It will be helpful for you to understand some of the most common responses victims have to rape. While rape survivors may react in different ways, a pattern of response has been identified. This pattern is often called Rape Related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  This is not a mental disorder but merely a description of common experiences of rape victims.

Impact Phase - During the hours and days following the rape, victims may respond with shock, disbelief, confusion, agitation, crying, anger, fear, and even laughing. Some victims appear to be very controlled and calm. Victims may also experience the physical symptoms of pain, soreness, bruising, vaginal or rectal bleeding, and headaches. They may have difficulty resuming their everyday routines. These are natural responses to a life-threatening trauma and your support can help them through these difficult days.

Acute Phase - After the initial shock has passed, victims often experience a variety of symptoms: nightmares, flashbacks, insomnia, loss of appetite, mood swings, depression, anxiety, phobias, humiliation, and self-blame. This can be a very painful time for both the victim and his or her loved ones. These responses are common to victims of rape and are part of working through the trauma.

Another reaction for some victims may be denial. Victims often try to forget about the rape and "move on with their lives." Although this may appear to you to be a resolution to the crisis, it typically is not. He or she may continue to be experiencing the difficulties mentioned above despite a normal outward appearance. When the survivor breaks through this denial, he or she may actually appear to be backsliding in the healing process. These reactions, while understandably troubling to both of you, are actually a sign that he or she is beginning to confront the feelings brought on by the rape.

Patience and continued support are the keys to helping a survivor through these times.  Roll with the good days and continue to be there for him or her during the difficult times. During this time, you may wish that he or she would stop talking about their feelings or about the rape. You may feel like it's time that he or she resume sexual relations with you. You may feel impatient with the nightmares and fears of darkness, strangers and sudden noises. Most of all, you may fear that things will never be the same again.  Remember that recovery from rape can take a long time, sometimes a very long time. Try to be patient and understanding and seek out your own source of support to help you through these periods of stress.    

Integration Phase - In this final phase of healing, the survivor comes to terms with the victimization. He or she may come through this process with a new self-concept. The survivor will probably feel stronger and realize that he or she is a survivor not a victim. Your support, patience, and caring during the healing process may make for a stronger relationship. Having survived this crisis, you both will have gained greater self-knowledge and awareness.

Concerns About Sexuality and Intimacy

Because rape is a violent sexual act, if you are his or her intimate partner, both you and the survivor may be experiencing considerable anxiety about resuming sexual activity. The typical reaction to rape involves a temporary disruption in previous patterns of sexual activity. If your sexual difficulties are long-term or extreme, you may both want to seek counseling. If the survivor experienced a rape that involved extreme sexual violence and/or multiple perpetrators, professional support may be needed to resume sexual activity.  Younger victims, for whom the rape was the first sexual experience may also have greater concerns and fears and choose to get counseling.

It is important to be understanding and sensitive during sexual activity. Some aspects of sex may remind the survivor of the rape. He or she may even experience flashbacks.

Allow the survivor to regain his or her sense of control which was taken by the rapist. Do not demand or pressure him or her into sexual activity. Don't be angry or doubt your own sexual adequacy if he or she appears to be less sexually responsive than before. Create opportunities to openly communicate each other’s feelings about your sexual relationship. Demonstrating anger, frustration, or an unwillingness to change certain patterns will distance the two of you and place an added burden on your sexual relationship.

Be patient. Sexual disruption following rape is usually temporary and can be overcome with sensitivity and understanding.

Final Comments for Secondary Survivors

Helping a loved one to heal from rape can require patience, empathy, understanding, real listening, and time. Your support and belief in the survivor communicate the most important message: that you love him or her unconditionally. Believe in the survivor and yourself and trust that he or she is strong enough to do the rest.  Remember that your feelings are important too, and that help is available.  Ozark Rape Crisis Center is here for both you and the survivor.

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