24-hour Helpline: 021 447 9762

Rape Trauma Syndrome (RTS) is the medical term given to the response that most survivors have to rape. It is very important to note that RTS is the natural response of a psychologically healthy person to the trauma of rape so these symptoms do not constitute a mental disorder or illness.

The most powerful factor in determining how people respond to rape is the nature of the traumatic event itself. Not only is there the element of surprise, the threat of death and the threat of injury, there is also the violation of the person. This violation is physical, emotional and moral and associated with the closest human intimacy of sexual contact. The intention of the rapist is often to profane this most private aspect of the person and render the victim utterly helpless. Rape by its very nature is intentionally designed to produce psychological trauma. It is form of organised social violence comparable only to the combat of war. We get nowhere in our understanding of Rape Trauma Syndrome if we think of rape as simply being unwanted sex. Where combat veterans suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, rape survivors experience similar symptoms on a physical, behavioural and psychological level.

If you are distressed about any of these symptoms and would like to talk to a counsellor about it, you can call our 24 hour crisis line on (021)447-9762, or you can book a counselling appointment at the offices listed here. 

RTS symptoms are broke down into physical, behavioural and psychological responses. You may experience any variety of these symptom, or only a few.


Physical symptoms are those things which manifest in or upon the survivor’s body that are evident to her and under physical examination by a nurse or doctor. Some of these are only present immediately after the rape while others only appear at a later stage.


Behavioural symptoms are those things the survivor does, expresses or feels that are generally visible to others. This includes observable reactions, patterns of behaviour, lifestyle changes and changes in relationships.


Psychological symptoms are much less visible and can in fact be completely hidden to others so survivors need to offer this information or be carefully and sensitively questioned in order to elicit them. They generally refer to inner thoughts, ideas and emotions.

It is important that we recognise that people respond differently to trauma. While most survivors will experience these symptoms, some survivors may only experience a few of these symptoms or none at all. We must be careful not to judge whether someone has been raped by the number of symptoms that they display.

The trauma of rape is often compounded by the myths, prejudice and stigma associated with rape. Survivors who have internalised these myths have to fight feelings of guilt and shame. The burden can be overwhelming especially if the people they come into contact with reinforce those myths and prejudices. It is never a survivor’s fault for being raped. No one asks to be raped or deserves to be raped.