Rape Trauma Syndrome (RTS)
People exposed to sexual violence often feel that their lives have changed forever and that they will never come to terms with the trauma they have suffered. They believe they will never again be free to trust other people, especially those who resemble the person who violated them. The many myths surrounding sexual violence only add to a survivor’s anxiety and often prevent them from sharing their experience with others, even those they are close to. They fear they will be blamed or that people will not believe them. They often feel doubtful about what has happened and question whether they in fact consented or not. The result is that many survivors do not report the assault to the police and do not seek the medical attention they need.
For the purpose of this blog, we would like to talk about a few of the wide range of symptoms survivors may experience. Symptoms are classed in three categories: physical, behavioural and psychological. It’s important to note that people experience trauma in different ways and their symptoms will vary both in kind and severity.
The Physical symptoms are specific to the rape itself and a survivor can tell you what they are. These may include cuts, bruises, urinary tract infections, pain, headaches and feelings of nausea.
Behavioural symptoms in response to rape include behaviours that are not typical of the survivor’s normal behaviour. Survivors are usually aware of these changes but feel powerless to change them. The behaviours can often be observed by people close to the survivor. They may include new sleeping and eating patterns; crying more than usual; feeling trapped and unsafe and therefore unable to socialize. Survivors sometimes use drugs and increase their alcohol intake in a futile attempt to forget what happened to them. They may lose interest in sex and their partner may struggle to understand why. Alternatively, in their attempt to regain control, they may increase their sexual activity. Survivors and family members alike may find it extremely difficult to understand behavioural changes and this leads to a general increase in stress levels and tensions in the home.
Psychological symptoms too are scary for both survivors and the people they are close to. Survivors often feel anxious and confused and struggle to concentrate. They may feel extreme anger and a sustained need to take revenge; feelings of sadness, helplessness and a loss of hope in the future. They may feel suicidal, believing that nothing good will ever happen again
If you or someone that you know is experiencing these types of symptoms, please call our 24-hour helpline 021 447 9762 and speak to one of our counsellors or book a counselling session. For immediate support, you are welcome to download our toolkit.