Psychology Of A Rape Victim: Rape Trauma Syndrome

3 min read

rape trauma syndrome
Rhea Rastogi
As an aspiring filmmaker, I am a girl who is all for art and creativity. Cinema, storytelling, music, travel, and curious about human behavior.

Rape is not only one of the most serious crimes against women in India, but unfortunately, also one of the most common crimes. It is said that every fifteen minutes a woman becomes the victim of rape. A recent verdict in the 2012 Delhi-rape case has left some ray of hope in our hearts, but justice is still a far off dream. 

But in most of the cases what happens is that everyone tends to forget about the trauma that a victim goes through. From the police officers to the lawyer, to even, at times, family and friends, people do not seem to be sensitive enough about the condition of the victim post-rape.

We often choose to call rape victims, rape survivors, choosing not to victimise them or their situation. This is mostly done as an uplifting or motivating move, but it often makes people insensitive towards what the girl has gone through and tends to not let the victim feel completely what she is feeling without making her rush to normalcy.

Therefore, I am going to omit the usage of the word survivor and use the term victim, so that we understand the psyche of the person who has gone through something so heinous and do not see it in a heroic manner. 

Rape Trauma Syndrome

rape trauma syndrome

Rape Trauma Syndrome is a psychological trauma, which a rape victim experiences after the crime, causing disturbance to the physical, emotional, sexual, cognitive and interpersonal behaviour of the victim.

It is a syndrome that makes the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder even more complex. It is a syndrome that can last from the time of the crime to months and even years after that.

It can cause physical and emotional imbalances, mostly common to most of the rape victims, and show certain symptoms and signs to indicate the trauma caused by the crime.

This syndrome also includes the various health issues, both physical and mental, that a victim develops, like major depression, anxiety, numbness and eating disorders. It becomes difficult for a victim to cope up with such an event in their life and therefore they tend to develop this syndrome. 

Rape Trauma Syndrome can be categorised into the following stages that a rape victim goes through:

The Acute Stage

stages of rape trauma syndrome

The Acute Stage is the first stage that the victim goes through. It is the immediate traumatic reaction that happens within days or weeks after the crime takes place.

The symptoms that characterise this stage are: numbness, nausea, sleep disorders, anxiety attacks, depression, vomiting, dull sensory and memory functions, irregular outbreaks into crying and shouting, and constant fear and sensitivity to the reaction of other people. 

These symptoms are the most common symptoms shown in victims immediately after the crime takes place. However, there is no definite answer to how a victim would react to such a traumatic event that takes place in its life. 

The Outward Adjustment Stage

This stage is about getting back to normalcy and regular lifestyle, with severe internal turmoil and profound effect on the victim’s psyche, which influences the victim’s day to day life and activities.

The characteristics of this stage are the various coping mechanisms like : pretending that everything is fine (Minimisation), constantly reliving the trauma by talking about it (Dramatisation), refusing to talk about the assault at all (Suppression), analysing what had happened (Explanation), Moving to a new city or changing home (Flight) and victims showing symptoms like poor health conditions, developing various phobias, dissociation and blocking of traumatic thoughts, and sense of helplessness, mood swings, panic attacks and flashbacks. 

A rape victim’s constant effort of getting back to normalcy and everyday routine is mostly hindered by their sense of safety and security being damaged, and their dignity being affected.

The question of safety needs to be addressed with the victim and be talked about, but the question of dignity is what we as societies need to make the victim understand that the crime was done against it, by a criminal, so if anyone has lost its dignity, it is the criminal and not the victim. 

The Re-normalization Stage

In this stage, the victim integrates the crime that took place into their lives. The crime is no longer the central focus of their life, and there are no feelings of being the victim.

In this stage, one can truly call a rape victim, a rape survivor, because they reach this stage after battling through the entire trauma, symptoms and the affect that the crime had on them.

While the event might still be looked at as an unfortunate event that happened in their life, it stops being the story of their entire life and remains just a bad chapter in a book. 

stages of rape trauma syndrome

One of the things that can help a rape victim to become a rape survivor can be proper medical care. Proper care of the victim, physically and mentally, can work wonders in their coming out of the trauma.

Taking care of the environment the victim is in and reassuring them of their safety is another thing which can prove to be extremely beneficial for bettering the victim’s mental and emotional state.

Listening to them when they are feeling low or are talking about the incident, helping them start afresh and bringing them back to normal life, and helping them get back to their regular activities are few other ways in which one can help them to be better. 

But mainly, and the biggest help would be a change in the mindset of the society, the mindset which keeps on victim-blaming by making personal comments on character, profession, lifestyle and basically, anything.

This mindset is the reason why a number of rape cases in India go unreported, due to the fear of what people will say and think.

In such a case, the only solution is for us as a society to change how we look at the crimes against women. It is to not ask the victim to feel guilty or feel ashamed, but to make the culprit pay for its deeds.