lives.
· Be patient with them.
A person who has been raped might:
· Block off their feelings and appear to be coping.
· Not want to talk bout the rape initially but then have a delayed emotional reaction to the rape months or even years later.
· Not want to engage in sexual relations for a long while after the incident.
· Display classic symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - nightmares, compulsive washing, poor concentration, losing trust in close friends, experiencing panic attacks and a loss of control, feeling angry, helpless and even suicidal.
· Benefit from speaking to a counsellor/therapist.
· Benefit from medication such as antidepressants or benzodiazepines.
SELF-HELP FOR RAPE VICTIMS
1. Rape is a violent, traumatic and life-changing experience that can happen to anyone. Remember that no one ever wants or deserves to be raped. It is important that you do not feel responsible or guilty about the rape incident.
2. You may experience many different feelings after being raped. Some of the more common reactions include:
· Having problems sleeping or having bad nightmares
· Vomiting or not eating properly
· Feeling dirty all the time and washing yourself constantly
· An inability to concentrate properly
· Losing trust in your relationships with other people
· Losing self-confidence and not wanting to be alone
· Feeling a loss of control
· Feeling scared and frightened, angry, helpless, depressed or suicidal
· Experiencing panic attacks
· Not wanting to have sex, even with a partner whom you love
3. Try and obtain medical treatment as soon as possible after you have been raped. Go to your nearest clinic, your doctor or hospital and ask them to help you. They will treat any injuries you may have, and will also conduct an internal examination to check that none of your internal organs have been damaged.
4. Talking and getting psychological help is an important part of recovery. You should talk to someone you trust, who will listen to you and who will believe your story. It could be a member of your family, your husband/partner, a friend, a social worker or professional counsellor or psychologist. Talking about being raped is not always easy but it is an essential part of the healing process.
A number of organisations offer information, counselling and services for people who have been raped. These include:
· Rape Crisis (021) 479 762
· People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA) (011) 642 4345
· Life Line 0800-012-322
· The Depression and Anxiety Support Group (011) 884 1797
5. Be patient with yourself. You have been through a traumatic experience and it may be weeks, months or even years before you are able to put this experience behind you. Good medical care, emotional support, counselling and time will help you feel better. The good news is that the majority of rape victims do recover and learn to have rewarding sexual relationships again.
For further information please contact the Depression and Anxiety Support Group on (011) 783-1474/6 or (011) 884-1797