In this section, we look at some ways people react to rape. We are not trying to say what you should feel if you have been raped. We can only tell you what we’ve learnt from the stories of women and men who have been raped. Each person copes with trauma in a different way, depending on his or her circumstances. By describing these phases and feelings we hope to give strength and help you understand what you might be going through.
How long your journey to recovery takes will depend on your situation and how supportive the people around you are. It is best to seek help if you are worried about negative feelings. It’s important to remember that there are people who can help you, such as a rape counsellor, social worker, psychologist, clinic sister or even a family member or a friend that you can trust.
There is a pattern to how most people progress or move through the trauma of rape. However, these phases don’t follow on neatly from one to another; you may move backwards and forwards through the phases as you work through the trauma.
Immediately after the rape, most survivors feel shock, dismay, fear, panic and anger. Some survivors show this by being numb or dazed, others by being openly upset. You would probably react this way in the first few hours, days and weeks after the rape, but usually not longer than two weeks afterwards. This is the first phase of the crisis and is called the acute phase. Many survivors are unable to talk about the rape. They have nightmares and feel shocked, guilty, afraid, ashamed, powerless, angry, depressed and afraid of being touched.
Outward adjustment phase
In this phase, most survivors try to carry on with their lives as normal. They need to do this to reassure themselves that they can cope. During this phase, you test your ability to survive the experience. You may use ways of coping, such as pretending the rape didn’t happen or pushing thoughts and feelings away.
In this phase, rape survivors are usually not open to coming for counselling. You tend to feel a lot less troubled than during the acute phase, but you may not want to speak about the rape very much. This can be difficult for those close to you who wish to be helpful. They may feel frustrated by this or put pressure on you to behave differently. You might find that during this phase what you really need is for people to ‘let you be’.
You may begin to feel depressed or anxious and wish to talk. You may again have nightmares and feel shocked, guilty, afraid, ashamed, powerless, angry, depressed and afraid of being touched. Many survivors in this phase believe that their feelings mean they have serious emotional problems or are going mad. This is a good time to go for counselling, because this is where you can get support and reassurance. During this phase, you may well find that you cannot function the way you used to. You may also start to think about the rapist more.
You now begin to make sense of the trauma and you begin to feel safer in the world. During this phase your symptoms will ease off or disappear. The memory of the rape will not have the same effect on you. You may start to feel good about life again. You may still feel emotional at times, but overall you will feel more in control and able to move forward.
There is no one way to recover; your journey is unique to you. With good support, people can recover from rape.