Fran Driscoll graduated from UW-Milwaukee in 1990 with a Bachelor of Arts in Letters and Science. She is currently employed as an education assistant at Wisconsin Right to Life and is a volunteer in various local organizations.
RAPE. Excluding homicide, rape is the crime most devastating to its victims. Whether it be the parent of a daughter late in coming home or the lone woman leaving work at night, the fear of sexual assault is very real, very alive. Some would define it as the ultimate act of savagery against women. But, regardless of how it is defined, rape damages the physical, mental and social well-being of its victims. In addition to the trauma of the physical attack (assuming the victim survives), there is the very real threat of contracting AIDS, venereal disease, or other infection from the attacker. But in regard to long-term damage, mental harm usually presents the greatest problem. Psychological manifestations following rape are referred to as “the rape trauma syndrome.”1
The Shock Phase
There are three stages a woman normally goes through after the assault.2 The first is the “shock” phase. This can last from several days to several weeks. The victim exhibits disbelief, anxiety and fear. She also tends to blame herself; guilt and self-hatred are common. Not only does she lose trust in her own judgment, she loses trust in others to respect or empathize with her. Effects of rape trauma syndrome include insomnia, nightmares, loss of appetite, irritability, and depression, usually accompanied by headache, nausea, and stomachache. These effects can be ongoing and chronic unless there is support for the victim from qualified personnel as well as family members and friends.
The Adjustment Phase
Phase two is the adjustment phase. It can appear several days to several weeks after the rape, depending on the coping mechanisms of the victim as well as the amount of damage the rapist inflicted on her emotionally. The greater the humiliation (i.e., being forced to say she “loved it” or performing degrading acts) or fear for her life, the longer it takes to get to this phase. She loses interest in seeking help and wants to talk less about her experience. The physical distress diminishes and the nightmares lessen. It is not unusual at this stage for the victim to reorganize her life. She may move, change her job, or her phone number. At about six weeks following the rape, as she is just beginning to cope, she must go in to be tested for pregnancy or the presence of a sexually-transmitted disease.3
The Integration Phase
Finally, the integration phase follows. At first, the victim may withdraw from contact with other people. Her depression may return, and she will have to deal with her feelings. Some women return to counseling. But others do not. “Over 19 percent of rape victims and 9% of attempted rape victims had attempted suicide. This is compared with a 2.2 percent rate for nonvictims of any crime. In addition, 14 percent of rape victims reported experiencing nervous breakdowns following the assault.”4 Rape can sever relationships, permanently change a victim’s outlook, or result in emotional illness.
Rape in the United States
Even worse, reported cases of forcible rape are increasing at an alarming rate. In 1990, there were 102,555 forcible rapes in the United States, an increase of 9 percent from 1989 and comprising 6 percent of the total violent crimes.5 It is estimated that between 15 to 25 percent of women are victims of a completed rape at some point in their lives.6 However, only a fraction of sexual assaults comes to the notice of police or health services.
For those women who do report their rape immediately to authorities, there is medical treatment, including efforts to avoid conception. However, a small percentage of women, approximately 1 to 5 percent, become pregnant as a result of sexual assault.7 Conventional wisdom dictates that this “product of conception” should be disposed of for the sake of the mother. It is widely held that carrying this child to term would impose an undue burden on the mother, that abortion is a “quick and easy” solution to this problem.
But this ignores the already tenuous emotional condition of the mother, as it does the possibility of subjecting her to what is known as Post-Abortion Syndrome. In an abortion, the woman’s body, as well as that of her child, is violated yet again, only this time it is for the woman’s “own good.” Though her attacker may not be punished, her innocent child certainly will.
We invite you to read the story of Lee Ezell and Julie Makima – the story of a daughter that many would have counseled should never have been born.
1. Mills, Patrick, Rape Intervention Resource Manual, Charles C. Thomas, 1977.
2. Dean, Charles W. and Mary deBruyn-Kops, The Crime and the Consequences of Rape, Charles C. Thomas, 1982, pp. 110 -113.
3. Mills, p. 162.
4.Calchion, Karen S. and Beverly M. Atkeson, Treatment of Rape Victims: Facilitating Psychosocial Adjustment, Pergamon Press, 1991, pp. I- 13.
5. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstracts of the United States: 1992 (112th Edition) Washington, DC, 1992. P. 16.
6. Calchion, Karen S. and Beverly M. Atkeson, p.2.
7. Dupre, et al., “Sexual Assault,” Obstetrical and Gynecological Survey, Volume 48, No. 9, 1993, Williams and Wilkins, p. 646.