Rape occurs when someone is forced to participate in a sexual act against his or her will. These forced acts can include oral, vaginal, or anal penetration. It is most commonly believed that rape tends to only occur as an act perpetrated by a male against a female, but the reality is that rape can happen to anyone, regardless of age or sex.
Rape trauma is a series of symptoms that may afflict a person after he or she has suffered through the devastating experience of being sexually assaulted. It is a form of PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) that affects people in various ranges of severity. Regardless of how long ago the rape actually occurred, the thoughts and emotions related to the trauma can have a lasting impact on the victim.
According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), 1 of out every 6 women in America has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. RAINN further reports that 1 in 33 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape in his lifetime.
Sadly, 15% of sexual assault and rape victims are under the age of 12. The statistics have been broken down as follows:
- 29% of child rape victims are between the ages of 12 and 17.
- 44% of child rape victims are under the age of 18.
- 80% of rape victims are under the age of 30.
- 7% of girls and 3% of boys in grades 5-8 have reported being sexually abused.
- 12% of girls and 5% of boys in grades 9-12 have reported being sexually abused.
- 30% of child rape victims are between the ages of 4 and 7.
- 93% of child and adolescent sexual assault victims reported that they knew their attacker.
- Girls between the ages of 16 and 19 are 4 times more likely to fall victim to acts of sexual assault, attempted rape, and completed rape than the rest of the population.
It is important to note, however, that the preceding statistics are based on acts that have been reported. It is impossible to know how many individuals have become victims of rape, but have not reported it.
Signs and Symptoms of Rape Trauma
The signs that a child or adolescent has been the victim of rape can vary drastically depending on the child’s support network, the child’s personality, and the child’s level of safety following the crime. The relationship that the child or adolescent has with his or her offender can also play a significant role in the way in which symptoms present. The following are various examples of different behavioral, physical, and psychosocial symptoms that a child or adolescent may exhibit following a rape trauma:
- Crying more than is usual for him or her
- Refraining from socializing with peers
- Not wanting to be alone
- Heightened awareness and startle response
- Drop in school performance
- Becoming easily upset by seemingly small things
- Increased bathing
- Struggles with interpersonal relationships
- Substance abuse
- Suicidal ideation
- Suicide attempts
Physical symptoms: Some physical symptoms will present themselves immediately following the sexual assault, while others may appear at a later time.
- Chronic nausea and/or vomiting
- Chronic headaches
- Muscle tension / soreness of the body
- Sudden presence of bruises, cuts, or other injuries
- Bleeding in the vagina or rectum
- Infections developing in the vagina or rectum
- Gynecological problems, including irregular, heavier, and/or painful periods, vaginal discharge, bladder infections, and sexually transmitted diseases
- Changes in eating patterns
- Significant weight gain or weight loss
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Increased feelings of constant fear
- Increased feelings of chronic anxiety
- Feelings of guilt or blaming oneself
- Feeling dirty and worthless
- Becoming emotionally numb
- Feelings of shame and humiliation
- Memory loss or confusion
- Feeling helpless
- Having flashbacks and/or nightmares of the trauma
- Becoming severely depressed
- Suffering from suicidal ideation
Effects of Rape Trauma
The effects that experiencing a rape or attempted rape can have on a child or adolescent can be devastating. This is not a crime that can easily be forgotten and regardless of how severe the symptoms are, the psychological effects will most likely last a lifetime.
Unfortunately, some children who experience this trauma go on to become abusers themselves. Whether the behaviors are done out of spite or resentment or wanting to regain the power they lost when they were the victims, the sexually maladaptive behaviors that can result can cause further trauma for the perpetrators, as well as for their victims.
Some of the long-term effects that falling victim to rape trauma can have on children and adolescents can include:
- Substance abuse
- Dropping out of school
- Loss of self-esteem and self-worth
- Developing unhealthy and unstable interpersonal relationships
- Long-lasting physical effects (e.g. developing HIV/AIDS or other STDs as a result of the assault)
- Reckless behaviors / not caring what happens to them
- Emotional instability / feeling damaged
- Becoming the victim of further assaults
- Taking on the role of abuser and inflicting pain on others
- Becoming involved in criminal activities / incarceration
- Loss of empathy for others
- Emotional numbness
- Derealization / depersonalization
- Chronic self-harming behaviors
- Suicidal ideation
- Attempts at committing suicide
Why Seek Treatment for Rape Trauma
For children and adolescents who have suffered through the traumatic experience of rape, it is imperative that they receive treatment in order to help deal with the symptoms that result from the trauma, as well as to prevent them from becoming subject to any long-term effects. While no treatment in the world will be able to completely remove the pain that they suffered through or provide them with the ability to forget that the incident occurred, treatment can help them develop strong coping skills so that they can feel confident enough to fight through the symptoms that may be plaguing them.
As was previously mentioned, some children and adolescents who are victims of rape go on to become perpetrators of sexual violence themselves. The development of sexually maladaptive behaviors needs to be addressed early because the complications of those behaviors can be detrimental to the lives of children and adolescents.
Residential treatment programs have proven to be extremely effective in helping children and adolescents overcome the devastating symptoms of rape trauma, while also helping to address the presence of problematic sexual behaviors. By entering a residential treatment program, children and adolescents are immediately provided with a safe, compassionate, and encouraging environment where they are monitored 24/7. This type of environment not only provides safety to patients, but it also gives them the ability to step away from the stresses and potentially harmful triggers that exist in their normal, everyday routines. By doing this, children and adolescents are able to focus solely on their treatment and on healing.